Why We Should Care About Global Issues

I am, and have for years, been a passionate advocate of communities and grassroots leadership. The flip side of that has meant that, like a lot of other people, I’ve had a tendency to ignore a lot of what’s been happening at the global level.

While that used to be somewhat acceptable, today, as Bob Dylan would sing it, “the times they are a changin”.

The constantly changing nature of our hyper-connected world means we are all increasingly susceptible to be being impacted by global issues. It will be especially important for us to pay attention because it is becoming more and more apparent that global risks don’t respect national or community borders.

According to this year’s recently released Global Risk Report prepared by the World Economic Forum, there’s a lot we should be worried about.

The report analyzes 50 global risks, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government, academia, and the community sector who were asked to review 50 global risks.

This year the findings verify the number one risk as being what we already know — severe economic disparity. In others words the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

This is followed by unsustainable government debt or what the report terms as “chronic fiscal imbalances”.

After such extreme weather such as Hurricane Sandy we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the third highest risk raised by respondents was that of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Water supply crises and mismanagement of our world’s aging population followed in fourth and fifth place. 

This year’s findings also illustrate that the world is more at risk because global leaders are focused on chronic economic challenges rather than tackling environmental issues.

These survey results are also telling in that they reflect significant changes since 2007 when the risk factors were less focused on the economy. That year the most frequently cited risks were a breakdown of our information infrastructure, chronic disease in developed countries, oil prices, China, and an asset price collapse.

The editor of the report, Lee Howell, also expressed concern and was quoted at its launch as saying, “There is a feeling that we are not making progress. We are not seeing the state leadership necessary to tackle these risks.”

The report also includes a chapter on “X Factors” that looks beyond the 50 global risks to five emerging potential “game-changers” that warrant more research.

While these X Factors sound like something out of a Hollywood movie, they include (1) runaway climate change suggesting that the Earth’s atmosphere may be heading rapidly into an inhospitable state; (2) significant cognitive enhancement (akin to doping in sports this would give our brains an advantage thereby creating new ethical dilemmas in our daily work and perhaps even with combat troops); (3) technology that could be used to manipulate the climate (and be used unilaterally by an individual; (4) covering the costs associated with living longer (the medical and palliative care costs of prolonging life); and (5) the discovery of alien life (having profound psychological implications for human belief systems).

The experts suggest we can respond to these global risks by addressing both economic and environmental issues, using social media to create a culture of responsibility and healthy skepticism, and to keep everyone healthy by encouraging the development of new antibiotics as well as aligning incentives to prevent their overuse.

Ultimately all of these findings suggest the need for both grassroots and grasstops collaboration to build resilience to global risks. While there is work being done at the national or grasstops level to respond to these, it also means every community must invest in developing and nurturing the leadership and resiliency to address global risks at the grassroots level.

Posted on 02-02-13

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