This week kicks off the World Economic Forum (WEF). The great and the good will not be flying in from all around the globe, as many did previously on their private jets, to pontificate on the world’s problems as this year the event is virtual. The situation seems apposite given the mess we are in and the prevalence of environmental risks highlighted in the Global Risks report that precedes each meeting, as shown in the list below.
Infectious diseases have made an obvious come-back onto the list after an absence of 10 odd years. To be fair, nobody foresaw the likelihood or impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and identifying global risk are inherently uncertain. One article that caught my attention on the WEF website was on the link between climate change and pandemics. I did see a TV report earlier this year that highlighted how land development in China was encroaching upon the natural habitat of wildlife resulting in more contact between humans and animals that could be an explanation for the initial Chinese outbreak, if indeed that is where Covid-19 first began (just to ensure I do not sound like the orange vainglorious one!). But that report didn’t stick in my mind. Until now.
As the WEF article highlights, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated there is no evidence of a direct link between climate change and Covid-19. However, they acknowledge that changes in living environments of the animals on Earth caused by climate change may impact infectious diseases. Dr. Anthony Fauci co-authored a paper in September that stated “the COVID-19 pandemic is yet another reminder, added to the rapidly growing archive of historical reminders, that in a human-dominated world, in which our human activities represent aggressive, damaging, and unbalanced interactions with nature, we will increasingly provoke new disease emergences.”
Although not a journal noted for its medical or scientific expertise, this article in December from Rolling Stone on the topic frightened the hell out of me. Just another happy thought to add to expanding list these days! If I had read an article like this a year or older ago, I would likely not have given it as much thought as I do now. And that is a reflection on what the last year has done. Lists of risks such as those in the WEF Global Risks report seem a lot more real today.
Posted in Climate Change, General
Tagged bats, climate change, covid 19, dengue fever, Dr Anthony Fauci, environmental risks, Global Risks report, infectious diseases, inherently uncertain, Malaria, mosquitoes, orange vainglorious one, pandemic age, real risks, risks feel real, Rolling Stone, WEF, WHO, wildlife habitat, World Economic Forum
As is now customary ahead of Davos week, the latest World Economic Forum report on global risks was released and the usual graphic of the top 5 global risks in terms of likelihood and impact are reproduced below. Environmental risks and technology risks again dominate the likelihood list which is indicative of the current consensus. As this post highlights, the likelihood of irreversible climate change within the next 10 to 20 years is the short, medium and long-term issue of our times.
Although the report does state that “geopolitical and geo-economic tensions are rising among the world’s major powers” and that these “tensions represent the most urgent global risks at present”, I was somewhat surprised to see that geopolitical risk did not make the top 5 likelihood list this year. Despite the current market (wishful in my view) thinking of a kick the can down the road fudge outcome, Brexit in 2019 may result in a constitutional crisis in the UK or the possibility of a large portion of the population being alienated by a possible rushed outcome this Spring (e.g. hard Brexit or permanent custom union). His Orangeness and his ability to flame division, whether internally in the US after a bad Mueller report or against China to deflect from his pitiful negotiating style, are ever present possibilities for 2019 (if not hopefully remote ones). Although maybe somewhat alarmist, I can’t but help worry that his reign may end with some form of violent turmoil, he will not go quietly!
As an aside, the wonderful TV show “Brexit: The Uncivil War” from the UK’s Channel 4, which I think is on Netflix now, does raise the issue of how democracies will operate in a world where all sides can use technology to manipulate a (potentially decisive) disengaged minority to the political extremes. If the long-term success of democracy is dependent upon compromise, then we may be in trouble. Pundits say the implications of Brexit politics is a break from the traditional left/right or conservative/liberal divide, into a much more complex mixture of differing tribes. In fact, I would highly recommend this video from Dominic Cummings, the main subject of the show, who ably explains the parameters of the new political landscape (if you don’t have the time to watch it all, watch a few minutes after the 15-minute mark on how they did it).
click to enlarge
One other item that caught my attention in the WEF report, in section 6 called Open Secrets, was the assertion that when “the huge resources being devoted to quantum research lead to large-scale quantum computing, many of the tools that form the basis of current digital cryptography will be rendered obsolete”. The article further asserts that “public key algorithms, in particular, will be effortlessly crackable” and, under certain scenarios, “a collapse of cryptography would take with it much of the scaffolding of digital life”. Do I hear a new arms race approaching? The report predicts “as the prospect of quantum code-breaking looms closer, a transition to new alternatives—such as lattice-based and hashbased cryptography—will gather pace” although “some may even revert to low-tech solutions, taking sensitive information offline and relying on in-person exchanges”. Imagine having to rely on people meeting other people to get things done……..unthinkable!
Posted in General
Tagged black swan, Brexit, Chinese economy, climate change, CO2 emissions, conservative liberal, cyber crime, cyber terrorism, cybersecurity risk, Davos 2019, digital cryptography, disruptive technology, Dominic Cummings, economic slowdown, elevated indebtedness, environmental risk, extreme weather, global financial system, global risks, global risks survey, global trends, globalization, grey rhino risks, hash based cryptography, income inequality, lattice based cryptography, nationalism, Paris Agreement, political tribes, quantum code breaking, quantum computing, technological change, The Uncivil War, traditional left/right, uncertainty, unsustainable asset prices, US equity markets, voter manipulation, World Economic Forum
This year’s Davos gathering is likely to be dominated by Donald Trump’s presence. I look forward to seeing him barge past other political and industry leaders to get his prime photo opportunity. As US equity markets continue to make all time highs in an unrelentingly fashion, it is scary to see the melt-up market been cheered on by the vivacious talking heads.
Ahead of Davos, the latest World Economic Forum report on global risks was released today. 59% of the contributors to the annual global risks survey point to an increase in risks in 2018, with environmental and cybersecurity risks continuing their trend of growing prominence, as can be seen below.
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Undoubtedly, environmental risks are the biggest generational challenge we face and it is hard to argue with the statement that “we have been pushing our planet to the brink and the damage is becoming increasingly clear“. That said, what is also striking about these assessments (and its important to remember that they are not predictions) is how the economic risks (light blue squares) have, in the opinion of the contributors, receded as top risks in recent years. The report does state that although the “headline economic indicators suggest the world is finally getting back on track after the global crisis that erupted 10 years ago” there is “continuing underlying concerns”. Amongst these concerns, the report highlights “potentially unsustainable asset prices, with the world now eight years into a bull run; elevated indebtedness, particularly in China; and continuing strains in the global financial system”.
A short article in the report entitled “Cognitive Bias and Risk Management” by Michele Wucker caught my attention. The article included the following:
Risk management starts with identifying and estimating the probability and impact of a given threat. We can then decide whether a risk falls within our tolerance limits and how to react to reduce the risk or at least our exposure to it. Time and again, however, individuals and organizations stumble during this process—for example, failing to respond to obvious but neglected high-impact “grey rhino” risks while scrambling to identify “black swan” events that, by definition, are not predictable.
One of the most pervasive cognitive blinders is the availability bias, which leads decision-makers to rely on examples and evidence that come immediately to mind. This draws people’s attention to emotionally salient events ahead of objectively more likely and impactful events.
I do wonder about cognitive blinders and grey rhinos for the year ahead.
Posted in General
Tagged black swan, Chinese economy, climate change, CO2 emissions, Cognitive Bias, cyber crime, cyber terrorism, cybersecurity risk, Davos 2018, disruptive technology, economic slowdown, elevated indebtedness, environmental risk, extreme weather, global financial system, global risks, global risks survey, global trends, globalization, grey rhino risks, income inequality, meltup market, Michele Wucker, nationalism, Paris Agreement, technological change, unsustainable asset prices, US equity markets, World Economic Forum