May you live in interesting times, goes the blessing/curse. And one thing I think we can all agree on, for better or worse, is that dull days are few and far between in 2011.
Just another typical, ho-hum week: The long-term sovereign debt of the United States gets its first-ever downgrade. The stock market goes on a stomach-churning roller-coaster ride. Massive riots break out (and break in) in London. “Double dip” starts being read on a lot of lips. And oh, just in case the tussle for Transatlantic wasn’t tumultuous enough with two suitors, Warren Buffett throws his (plain and unpretentious) hat in the ring.
With all this agitation and uncertainty, and with reports of global chaos overflowing in our RSS feeds, it’s easy to conclude that we live (duh!) in a riskier world.
Mother Nature is on a real tough-love bender of late. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Floods. (What, no asteroids?)
Our own species, not to be outdone, is wreaking plenty of havoc on its own. Cyber terrorists—and the ones who operate in the physical world. Politicians working hard to make that profession as unpopular as…trial lawyers. Global supply chains, which, for all their efficacy, can be disrupted by the far-distant flap of a butterfly’s wings.
Then there’s the really scary stuff: Pakistan. And a world running out of oil. And water.
Given all of the above, it may not be surprising that a majority of the more than 30 industry leaders we asked to opine on the question “Is the world a riskier or safer place?” (it all starts on page 12) took the side of pessimism.
But a respectable number of our experts opted for optimism. And they make a pretty strong case for their positive position. Cars, buildings and the workplace—all infinitely safer (with insurance owed a lot of thanks for these improvements). The “safer” contingent can also point to the stat that perhaps trumps all others: the average lifespan continues to go up and up and up—which, arguably, can only happen in a world of diminishing risks.
And humans, for all our hang-ups, do have a pretty good track record, when push comes to shove, of using our oversized brains to come up with solutions to ensure our survival (the idea that we could feed seven billion people would have seemed like a fantasy fewer than 100 years ago).
My own answer? Like some of the respondents, I’ll hedge my bet—at least a little bit. Overall, I do propose that the world is generally becoming safer. How can I, a New Yorker who remembers the city’s Dark Ages, not feel that way about life when walks home late at night are now cause for quiet contemplation, not sheer terror?
But, as much as it horrifies me to write, I do think the odds are decent we’ll see a nuclear terror attack in my lifetime. And while I don’t think I’ll see my lights go out or faucets run dry, I do worry, a lot, that near-future generations will face this nightmare.
Here’s hoping our better angels ultimately prevail.
Editor in Chief