Eight Megatrends that are Reshaping the World

Apr 27, 2017

My latest book-in-progress – “Mortgaging the American Dream: What Were We Thinking?” – builds on eight megatrends that are reshaping the world. In this sneak preview, the abbreviated megatrends are listed along with a “looking ahead” commentary on potential implications:

  1)  Climate Change: The rapid build-up of atmospheric greenhouse gases is intensifying and the impacts are becoming more pronounced. Climate-induced droughts, floods, rising sea levels and natural disasters of all types are occurring with greater frequency and severity and becoming ‘threat multipliers’ across a large spectrum of the globe. Looking ahead, without an all-out effort to meaningfully address climate change now, we might soon reach tipping points that render it irreversible.

   2)  Population: The global population has more than doubled over the past half century, and the demographics are shifting along with an aging population. The increases are straining our planet’s carrying capacity to sustain life as we know it and threatening the social systems that provide for a needier population. Looking ahead, with a growing and aging population, there is little margin left in the system for contingencies; the physical and financial strains on our carrying capacity will become severe, frequent and destabilizing.

   3)  Ecologic Footprints: The world’s finite supply of fresh water, arable land, and other physical and natural resources is bumping against an insatiable demand curve. Wasteful behaviors and conspicuous consumption patterns exacerbate the threat. Looking ahead, our ability to recalibrate expectations and behaviors toward reducing our ‘ecologic footprint’ may be the only viable alternative left to address this challenge. The outcome is in question. 

 4)  Energy: The endless demand for energy is coinciding with a gradual shift from legacy fossil fuels to renewable and alternative energy systems. Over time, as demand outstrips supply, oil – our primo transportation fuel – could become an Achilles Heel without fuel systems of a scalable size in place to replace it. Looking ahead, we may be in a ‘race against time’ to smoothly transition away from oil without incurring major economic disruptions; transition costs will be daunting, and contentious economic and climate change trade-offs significant.

 5)  Global Economy: The global economy has evolved into an intertwined network of interdependent systems. With massive debt – devoid of firewalls to insulate the contagious spread of economic woes across international borders – and a build-up of unfunded entitlement liabilities coming due in American and other countries, the threat of a global meltdown is escalating. Looking ahead, bursting economic bubbles, sovereign debt defaults, trade wars, or even an unforeseen “black swan” event could trigger a chain reaction leading to a global economic meltdown that dwarfs the great Recession of 2008.

 6) Geopolitical: The global power structures are rapidly changing as we plunge into Cold War II – this one fought over the control of scarce resources and markets; not ideology. With China, the newest superpower, and the spread of nationalistic movements, the playing field has changed. The specter of nuclear proliferation and asymmetric threats in the form of cyber-warfare, currency wars, and terrorism add to the destabilization. Looking ahead, the geopolitical moving parts are taking us into uncharted waters and making the world a more dangerous place in which to live. The threats of miscalculations – with unintended consequences – are escalating.

  7) Technology: The digital revolution, quest for connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics and cyber-everything has changed the way we work, think, play and interact with others. Our inability to adjust to the rapidly changing technologies in a timely manner has created a new set of challenges as we enter an era dubbed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Looking ahead, the challenges of cybersecurity, privacy issues, national security, and technological disruptions – natural or otherwise – are formidable. Worksite mismatches between the new technological skillsets needed and those available will pose a challenge to future economic growth.

 8) The American Dream: The American Dream – now a global aspiration – was based on abundant resources, cheap energy, economic opportunities, an optimistic “can-do” spirit and rising expectations. As rising expectations increasingly clash with a diminished capacity to provide, the “dream” we knew is at risk. Looking ahead, the great unknown will be in our resilience and ability to adopt once the “dream enablers” no longer support the “dream” we have always known. Our future hangs in the balance.

 In Conclusion:
While the trends and trajectories are ominous, there is a brighter side: We have an enormous opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade. It starts with an awakening; gains traction with resilience and innovation; flourishes with new economic engines of growth to counter the challenges, and ends, hopefully, with our leaving a better place for those following us. The intergenerational challenges that go with it are focal points in my new “book-in-progress.”

For more information, contact us at www.weatheringthestorm.net 
                                                                                                                                                  Mike Conley

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