On Earth, in Space and in the Virtual World, the Future Is Bleak

On Earth, in Space and in the Virtual World, the Future Is Bleak
Attendees walk past an electronic display showing recent cyberattacks in China at the China Internet Security Conference in Beijing, Sept. 12, 2017 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

Davos Man has seen the future, and it is bleak. Last week, the sponsors of the World Economic Forum released their 17th annual “Global Risks” report on the most worrisome threats confronting humanity in 2022 and beyond. Sadly, this latest crystal ball-reading exercise suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may soon be the least of our worries. Over the next decade, the most pressing task confronting humanity will be ensuring the survival of life on planet Earth—and at the same time, the world’s governments will need to navigate surging economic inequality, rising barriers to migration and growing vulnerabilities in both cyberspace and outer space. 

Of the thousands of experts and executives surveyed by Global Risks, only 16 percent feel “positive” or “optimistic” about the future. The majority—84 percent—are “worried” or “concerned.” Most of the respondents anticipate that the next three years will feature economic volatility and a growing divergence between the rich and poor, further eroding social cohesion in most countries, increasing geopolitical tensions and undermining international cooperation on global challenges.

Some of these concerns tie back to the coronavirus pandemic, which has not only created short-term supply chain disruptions, but has caused sovereign debt levels to spike and accelerated the divergence between developed and developing economies. Though wealthy countries are anticipated to “surpass their pre-pandemic growth path by 0.9 percent by 2024,” developing economies—with the exception of China—will languish 5.5 percentage points below.  

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