The Five Biggest Problems in the World Today
You hear a lot of stuff happening on the news and elsewhere nowadays. People are fatter than they were 10 years ago, gasoline is $3 a gallon, Israel and Hezbollah are having a free for all with each other, the Iraq conflict is continuing on and on and on with no end in sight, hurricanes threaten Gulf of Mexico oil supplies, sex offenders maraud the landscape and so forth. But what really are the biggest problems we face today? This is important because some theories (Periodic Presidents, the Fourth Turning, and the Great Turning) are saying that a major crisis period may be coming shortly. If so, what's going to cause the crisis? I think it is likely to be one of these five problems that leads to the crisis, and I will enumerate them in terms of their likeliness.
5. Discrimination. No, it didn't end with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movements of the 1960s. We still see it nowadays, in the destruction of a gas station because its owners wear turbans (Sikhs), the murder of a gay man in Wyoming, and even in the way we associate with people in our everyday life. Discrimination is alive and well. It would help if everyone would recognize the worth and dignity of every person.
4. Prevalence of Mainline Religions. This is a large grouping of related problems. The problem is that mainline religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, and so forth, promulgate belief in a higher power ("God") way up there that answers their prayers. "I thank God for helping me through this disaster." What about those that did not survive? Was God with them? Sounds like a retributive God to me. Further, many people and nations begin to make God in their own image. For since the Ultimate Reality is so immense as to be unreachable, the best we can do is make up images that are specific to ourselves, and from this develops the idea of Good vs Evil, with Good being us and Evil being those other guys. From this conflicts develop. Muslims are especially apt to spout off religion in their own name, from the death threats against people who draw caricatures of Mohammad to the majority of people in Afghanistan who want someone executed because he wants to practice Christianity instead. In this country, it manifests itself in forcing us to hear "Under God" in our schools, in demagogues such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and in forcing high school teachers to teach non-science, such as creation and intelligent design. I believe that religious beliefs are at the heart of the present crises in the Middle East that threaten the entire world. People need to understand each other before demanding that they be understood, and the world will be a better place.
3. Retirement of Baby Boomers As we go down the list, we get into more serious problems. This one was caused by all the World War II vets who came home and started manufacturing babies and families, creating a population boom that caused schools in the 1960s to rapidly expand, caused a glut of PhDs in the 1970s, a housing boom in the late 1970s. We baby boomers are headed into our retirement years, and when that happens, some nasty things could happen. What happens when boomers withdraw from their 401(k)s instead of putting money into them? Will the stock market crash? Certainly the presence of all these aging boomers requiring care will be a drag on the economy. I suspect people will want to work longer, but this is still a danger signal in the years ahead. It has caused Harry Dent, an economist, to call for the Mother of All Depressions next decade.
2. Global Warming. Or in general, global climate change. All these fossil fuels that we are burning up is spewing carbon dioxide in the air, which prevents sunlight from getting out and causes the Earth to warm up. Al Gore presented the case for this quite nicely in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. This is a movie that needs to be seen, as Al Gore has presented a convincing case that indeed global warming is affecting the way we live. We see it now, in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in some of these storms across the nation such as the Great Northeast Storm of 2006 June and the St Louis Blackout storms of mid July, and in desert-like conditions in some areas and heat waves all over the place, especially the American West and Europe. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with in the years ahead if we are to avoid destructive events. But it is not the biggest problem we face. Al Gore went to all this bother to prepare a first-rate documentary on the Number 2 Problem. We need something like that on the Number 1 Problem:
1. Peak Oil Our whole civilization is based on it. Oil. It is nonrenewable, and the world is near the halfway point. This means that in the years ahead, while demand for oil soars, production of it will decline. This will result in all sorts of havoc if we are not prepared for it. Good descriptions of the problem are available at www.oilcrisis.com and its links, Jim Kunstler's Clusterfuck Nation Chronicles, although the use of the f-word and other such words in his chronicles detracts from the message, Kenneth Deffeyes' web page, and many other sites. Peak Oil is why the price of gasoline has risen from 88 cents a gallon in 1998 to $3.00 a gallon today, and we can expect it to rise further. It is hard to find substitutes - hydrogen has storage and other problems, ethanol has an energy return ratio of 1 or less, there aren't enough wind turbines (although they are easy enough to construct), and solar power is a long way from providing us all the energy we need. We need to conserve as well, by eliminating the use of energy that really isn't needed by us - computers that burn all night long, lights that light up the ground for nobody, and so forth. To me, Peak Oil tops all of the other problems. It will stop Global Warming. It is important enough that, although I would recommend voting for Democrats in general this fall, if you are in Maryland's Sixth District (Cumberland and Hagerstown), don't. Vote Republican - for incumbent Repv. Roscoe Bartlett, who shows more awareness for Peak Oil than anyone else in Washington.
These are all problems that we need to deal with. Note that I don't list terrorism. I believe this is a subproblem to Prevalence of Mainline Religions. Religions drive people to commit acts of terrorism, for example, to go to where there are 55 virgins. It is a red herring. Terrorism is not the problem. Global Warming is a serious problem but it is not The problem either. The Problem is Peak Oil. Focus our attention on that, and the other problems probably will work themselves out.