Conflict, COVID and Climate Crisis: Major Risks of our Time
‘If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles but microbes……’ words spoken by Bill Gates in 2015 at Ted Talks proved true, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic that brought the world to a stand-still. Killing millions of people within two years with tons of collateral damage in areas of health, economy, national security, etc. has shaken the world to its core. But is it just the microbes over missiles that are going to cause mayhem, or a combined effort of both, catalyzed with cyber-catastrophe? The current Russia-Ukraine conflict, Taliban take-over in Afghanistan, the Worst Emergency crisis in Sri Lanka, and the never-ending Israel-Palestine war – these all point towards intensified armed-conflict chaos around the world. On the other hand, the worsening climate crisis is further aching the world manifold. The Australian Wildfires in 2020, East Africa droughts in 2011, 2017 and 2019, regular cloud bursts, and the melting of icebergs in Antarctica are a few of many natural disasters that beg for climate action. But the newest addition to the list of challenges for survival is cyber-warfare. During COVID lockdown, even large-scale businesses and industries moved online for their survival. This transition was never expected to be as sudden as it did during these troubled times. As a result, the move was made out of fear and fright rather than undergoing due diligence which is the general practice when shoring a business from stores to wires. Hence, the threats of cyber-attacks and other associated risks have further escalated. The increased threats required improved IT security thereby leading to a substantial number of corporate entities signing up for consultancies that offer digital dependency in business processes. This even led to a sharp increase of $20 Billion in the cyber-insurance sector between 2020-2025, which is almost triple to what it was. The market is anticipated to grow even more strongly with the additional momentum gained from digitalization. Munich Re, an insurance company that provides coverage for cyber risks has experienced meteoric growth in this sector gaining a share of 10% of the total market, making it one of the world’s leading insurers.
The Doomsday clock is stuck at 100 seconds to midnight. The world seems to be inching towards a civilization-ending apocalypse. Rising conflict, worsening climate change, and never-ending microbe attacks have the world hanging by a very thin thread of hope, perseverance, of resilience. While a larger section of the world wants to live in a world free of war, the power concentration sadly is inversely proportional to the mammoth population. Even a minimalistic endeavor of having a healthy family, working just enough to put food on the table and have access to quality education for children, seems bleak. But is it really the end or is it just a prolonged halt looking forward to an update?
The World Economic Forum has stressed ongoing and upcoming challenges created by cyber fraudsters, climate change, and space technology. As per the Global Risks Report, 2022 released on January 11, cyber security and space technology were listed as the most emerging risk sectors for the global economy followed by the existing pandemic. Cyberthreats are in no way a particular-sector-centric threat. It has the potential to affect entire civilizations as we live in a time where there is absolutely no connection-deficit. Everyone is connected with everything and vice-versa. And hence, cyber threats are growing faster than society’s ability to effectively prevent and manage them. The rise of cryptocurrencies has given birth to a new breed of online dacoits, resulting in an increased number of malware and ransomware attacks.
What can be done?
It is a race. A race between what trumps what. Ever since the lockdown around the world has been lifted, inter-state wars and conflicts have dominated the attention of decision-makers. Needless to say, the pandemic is by no means over. Similarly, the climate-associated risks are piling up and it remains the largest and most complex existential challenge of our time that warrants unparalleled action. Evidently, vaccination is on roll and has proved to be effective against the invisible enemy, and hence one needs to understand the gravity of 7 million deaths where air pollution has been a major contributor. A heating world, in general, is detrimental to human health and thus, significant obstruction to a thriving society. While a total of 110 countries are now monitoring the quality of air their population breathes, it’s simply not enough. The deterrent theory of removing factories and industries and adapting the primitive way of living is also impossible, especially in the urbanized world. Hence preserving nature and also concentrating on all-around economic development seems oxymoronic and ironical.
But, technological advancements during the wake of COVID have hinted that if ideas are shared and transcended beyond boundaries, there is hope. A simple instance of Tesla championing the sector of electric automobiles has prompted even a developing country like India to work in the furtherance of completely replacing fossil fuels with an alternative transformative source thereby resulting in an increase in electric vehicle production. A hybrid power strategy is inadvertently the need of the hour today. But how much does a country like India which promises a good mix of bright sun and wind along its coasts, requires resources to make the shift to Net Zero. Setting up hybrid power plants is also cost efficient as the plants share common equipment, electronics, and storage, as a dedicated hybrid plant can work round-the-clock with only sporadic recourse to storage.
The aforementioned mechanism is just one facet of a multi-dimensional resolution that the world warrants. The national leaders of countries can no longer lament and find nonchalant advisory bodies to pin their blames act. Furthermore, the citizens are also to be self-monitored. Citizens cannot resort to unveiling a red carpet for a government that completely negates the existence of climate change and cyber security. Rather, the citizens are to hold the constitutional entities accountable, answerable, and liable for negligence and poor performance.
Peace underpins all that is good in our society. But with each passing day, a realization of sorts that ‘peace’ is in short supply, resurfaces itself. The horrors of Covid have shown the world, that no matter how technologically advanced, monetarily rich, and systematically sustainable it looks, it is as vulnerable as one can be. The only upside that one can perceive from the horrifying pandemic, is that the loss of millions of lives and trillion dollars have only waken up the world from its deep slumber. Digitalization and globalization may have brought the world close, but the shrunk world is failing to realize that, with great inter-connectedness comes great interdependencies. And thus, the multi-dimensional crisis is not an individual but collective responsibility.