Clem Sunter

When breaking futures become breaking news

2014-02-18 12:00

Clem Sunter

When I published the article Breaking Futures on 7 January, I did not anticipate that three of the futures I had chosen would become breaking news so quickly. Here they are:

1. Super storms, super heat and super cold

In the article I said: "Climate change is now being classified as a security threat to life and property, whether it is a man-induced phenomenon or part of a natural cycle." California and Arizona had record high temperatures last year which in California has turned into a megadrought this year. America's most populous state of 38 million residents and also its largest state economy is now running out of water. President Obama recently visited the area and announced that the budget he is sending to Congress next month would include $1bn in additional funding for new technologies to help communities to prepare for a change in climate.

Elsewhere in the US there have been massive snow storms. Meanwhile, the jet stream over the Atlantic has acted like a conveyor belt bringing in so much rain that the British are saying that the floods are the worst in 250 years and, as one political leader has remarked, the nation is sleepwalking towards disaster. My point is that, as a security threat nature may become the most formidable enemy to the US, the UK and many other countries - far worse than any terrorist movement. Politicians will now have to consider the opportunity cost of fighting wars in far-off lands when maybe the money should be spent on constructing desalination plants in California and flood defence systems in the worst affected areas of the UK.

Certainly, local councils around London should stop selling new land for development within 50 or 100 year flood zones. Suddenly Britain is looking like a crowded little island crumbling at the edges to natural forces which are completely beyond its control. Is this going to be an annual Armageddon? Nobody knows for sure but the evidence in favour of climate change and a rising frequency of extreme weather events is growing.

2. The super-rich/middle class divide

My comment at the beginning of January was: "Wealth inequality is now overtaking income inequality as the burning issue of the day." The statistic that subsequently caused the greatest stir at the annual meeting of the great and the good at Davos was that the richest 85 individuals in the world have as much wealth as half the world's population of seven billion. Imagine that: 85 people would fit into a medium-sized restaurant or a double-decker bus. Interestingly, the richest person in the world is a Mexican called Carlos Slim who owns a telecoms business. With $73bn in his pocket, he is ahead of Bill Gates with $67bn and Warren Buffet with $53bn.

My argument is that even for middle class people the economic environment is now unbelievably tough and the ability to save and hence increase your wealth has been seriously diminished. Moreover, given that interest rates are at an all-time low, you cannot accumulate wealth in the bank like you did in the last century. Pensioners are most at risk.

3. Snowden's torch

This breaking future was about the extensive influence that the whole Edward Snowden affair has had on the intelligence community. As I remarked: "Traitor or hero, he has compelled every country to review the way it keeps its secrets secret." The first person publicly to react to Snowden's revelations is President Obama. He promised in mid-January that no more attempts would be made to snoop on the conversations of leaders of countries considered to be allies. Moreover, the practices of the security agencies - particularly in the field of collecting phone records - would be reformed and made subject to regular review by a panel of private advocates. They would provide an independent voice on whether the US Constitution was in any way being transgressed.

Snowden, meanwhile, remains holed up in Russia once hailed as the land of Big Brother.


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