I spent a while racking my brain trying to figure out what would be the best initial topic to discuss. I have a lot of things that are hot button issues to me but instead of diving into those right away I thought it was best to look at what are the top 10 risks and challenges that our country faces today. This makes a good starting point because each of these things is a topic unto itself that I will dig deeper into in the upcoming days and weeks. Here is my list, in order from the biggest down:
1. If a terrorist organization were to get a WMD onto our shores
I think most people would agree that this should be at the top of the list and, if not, very shortly thereafter. I could probably be more general and just say the risk is for them to get their hands on a WMD period. However I chose to be specific because the toll it would take on our country from a combination of factors (lives lost, physical, psychological, emotional and economic damage) would be far greater if it happened here than if it happened abroad. We have done a pretty good job since 9/11 in keeping our homeland safe but this is an ever present danger in the world we live in and we must always be vigilant.
2. Our national debt
This is one of my biggest hot button issues and you will hear me talk about this quite a bit. Even our military leaders agree that this is one of the biggest risks to our nation’s security. Most people have no idea how large our current debt load is. They see the roughly $14.5 Trillion on the debt clock and think that’s it. But that’s not it, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The real number is considerably higher and isn’t currently reported due to a very unusual accounting system used by our government. I will get into further details on this in probably my next post. Just know that there is little else that can cause us to lose our status as the world’s largest super power than this. There is little else that can dramatically change our way of life and economic prosperity that we have grown so accustomed to than this. And it’s all our fault.
3. The world runs out of oil
I think the ramifications of this speak for itself. If there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that the world will eventually run out of oil. There is only a finite amount of it under the ground so it’s just a matter of when, not if this takes place. If it happens in a hundred years or later we’ll probably be okay. Given the exponential rate of technological advancements I’m sure we’ll have something in place at that point that will alternatively power our cars, boats and planes. If it happens in say 10-20 years then we’re in for a world of trouble. There are some experts in the industry that already think the world has hit peak production and that it’s all downhill from here. If they’re right then you will think back fondly on the days when gas only cost $4 a gallon.
4. Climate change
Rarely have I seen such a hotly debated issue as this. I don’t claim to be an expert in climatology. However, since I lack this expertise I tend to listen to the people that are. Despite the fact that a percentage of the general population has begun to have doubts about this issue, there appears to be little to no doubt among the experts in this field. One thing they agree on, in almost full consensus, is that man has caused the temperature on the planet to rise. To what extent that we have, how much more it will continue to rise and what effect it will have on our ecosystem are still being debated. If these experts are remotely right with their projections then we are looking at some serious ramifications to our food chain and ultimately our existence. The one degree the temperature has already increased sounds pretty benign by itself but when you consider that an average increase of nine degrees is an extinction level event for mankind then all of a sudden that one degree sounds more like 1/9th of the way to oblivion. The inexact nature of this science is the only reason I don’t have this farther up the list.
5. An enemy state developing nuclear weapons
To a certain extent this goes hand-in-hand with number one but it is farther down the list for a reason. Many foreign countries, that are hostile towards the US, might only wish to have a nuclear weapon for the purposes of elevating their country’s prestige on the world stage as being a nuclear power as well as to act as a deterrent against possible invasion from us or any other perceived enemy. Just having a nuclear weapon doesn’t necessarily mean that they would use it. Case in point is North Korea (at least so far). A terrorist, on the other hand, would use a nuclear weapon at their earliest possibly ability and try to find a way to maximize the damage. Where the issue becomes more dangerous to us is if that nation is willing to sell those weapons, or the technology to build them, to someone that is prepared to use it. This is something that North Korea might be willing to do, there is already talk that they’re selling information on their weapons program to Iran. If they next highest bidder is Al Qaeda then we could be in trouble. Another threat is that even if the current leader of that country would never use a nuclear weapon offensively doesn’t mean that future leaders down the line might not do so in the heat of the moment, especially if that leader is very young. Again North Korea comes to mind where the heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, is only in his late 20’s. Hopefully he’s more responsible than I was at that age.
6. Our education system not providing the tools necessary to compete in the new global economy
This is a slow killer. It doesn’t all happen at once or you would see more resources being diverted to this area. However there is no doubt that we are falling farther and farther behind the rest of the world in many areas, especially math, science and engineering. We used to be number one in all categories about 30 years ago. Now, according to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, we have fallen to 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. It’s not that our country has gotten worse, we’ve actually stayed in virtually the same place from 3o years ago (which is the problem). It’s that the other countries have gotten better. So we didn’t fall behind so much as got passed. It is our inability of our schools to adapt to the changing economic climate that is our downfall. If our country wants to stay competitive in the 21 century this will need to be addressed and will require some wholesale changes in the world of academia. Otherwise the high paying, high tech jobs of tomorrow will all be going to places like China, India and South Korea. I shouldn’t even say tomorrow, this is actually happening today.
Pound for pound (pun intended) we are the heaviest country in the world and it’s getting worse by the day. For all the advancements that our civilization has made we eat worse than we ever have. Our obesity rate in 1962 was 13% and now it’s 31%. The abundance of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and enriched flour in our foods is slowly killing us. We have not evolved enough that our bodies have learned to handle most of these items that have only been added to food over the last 30 years. Weight related issues kill more people than 300,000 people in this country every year. Not only is there the loss of life but there are economic issues as well. Medical costs related to being overweight and obese cost more than $117 Billion a year with another $4 Billion in lost productivity due to these problems. The sad part is that this is all entirely preventable.
8. Mexican Drug Cartels
Just feet over our southern border is nothing less than a battlefield. It has also begun proliferating into the US. There has only been one proven killing in the US by the cartels but kidnappings have started spreading over the borders recently and supposedly the cartels have drug operations set up in over 100 US cities. This situation will get worse before it gets better.
9. The US Individual Savings Rate
I’m not talking about the country here, I mean it’s citizens. Back in the 80’s people were saving over 10% of their disposable income. Now that number is less than half of that. This is also when you take all Americans into consideration. If you take out the top 1% of income earners the savings rate for the remaining 99% is actually a negative number. That’s just sad. There are other, more disciplined countries like China and Japan where their people save on average between 15-25% of their income. I realize that our government isn’t exactly the best role model here but at the end of the day this one is on us. We have to stop living in the now and start planning better for our future. It’s simply a matter of discipline.
10. Apathy and selfishness on the part of the general public
This should probably be higher up on the list because if it wasn’t for this a lot of these other problems would have been tackled before they became such an issue. People get so caught up in the day-to-day events in their lives that they don’t take the time to keep their eye on the ball in regards to many of the challenges that this country faces. If they did, and held their representatives in Congress and the White House accountable for their actions and inactions, we wouldn’t be nearly in as bad of a situation that we’re in. It’s hard enough to just get people out to vote. What is so surprising is that virtually everyone has access to the Internet at this point and all of this information is right at their fingertips. It’s just a matter of taking the time to look it up. I guess this all boils down to education. Knowledge is potential power yet some people think that once they get out of school the time for homework is over. It’s not. Also, people often just make political decisions on what will help them out right now. It’s not just selfish, it’s short-sighted. If people only vote for candidates that promise them the most goodies (tax cuts and increases in spending) then they shouldn’t be surprised when the candle gets burnt on both ends and we find ourselves under a pile of debt. It’s convenient for us to blame politicians for being fiscally irresponsible but let’s face it, they’re just doing what people asked them to do.
This list could continue with things like lack of parental involvement, pollution, our murder rate, the percentage of our population incarcerated for non-violent offenses, the use of fear in marketing and politics, the incredibly polarized political landscape, the increase in sensational journalism and opinion-based media outlets and so on and so forth. But I think this list sums up the big items. If you think I’m missing anything then I welcome your comments.