The election of nationalist and populist leaders by electorates that
view immigrants and outsiders as threats to their own well-being
and prosperity threatens diplomacy and cooperation among
nations. Since Machiavelli wrote The Prince in the 16th century,
the balance of diplomacy and war has tipped toward diplomacy,
though not without notable steps backward. But the advent of the
atomic age in 1945 has raised the stakes for humanity. I believe the
new nationalistic fervor—especially in developed countries and
world powers—is the single most significant non-weapon-related
factor already considered by those keeping the Doomsday Clock.[ 2]
How could it not be, given the impact on treaties, ongoing wars,
and foreign relations?
When the smallest, poorest, and most undemocratic of nations
have nuclear weapons with the ability to deliver them anywhere,
the calculus of doomsday risk has clearly changed. Those nations
are now in a position to impose demands on the rest of the world
and expect that those who have more to lose will be less willing
to “call their bluff.” The likelihood is increasing that a bluff called
or a bluff overplayed will result in cataclysm.
The world’s population has continued its rapid growth, but the
growth has not been equally distributed. The table on page 31
from the United Nations shows that developing regions have
experienced the lion’s share of the population growth, with more
outsized growth projected in the coming decades.
Most of the “hot spots” in the world where civil war, revolution, and religious conflicts exist are found in developing
nations. Not surprisingly, this correlation points to growing
population as a risk factor as populations with differing political,
religious, and cultural attitudes bump up against each other,
resulting in conflict.
Furthermore, even small localized conflicts have proven
capable of rapidly expanding to neighboring areas and populations as alliances and religious and cultural ties link the
indirectly impacted to those in the hot spot. World War I was
the classic example of a localized conflict ultimately embroiling
the world. It is not difficult to envision that mutual self-defense
organizations such as NATO, which are structured to deter war
by raising the consequences of attack on one member, could
turn a regional conflict into a cataclysm. This risk is greater if
an aggressor doubts the willingness of members to truly come
to one another’s aid if attacked.
Without a doubt, the intent of the world’s major religions is to bring
peace and spiritual fulfillment throughout the world. However,
collectively they have not prioritized the ability for each religion
to reconcile the means of achieving that intent with the goals and
means of other faiths. Since the Crusades, differences between
religious groups have been a source of conflict, and this dynamic
continues today. The nuclear states of Pakistan and India represent
another example of national religious differences driving military
conflict that has greater potential ramifications than 20 years ago.
Another religious risk factor, ironically, is the decline of reli-
gion in the developed world. As reported by National Geographic:
The religiously unaffiliated, called “nones,” are growing sig-
nificantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North
America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make
up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, U.S.
nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline Protestants, and all
followers of non-Christian faiths. …
But nones aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts
of the world—sub-Saharan Africa in particular—religion is
growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will
actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one
researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the
rapidly growing rest.”[ 4]
What are the implications of the growing atheistic, agnostic,
secular, nonreligious population in Europe and America in the
face of a religious less developed world?
The concentration of wealth and the influence of wealth and business
have continued to emerge as a global force. Some political corners
and consumer forces pressure wealth to be “responsible,” but the
economic appeal of new low-cost sources for labor as input and
beckoning markets of consumers for output mean capital will seek
the highest return on investment. The aforementioned nonreligious
European and North Americans represent less than 15 percent of
the world population but control over half of its wealth.
Extremist organizations appealing to religious beliefs constitute
evidence of dissatisfaction in the wealth and power status quo
that spill over with destabilizing effect on the developed world.
The destabilization may be in the form of terrorism, refugees, and
migration crises. The likelihood appears great that these forces and
similar events will continue in frequency and magnitude given
that wealth concentration and religious and secular sentiment
against it continue to grow.
Pandemic and Climate Change
Since before the millennium, actuaries have discussed climate
change on the pages of Contingencies, in professional meetings,
and within insurance companies. The consensus has been that
there is sufficient evidence to conclude that “a risk” exists.[ 5]
The debate continues, but differences of opinion are mostly about
the timetable and geopolitical implications of climate-related events.
The Ticking Clock
When the smallest, poorest, and
most undemocratic of nations have
nuclear weapons with the ability to
deliver them anywhere, the calculus of
doomsday risk has clearly changed.