Putting aside the overheated debate about climate change — whether it is caused by human activity, what can be done about it, etc. — more immediate threats demand attention. Here are a few:
AGE OF SCARCITY — After an “age of abundance” marked by rapid economic growth in the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, an “age of scarcity” is emerging, according to some forecasters. It will persist even if the major economies overcome the recent global downturn.
“The main problems of scarcity are water and food shortages, demographic change and state failure,” reports The Economist magazine. The competition for precious resources among shaky governments with even shakier economies could spark tensions among nations that once considered each other allies.
UNSEEN ATTACKERS — Who would have thought we’d miss the days of MAD (“Mutual Assured Destruction”), when a few superpowers kept the peace, more or less, by targeting each other with nuclear weapons they hoped never to use?
Today, untraceable enemies can bring down national computer networks via cyber-attack. If you can’t confirm the source of such attacks, you can’t retaliate — which increases the likelihood they will occur.
The possibility of attacks by shadowy groups with far more devastating weapons is no less real.
“As I view the threat, we have a perfect storm,” warned former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Nunn, a longtime defense expert, leads a group working to decrease the global threat of weapons of mass destruction.
“We have weapons of mass destruction-type material spread in at least 40 countries around the globe,” Nunn said. “We have technological know-how that is spread very wide now. It was formerly thought that only a state could make a bomb. Nobody that’s informed on the subject believes that anymore. We’ve got an increased number of terrorists who would not hesitate to use a nuclear weapon if they were able to get one.”
The use of even a small weapon of mass destruction in a major urban center would have a “devastating impact” not only on the victims of the attack itself but on the global economic system, Nunn warned. “You’d have people dumping out of cities all over the world like nothing we’ve ever seen.”
The challenges governments increasingly face “will be much less predictable than those associated with old great-power rivalries,” says The Economist. Rather, they confront “a new kind of threat: the sort that comes not from other states but [from] networks of states and non-state actors, or from the unintended consequences of global flows of finance, technology and so on.”
DECLINE OF FREEDOM — For the fourth year in a row, more countries experienced declines in political freedom than advances, according to “Freedom in the World 2010,” the latest annual report from the watchdog organization Freedom House. Eighty-nine countries, home to about half of the world’s people, are classified as “free.” The rest, even those nations that hold democratic elections, govern their populations with varying levels of repression.
A report released in December by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly seven of every 10 people live in countries that significantly restrict religious faith and practice. Of 198 nations studied, 75 put official limits on religious evangelization.
If you think such forces are beyond the ability of ordinary Christians to influence, think again. Evangelical groups — including Baptist Global Response, Southern Baptists’ international relief and development arm — are doing some of the most effective work to end human suffering and promote sustainable development, even as they share the love of Jesus.
Followers of Christ also are defending the rights of people in many places to basic human freedoms, including the freedom to worship as they please. The Gospel itself, once it spreads and takes root, has shown its power to transform whole societies as it transforms hearts.
Finally, believers possess the most powerful weapon of all: prayer. You can pray for peace. And where there is no peace, you can pray that God will use turmoil to turn the eyes of searching humanity toward Him.