Global risks – are we heading for the abyss or a fresh beginning?

Climate change, greed, inequality, collapsing reserve currencies, fanatic idealists... Aalto Magazine asked the experts what they thought were the greatest global risks at the moment, how likely they were and what (positive) opportunities were associated with these risks.

Professor Susanna Helke, School of Art and Design:

Our economic system is based on a structure that makes all-encompassing greed a necessity. This thinking is now starting to affect food production and perhaps the most essential area of all, the ownership and pricing of water – spelling disaster for millions and leading to price escalation in even the better-off countries. Humanity might return to a brutish struggle for everyday sustenance, with effective and industrialised modern methods at its disposal. Some have everything, while most have nothing – this is a situation in which black and white populist ideologies find a ready audience.

I think that this scenario is frighteningly probable, but I believe that our planet is home to a sufficient number of ethically gifted individuals to prevent the worst from happening.

Professor Olli Varis, School of Engineering:

The world's economic system is unstable and contains substantial risks with regard to, for example, currencies and the banking system. Moral and spiritual decay combined with totalitarianism and/or fervent idealism is also a notable threat. Sufficient will and political ability to curb climate change has not yet emerged, and the multiplier effects of this are a great global risk in my opinion. The chemicalisation of our environment and the decay of ecological systems are likewise worrying, and the threat of nuclear disasters and epidemics still exists.

Risks that are realised unexpectedly are often the most difficult to deal with. Many threats develop gradually, and it is not possible to intervene before a breaking point is reached. The collapse of a society is always a risky business and simultaneously a huge source of opportunities – the same is not true of collapsing ecosystems, however.

Philosopher Maija-Riitta Ollila:

The greatest risk remains unchanged: our way of life is destroying the preconditions of human life. The stealth advance of the environment risk, of which climate change is only one aspect, continues unabated.

And do I believe that doomsday is coming or do I expect humanity to come to its senses? There's strong evidence to support either view, but belief in the negative scenario steers our actions towards the abyss, so I choose the positive alternative: we can fix our problems, one way or another.

Democracies tend to be near-sighted. People are willing to deal with only those matters that threaten their personal wellbeing right at that moment. But we need to seek out fresh alternatives because these offer not only the opportunity to do away with the old, but a life that is richer and more whole in experience. Globally, now is the time for learning: a species of small troops must learn solidarity.

The original article is published in Finnish in Aalto University Magazine 01.
Original text by Helinä Hirvikorpi. Edited in English by Ned Coogan.

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