Since the dawn of the information age some 40 years ago, we have seen tremendous disruptions in all aspects of life. Those who are quick to adapt prosper while the slower ones fall behind. In the industrialized world, the negative consequences are lost employment, stagnant wages, and the widening gap between rich and poor. On the other hand, a generally positive picture emerges in the developing world seen as modernization and creation of a huge middle class.
The above are major effects of globalization driven by technology that has an unstoppable dynamics of its own. They are also driven by three simple realities: Goods flow to places of higher income, jobs to places of lower costs, and talents to places of greater opportunities. At present, America complains about China stealing their jobs because American companies invest there. For the same reason, China sees their jobs going to Southeast Asia with an even lower cost advantage. If seeking lower costs is how business operates, Africa will be stealing everybody else’s jobs down the road. In the future, every country will blame the robots for taking over the labor force.
To resist this unfolding sea change is futile because technology does not stand still, and will advance with accelerated speed. To find a scapegoat for this change is pointless because the jobs lost in older fading industries cannot be brought back except being compensated by jobs created in new industries.
The next big disruption is already being felt in the political arena in the form of insurgency. The disruptive forces mainly come from the Internet and social media where the organizers are able to reach millions of people within seconds with little cost. In America where money politics is in vogue, Bernie Sanders was able to raise over $230 million online from about 10 million of his followers instead of a handful of big donors. On the other hand, by simply fanning fear, anger and insults, Donald Trump could still raise $67 million online from a limited segment of the population. Besides, Trump managed to hijack the Republican Party and secure the reluctant endorsement from two of its top leaders in the US Congress while most of the rest chose to stay out.
Of all the disruptions coming, climate change is the biggest of all. If you choose to believe in science, climate change is man-made this time, not natural as happened ages ago. It is due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Where do these gases come from? They come from many sources but mostly the burning of fossil fuels for over a century. Like globalization, climate change is driven by technology that also drives mass production, consumption and urbanization. We are seeing only the tip of the iceberg right now in the form of severe droughts and storms. When Greenland and the big icebergs melt, we will see the rise of sea level that will threaten most of the world’s big cities. When severe droughts and floods persist year after year, we will see famines and rise in food prices across the world which will lead to all kinds of social and political instability, including wars.
Climate change can be fixed because it is man-made. However, it is hard to fix because it requires cooperation between all peoples. The fact that all countries are at different stages of economic development makes it even harder. We have no choice but to make the best efforts because technology and Mother Nature do not wait. Fortunately, we can count on advancing technology to fix climate change by promoting renewable energy, production efficiency, recycling and wastes reduction. We can also rely on the great tolerance and resilience of Mother Nature provided we have not reached the point of no return. Fixing the climate requires a vision for the future. This vision will prevent the biggest natural calamity befalling mankind.