This Is How the World Ends…And It Already Started
Every child since the end of World War II grew up in the shadow of the end of the world. The baby boomers huddled under their desks in fear of imminent nuclear holocaust during the Cold War. Recent generations heard warning after warning of environmental catastrophes and climate change, which signaled the coming end to life as we know it. We are not strangers to messages about the end of the world, but a moment arrives when the messages turn from dire warnings about our future to descriptions of the present reality. That time is now!
Across the world, a convergence of crises is taking shape. Climate change is only one ingredient in the concoction of chaos spilling out onto the global system. Political division and polarization, refugee crisis, terrorism, global warming, extremism, and civil war; the number of once in a century issues confronting the world today are compounding. They are not the causes but symptoms to more deeply entrenched systemic problems of a global order that is fracturing under the weight of inequity.
The end of the world has begun, and it is not what we thought it would be. The political paradigms through which we view so much of life blinds us from the reality occurring all around us. Look behind every nearly every crisis and tragedy afflicting the earth today, and we find a struggle for the global system’s resources collapsing into chaos.
A Problem of Population and Space
In 1900 the earth’s population stood at 1.6 billion. By 2000 it grew to 6 billion. The global population compounded three times in the last 120 years. Today we are approaching 8 billion people on planet earth. Many economists and scientists from Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich warned past generations about dangers the booming world population posed to the global order. Their doomsday predictions seemed to go unfulfilled.
But even as the global population continues to surge, the greatest threat now is not an issue of the rising total. The most pressing threat is in the unequal distribution of that growth.
In a trend that that perpetuates uninterrupted across the world, the wealthiest countries are living longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives while reproducing at much lower rates than the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in the developing world, significantly larger and more densely packed populations are growing faster, and their median age is becoming younger every year.
This global population dynamic means nations with smaller populations are enjoying more wealth, more resources, more comfort, and more security. Their median age ranges from 36 to 49, and they are getting older as birth rates continue to decline. The GDP per capita in these nations ranges from $39,000 to $60,000 per year. Their young people are more likely to go to college and inherit the blessings and benefits of their parents. Civil rights, liberty, healthcare, and food are considered inalienable right in these locales.
Meanwhile, the exact opposite is occurring in the developing world. In 2016 a quarter of all living humans were between the ages of 10 and 24. Most of them lived in the developing world. As birthrates climb there, the populations grow younger every year, and the hopes and prospects for these youthful populations are dismal. To contain the frustration and angst among these masses of young people, their governing leaders are more likely to authoritarian. Oppressive leaders and governments clamp down hard and fast on these young and poor populations while providing little in the way of functional societies, infrastructure, or dependable economies.
In the rich nations of the world, fewer people share the bulk of the world’s bounty. In the poor nations of the world, vastly more significant numbers of individuals are scrambling for the crumbs left to them by the global system. Simply put, by virtue of the global population’s demographics, the rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer.
Such inequity cannot exist for long. Indeed, the pushback already started. In every place where violent civil wars, terrorism, and refugee crises exploded onto the world stage in the last two decades, the youth population bulge was present and exploited. What we frequently see as the most recent global crisis is simply the fruit of a deeper systemic fracture to the old global order.
Empty Plates and Diabetes
Thanks to major advances in food science and agricultural technology during the 20th century, food scarcity is no longer a concern for the world. We now have enough food. Unfortunately, our distribution system corresponds to the same inequities noted in the population trends above. In the rich nations of the world, citizens suffer from obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, mainly due to excess in their diets. In the poor nations of the world, people starve.
In 2017, 20 million people were at risk of famine. Seven million in Yemen alone were on the brink of starvation, with two-thirds of the country relying on international food aid to survive. Poor nutrition is the leading cause of death for children around the world under the age of five — 3.1 million a year.
The World Food Program warned the coronavirus further exasperated the systems by which food reached the poorer nations of the world. By the end of this year, 265 million people could be facing a hunger emergency.
The greatest aspect of this tragedy is that we have the means to cure world hunger, but we lack the will. The current global food system exists upon the remains of an invisible architecture established during the Cold War. Small sections of the planet maintain their power, wealth, and security by exploiting, impoverishing, and controlling the rest.
There was a time when ideology fueled extremism and violence. Today, a mother or father watching their children die of hunger is a more significant threat to the global system than communism, fascism, and even Islamic extremism.
Quenched and Parched
More than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, but even here, the distribution of this vital life-sustaining resource is uneven. Various parts of the planet are sinking below the surface of rising oceans and increased rains while other areas turn to dust and blow away.
Some great power manipulations of the water resource exasperate this threat, but the disparity of the global water crisis is more directly related to environmental changes. At the line where freshwater demand stretches beyond the global supply is where the machinations of great power politics and forces come into play.
As local environments sink or swim in the growing global water crisis, the poor feel this threat the most. Displaced populations and unemployed populations are two of the growing symptoms of the earth’s shifting water supplies, and these symptoms both hardened and worsened since the turn of the century.
Broken Systems Behind the Chaos
Before there was a Syrian Civil War, there was an agricultural and economic crisis brought on by water and food shortages and growing youthful populations. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, Nigeria, Indonesia, Venezuela… across the planet behind the hot spots of chaos and crisis today, we find these three foundational fractures in the global systems of population, food, and water.
The role of suffering is too often extended to masses of the world’s poor, while minority populations in wealthy nations enjoy an isolated experience of abundance and prosperity. We have a global issue in the distribution and inequity of resources.
The world system, as we know it, cannot withstand fifty more years of this inequity and the constant hammer of crisis and chaos it is producing. The end of the world is arriving in the form of food, water, and population crises, but it is spreading through the terrorism, disease, civil wars, refugees, and political chaos these foundational crises have produced. Beneath it all is the inherent inequity of the global order.