Are We Worried About the Right Threats? These Risk Experts Don't Think So

November 3rd 2016

Mike Rothschild

According to some of the most prominent experts in risk and natural disasters, we aren’t prepared for the worst and most likely threats to the human race. And what’s worse, we’re not even discussing them.

This is the conclusion reached by both 21 experts in risk analysis surveyed by the Associated Press, and over 750 such experts who contributed to the 2016 Global Risks Report for the World Economic Forum. According to these leaders, what dominates news headlines, debates, and presidential stump speeches is not what we should be concerning ourselves with. Ironically, even as our candidates appeal to fear, our scariest problems are being downplayed or simply ignored.

The experts agreed that climate change, particularly the failure of legislation to dampen its effects, is the threat to humanity that’s both the most likely and most impactful. However, the candidates themselves are divided on whether it even exists. Hillary Clinton has a plan for it, but Donald Trump believes it to be an elaborate hoax.

In fact, when President Obama said in 2015 that terrorism had killed fewer people than climate change had, he was savagely mocked – despite the raw numbers proving that he was correct.

A 2012 report by DARA International estimated that 400,000 lives are lost to the effects of climate change each year. That's compared to the WEF's estimated 100,000 deaths caused by terrorism worldwide between 2001 and 2014. 

The experts interviewed by the AP are deeply concerned about nuclear weapons as well, with the threats of pandemics, large-scale cyber attacks, and problems with high technology also keeping them awake at night.

Meanwhile, the WEF report concluded that beyond climate change, the biggest risks are weapons of mass destruction, water access, large-scale involuntary migration, and massive fluctuations in energy prices. Catastrophic migration and water scarcity are already taking place — even in the US. California's crippling drought is entering its sixth year, while the US has admitted just 10,000 Syrian refugees — despite the hysteria over their entry dominating presidential politics.

The UN believes nearly 800 million people worldwide lack clean water, and estimates the number of international migrants has increased by a third since 2000, standing at over 250 million.

The WEF report also discusses more esoteric threats, such as war between developed nations, the misuse of neurotechnology, artificial intelligence running amuck, governmental collapse, currency crashes, failure of financial institutions or communications, natural or human-caused disasters, and food crises. While many of these seem outlandish, the report makes it clear that they’re real. And despite the dangers, mentions of these subjects have been scarce in presidential debates and speeches.


Nuclear weapons come up merely as talking points, with Donald Trump being taken to task for reportedly asking a foreign policy expert why the US simply can’t use them, and Hillary Clinton responding that Trump is too unstable to have access have his finger on the button. Their actual deployment and upkeep — and the president's near unilateral power to launch them — rarely is mentioned.

Meanwhile, references to the perils of technology, the risk of governmental failure, large drops in currency or property value, or social instability are totally absent from the rhetoric of either candidate.

However, all is not lost. The WEF report is over 100 pages of data-driven analysis of the major threats facing humanity, as well as cogent and achievable strategies on how to deal with them. And the experts surveyed by the AP make it clear that we shouldn’t live in fear, but learn about the potential disasters to come and how to prepare for them.