Monday, October 27, 2014

What's the Greatest Threat to the World?

Asteroid and Earth (Photo:
Have you ever thought about it? Sometimes, when the media grabs onto an asteroid report, we're suddenly plunged into all sorts of dire scenarios for the end of the world. I was surprised that the recent comet flight past Mars didn't generate the same fears. But then I opened my Time magazine (Nov. 3, 2014) over the weekend and found plenty to fear as a threat to the world.

First was the "Lightbox" feature at the front of the magazine: a photo of someone in full Darth Vader costume including inactive light sabre standing on a vehicle with Russian written on it. The caption explained that the photo was taken at a Ukrainian Internet Party campaign rally on October 21 in Kiev, Ukraine. Apparently, people in this party have changed their names to those of Star Wars characters to run for parliamentary seats. Darth Vader? Obi Wan Kenobi? Princess Leia? Am I the only one who thinks they could have chosen better for a movie to emulate?

Second on the very next page in the "World" section is a poll of people in 44 countries by the Pew Research Center answering the question "What's the Greatest Threat to the World?" No one answered Darth Vader in Kiev, although I think that qualifies. The responses from the most to the least:
  • Nuclear weapons 23%
  • Inequality 19%
  • Religious and ethnic hatred 18%
  • Pollution and environmental damage 14%
  • Disease 12%
I would have thought disease would have been higher, but the poll was conducted from March 17 to June 5 of this year before the Ebola outbreak in West Africa started to dominate the news.

Who can argue with these choices? They are all threats, for sure, and while perhaps, perhaps, something can be done about three out of the five, aspects of disease are out of human control, and is it possible really to stop religious and ethnic hatred?  That's been around for thousands of years.

But I think this poll really missed what is the largest and most important threat to our world today. I'm talking about a lack of leadership both socially and politically. Americans love to complain, really belly-ache, about their President and Congress, and during the run-up to elections in early November, it's fairly easy to see why. But I don't think the lack of leadership is unique to the USA.

We can begin with West Africa where Ebola has been rampaging through the population. Strong, effective leaders working for their countries could have made a huge difference in how the disease affected the populations. Instead, the world watches these countries and governments struggling with a terrifying disease, badly in need of medical assistance as well as public health measures and education.

Shinzo Abe (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Yoshikazu Tzuno

Japan is currently suffering from questionable leadership also. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lost two important cabinet ministers recently because of political money scandals. Iraq has just elected a new Prime Minister after the disastrous government of Nouri al-Maliki. The Russian people probably love Vladimir Putin, but does he lead or dictate and dominate?

The United Nations could be far more effective than it is, but I suspect it's only as effective as the member nations. We live on a planet on which there are hundreds of different cultures and belief systems, and that diversity can wreak havoc on leadership at the United Nations. This important representative body needs not only governing principles, but also social principles that all accept and support. That's a super challenge.

I think it's truly amazing that humans haven't totally destroyed themselves before this. We are fortunate to have people on this planet who are willing to make a lot of noise to resolve issues like pollution and nuclear weapons. As a result, these issues make the top five of greatest threats to the world. We could be totally oblivious to the effects of human civilization on the environment and on humans.

We have a long, long way to go when it comes to effective global leadership, however. I'm wondering what effective global leadership would look like. I think it would require all the countries on this planet to have effective leaders who can join together, work together toward common goals for the planet, and truly accomplish the hard stuff, i.e. hatred, inequality, women's civil rights, and public health.

Will I see this in my lifetime? I hope so, but I strongly doubt it. People need to start talking about it, though, or it will never stand a chance..... 

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