Climate change is already affecting population migration, resource allocation, and development in the form of extended droughts,
famine, and resource decline—and resultant record numbers of
displaced people, refugees, and migrants. One study presciently suggested in 2013 that the Arab Spring could be reversed due to failure to
address the resource challenges from climate change. The report cites
climate models that show warming will occur faster in the Middle
East-North Africa region, exacerbating regional water scarcity.[ 9]
If population outlet valves are closed and climate change mitigation
efforts are unsuccessful, geopolitical stability may be expected to
Population growth—the sheer impact of human numbers in a
finite location—is sufficient to tip population density to a point where
stressed agricultural, mineral, and forestry resources cannot support
humanity. At this point, disease and sanitary health risks grow and
pandemic risk increases. Even without population growth in a region,
the impact of climate change driven by human behavior in the rest of
the world may dictate a decline in the regional population. These events
are obviously destabilizing, with potential geopolitical ramifications.
This is by no means a complete list of risk factors, nor a full description of each, nor does this discussion begin to explore the
interactions of the listed risk factors. What seems clear from a
brief view of the risk landscape, though, is that the number and
magnitude of risk factors are continuing to grow and to compound
each other, while the willingness—if not the ability—to address
them is not keeping pace with that growth.
Each of the risk factors identified here is greater today than
when the Doomsday Clock was created. The consequences are high,
and the need to model and understand the risks is great. While
actuaries may be able to do more to quantify and publicize the
nature of these risks, true leadership will be required to mitigate
them. Without such modeling, discussion, and leadership, doomsday—once solely rooted in the dystopias of science fiction—is by
no means inconceivable.
WES EDWARDS, MAAA, FSA, is a principal at Mercer based in
The Ticking Clock
Population growth—the sheer impact of human numbers in a finite location—
is sufficient to tip population density to a point where stressed agricultural, mineral,
and forestry resources cannot support humanity.
[ 1] “Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to
Midnight”; New York Times, Jan. 26,
[ 2] “Timeline”; Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists website. Accessed at
thebulletin.org/timeline on Aug. 15, 2017.
[ 3] “World Population to 2300”; United
Nations’ Economic & Social Affairs;
[ 4] “The World’s Newest Major Religion: No
Religion”; National Geographic; April 22,
[ 5] “The Global Warming Debate Heats Up”;
[ 6] “Pandemic—The Cost of Avian
Influenza”; Contingencies; September/
[ 7] “What 11 Billion People Mean for
Disease Outbreaks”; Scientific American;
Nov. 26, 2013.
[ 8] The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the
Deadliest Plague in History; John M.
[ 9] Underpinning the MENA Democratic
Transition—Delivering Climate, Energy
and Resource Security; E3G; February
Pandemic & Health
This article is solely the opinion of its author. It does not express the official policy of the American Academy of Actuaries; nor does it necessarily reflect the
opinions of the Academy’s individual officers, members, or staff.