As we understandably worry about the constitutional crisis posed by Donald Trump and the threat he poses to our democracy, there are several other crises that should be getting our full attention. Indeed, each of them poses a tremendous threat to the future of the United States and our planet.
National Debt – As of today, our national debt stands at $23.16 trillion. Worse, we will add at least $1.1 trillion to it in FY 2020. Supposedly, the economy fueled tax cuts were intended to offset the growth in spending. Instead, the cuts merely reduced revenue. And the trade wars caused by Trump’s ill-conceived tariffs have only added to the problem by increasing the cost of goods for consumers and many manufacturers. That has resulted in less real income for workers and layoffs by manufacturers. If the trend continues, how will we pay to repair our aging infrastructure? How will we be able to continue to afford our bloated defense budget? How will we be able to afford reasonable safety nets? How will the US maintain its world leadership?
Automation – Technology experts say we are now in the midst of the 4th industrial revolution. We are losing jobs to automation at an alarming rate. And the revolution has only just begun. Recent studies predict that the US will lose 30 to 50 percent of existing jobs within the next few decades. For example, in the next few years, 2 to 3 million truck drivers are expected to lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles. In addition, that will lead to a loss of jobs related to truckers – at truck stops, motels, cafes, etc. – mostly in small towns and rural areas. And that’s only the start. In addition to truck drivers, there are another 7-8 million professional drivers for taxi companies, Uber, Lyft, UPS, FedEx, etc. who will lose their jobs.
Others who work in labor intensive and repetitive jobs will be replaced by automation. Even the so-called white collar workers will lose their jobs to automation. Paralegals, lawyers, medical technologists, even lawyers and film editors could soon be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The question is: What will the displaced workers do for income? Still think presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s proposed guaranteed annual income is a radical idea?
Overpopulation – Current world population is 7.7 billion and we added 81 million in 2019. The population is growing at more than 1 percent per year. At this rate, the population is expected to reach 11.2 billion by the end of the century. Given the onset of automation, how will they sustain themselves? How will we feed them?
Environment – For decades, corporations have used our streams and oceans as landfills. They have spilled millions of barrels of oil into the seas. They have used factory fishing trawlers to deplete our oceans of fish. They have used our forests and our lands as a sort of supermarket of resources. They have poured toxic chemicals onto our farmlands – their runoff creating dead zones in our oceans. They have filled our atmosphere with carbon from the burning of fossil fuels and with methane from our insatiable appetite for beef. They have created inhumane factory farms that drown our lands in excrement. And they have polluted aquifers through fracking and mining.
Despite all of this, the Trump administration has relaxed most of our environmental regulations and encouraged even more of this destructive behavior from corporations. At the same time, the administration has cut their taxes – revenue that could be used to help clean up their messes.
Species Extinction – Over human history, the normal extinction rate for other species has averaged 1 to 5 species per year. However, scientists say that the current extinction rate is 1,000 times normal. We are now losing dozens of species per day! At this rate, we will lose 30 to 50 percent of all species by mid-century. In other words, we are now in the midst of the 6th mass extinction mostly as a result of human encroachment on wildlife habitat and human-caused pollution.
Climate Crisis – Last, but certainly not least, is the climate crisis caused almost entirely by the burning of fossil fuels. As I write this, virtually the entire continent of Australia is on fire resulting in the loss of millions of animals and thousands of homes. California, too, has faced disastrous wildfires, albeit on a smaller scale. Each year, we see more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, cyclones and tornados. The damage from these climate-related disasters for 2019 was estimated at more than $140 billion BEFORE the wildfires in Australia. And scientists tell us that the crisis is only going to get worse.
Each year, the reports of melting glaciers and ice caps exceed previous predictions. Though the situation is dire, most Americans have yet to recognize the effects of climate change. But they have been affected nonetheless. Taxes that could be used to rebuild our infrastructure or to reduce the cost of health care are used to fight wildfires or to repair the damage following hurricanes. Moreover, many of the refugees at our southern border are fleeing violence and starvation, much of it caused by drought.
And, in the future, it’s predicted that we will see much more climate-caused migration from droughts and rising sea levels.
Of course, none of this is good news. Contrary to the tradition of looking forward to the new year, if we don’t address these crises soon, we may well greet each new year with fear and trepidation of the events to come. Nevertheless, I wish you all a very happy New Year celebration! Enjoy it while you can.