Thanks to medical advancements, people are healthier and living longer than ever before and thanks to agricultural and industrial advancements, poverty levels and global hunger are reduced. Along the way, we caused serious and lasting damage to Earth’s ecosystems and left us open, as a species, to a number of potentially destructive events.
Novel diseases like coronavirus are just one of the many things that currently threaten human lives on a global scale. Scientists have raised concerns that, in the coming years, forest fires, droughts, pollution, global warming, microbial mutations, or the rise of harmful artificial intelligence could endanger billions of lives.
Here’s an overview of what’s just hype and what the actual threats to human existence are in 2022.
1- Economic collapse in China
China is an economic titan, but its foundation is wobbly. the recent financial trembles in China have caused many economists to have great concern.
The real-estate sector accounts for 29% of the country’s total GDP. About 20 percent of the total urban housing properties, or around 65 million properties in China are vacant and are located in major cities. These “ghost cities” have well-connected roads, infrastructure, skyscrapers, and a variety of appealing public spaces, but they are extremely underpopulated and have vast areas that are without residents. Dramatic social unrest in China and market collapses could ripple around the world.
2- More COVID-19 mutants
Omicron is now considered the fastest spreading COVID-19 variant in the world. Scientists predict that COVID-19 is unlikely to disappear and we are likely to see more of its variants, although their severity may lessen over time.
The World Health Organization estimates that, in its first two years, COVID-19 has caused more than 5.4 million deaths globally, and this is likely to be an underestimate.
3- Climate change
In August 2021, a wildfire in Greece burnt down 50,910 hectares of lush green forest. The same year, a series of floods wreaked havoc across Europe and caused damages totaling more than $11.8 billion. Hundreds of individuals lost their lives (196 deaths were reported in Germany alone) and thousands of families were displaced during the 2021 European floods.
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the summer season of 2021 was the driest and hottest for contiguous states in the U.S. in records, dating back 126 years.
Forest fires, floods, droughts, increasing temperatures, the melting polar ice, hurricanes, rising sea levels are all linked to human-induced climate change.
The WHO claims that climate change alone already costs around 150,000 lives each year, due to the various hazards that result from climate change.
A report suggests that, by 2030, rising sea levels will drown many coastal cities, including Venice, Amsterdam, and New Orleans.
An estimate indicates that, if carbon emissions are not brought down, by 2050, about 800 million people living in 570 cities across the world will be severely affected due to the rising sea level.
Climate experts have predicted that 2022 would also turn out to be a hot year.
4- Harmful AI
Some believe that, in the next few years, AI could reach a level where it is smarter than all of humanity, and no human would be able to control it anymore. This is known as “artificial general intelligence.”
As one team of researchers recently noted, this kind of AI poses “a fundamentally different problem than those typically studied under the banner of ‘robot ethics’. This is because a superintelligence is multi-faceted, and therefore potentially capable of mobilizing a diversity of resources in order to achieve objectives that are potentially incomprehensible to humans, let alone controllable.”
Daron Acemoglu, an Institute Professor at MIT, wrote in the Washington Post that AI is already causing harm in many areas.
“Narrow AI is already displacing workers. Firms that increase their AI adoption by 1% reduce their hiring by that much. Narrow AI is powering new monitoring and surveillance technologies used by corporations and governments. And it is warping public discourse on social media, hampering the functioning of modern democracies.”
5- Nuclear war
There are around 13,900 nuclear warheads in total, out of which 90% are owned by the US and Russia alone. Apart from these two superpowers, there are seven more countries in the world that maintain an arsenal of nuclear weapons. These are China, Israel, India, France, the UK, Pakistan, and North Korea.
Apart from nuclear weapons, the use of biological or chemical agents in war, such as poisonous gases and disease-carrying microbes, could also give rise to a serious catastrophe.
Escalating conflicts in recent years have raised the worry is that a lone actor or rogue state might get their hands on nuclear or biological materials and use them.
6- Water scarcity
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that, by 2025, about 67% of the world’s population will be affected in some way by water scarcity. They add that, even at present, around 1 billion people do not have regular access to clean drinking water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year.
A UNICEF report claims that the numbers are even higher. They assert that four billion people struggle to meet their water requirements for at least one month of the year.
A lot of money has been pumped into the global markets and this liquidity rush has caused further excess wealth, a greater ability to borrow and spend, mixed together with supply issues, and these are key ingredients for inflation.
Monetary policies by Central Banks have largely resulted in a huge amount of liquidity being pumped into the markets. But the same bankers are equally terrified by the prospect of their economies stalling due to COVID, which means a fear of raising interest rates too high and thus enabling inflation to have a strong chance at continuing its rise in many places.
There is a question of global dollar dominance being challenged or replaced and the response has been the ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ approach from central banks who’ve been exploring digital currencies – as a halfway house to crypto adoption. Indeed, 81 countries representing 90% of global GDP are exploring CBDCs. And with opportunity comes the risk of crisis, as powers old and new come up against one another.