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The World Is On Fire: Why We Should Be More Concerned Than Ever

No matter where you look, the world seems to be on fire. We are witnessing a political nightmare in the United States, terrorist attacks in Europe, school shootings throughout the United States, protests and civil wars in the Middle East, and a rapidly-changing global climate that will affect millions of people across the globe. While this may feel overwhelming, now more than ever we need to remain calm and help solve these problems together as a species. Here’s why it’s even more important than ever to keep your wits about you and stay informed—because the world really is on fire right now.

Violence against journalists has dramatically increased in recent years. We’ve had a couple years of some really high-profile journalist deaths in places like Syria, Ukraine, and Mexico. There have been many more smaller incidents that are harder to track, but attacks on journalists are definitely up. But, it’s not just physical attacks—censorship is also getting worse in China and other countries around the world.

Authoritarian regimes are thriving, while at the same time, democracies are failing. These regimes, from China to Iran to Russia, are finding it easier than ever to do what they want, when they want, with little push-back from their people. Meanwhile, democracies across Europe and North America continue their seemingly inexorable march toward divisiveness and dysfunction.

It’s not just that American society is politically polarized; we have lost faith in institutions. The news media are distrusted by more than half of Americans. Congress is held in even lower regard; young people think voting doesn’t matter. Until these institutions can regain the people’s trust, it’s hard to blame anyone for mocking them or even shunning them entirely.

Research shows that democracy depends on trust in institutions and on political participation—if we don’t vote or participate in civic life, it erodes democratic norms. Without trust in those institutions, governments can act without restraint. The world has become a tinderbox, and many leaders seem intent on lighting matches. The combination of rising authoritarianism and declining democracy is deeply worrying—and there’s no clear path back to a healthy balance between them.

When I look at where we are today, I see a world where both authoritarianism and democracy are attempting to thrive simultaneously, leading to an increasingly unstable global political atmosphere. That instability could lead to chaos—or worse. This should be our greatest concern right now because these trends will shape everything else over the next few decades: economic growth, climate change, migration patterns, war and peace…everything.

Social media companies, namely Facebook and Twitter, have gone too far with their current policies. They must be held accountable for allowing hate speech and targeted threats of violence to run rampant on their platforms, instead of being allowed to run as unbridled corporations. The social environment on these platforms has allowed for unmitigated bullying and fake news to propagate daily.

Ultimately, social media companies’ bottom line is profits—not public safety. I believe they must change their focus or be forced to comply by law. A good first step would be implementing a zero-tolerance policy against any form of violent speech that could incite real-world violent action. If someone posts a threat to commit an act of violence against another person or group, it should immediately result in an indefinite suspension from all social media sites until such time as a thorough, independent investigation can determine whether said threat was legitimate.

Additionally, social media platforms should work more closely with local law enforcement agencies to help identify users who are making violent threats in order to prevent further harm before it occurs. In my opinion, it’s high time we hold these tech giants responsible for what happens on their platforms—and stop pretending they’re not as culpable as newspapers when something bad happens because someone read something online.

Russia is now using social media to take advantage of our divisions. Russia spent $1.25 million on Facebook ads from 2015 to 2017, according to a source familiar with Facebook’s analysis. Some of those ads—which came in Russian and targeted Americans directly—were designed to sow discord during our election season last year.

Special interests are using social media platforms, and other Internet-based tools, to target their preferred candidates and cause them to win (or lose), said Andres Fontova of FIPR: “Russia made an extreme effort for Trump’s campaign in 2016; we have evidence that they used 50,000 Twitter bots, but why wouldn’t China do it too?”

I can’t imagine social media companies would be idle and let another country set a precedent like that. It was reported by The Washington Post that China is making similar efforts to influence American voters through social media. This should concern everyone because once these special interest groups get control over your elected officials, you will then see laws passed which favor only certain groups. This is not how a democracy works! It is no longer about what you want as a voter, but what someone else wants you to vote for, so they can make more money or gain more power over people.

We have proof that Russia hacked the election, and Donald Trump was involved. In July 2016, The New York Times reported that Russian intelligence services succeeded in hacking servers and accessing emails from American officials in both political parties. However, U.S. officials said that while no actual votes were tampered with, it was still a major violation of national security. The news shocked and angered many Americans but unfortunately for us, we have since found out that Vladimir Putin has been doing much more than simply accessing emails and other documents from election officials; he’s actually manipulating elections in order to gain power over America—and our allies as well!

In October 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of spreading fake news on social media sites such as Facebook to influence elections in Britain (and possibly help pro-Brexit candidates win). She called upon tech companies like Google and Twitter to work together with British intelligence agencies to fight against these attacks. More recently, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians who worked for a Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency which is based in St. Petersburg. They are accused of using social media accounts…to sow discord in the U.S. political system.

Nationalism and populism are everywhere because these ideologies address a very real anxiety that many of us feel. They tell us we’re victims and promise to give us back control of our countries, our culture, and our lives. It may be convenient scapegoating, but these rekindled movements will not solve any of our problems. Nationalism is built on simplistic solutions that ignore history and human nature. Populism panders to fear by blaming others for everything wrong with your country.

If you want to understand why people are voting for right-wing populists like Donald Trump in America or Marine Le Pen in France, you have to look at what’s happened over decades. Our societies have been changing rapidly, leaving some people behind and making them angry enough to lash out at anyone who looks different or thinks differently. But, if we focus only on their anger—if we don’t understand its cause—we won’t get anywhere. If you want better answers than build walls along national borders or ban Muslims from entering the country, then take time today to reflect on how all these forces have come together—and what you can do about them.

What we need to focus on together across all nations, creeds, and beliefs is the threat of global climate change. That’s because climate change could cause a wave of migration unlike anything seen before. A study published in Science magazine estimates that by 2100, up to 1 billion people—or more than 20% of Earth’s population—could be forced to leave their homes because of rising sea levels. The culprit behind much of our warming planet is greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities; even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, temperatures would still rise, glacial ice would melt and sea levels would continue to rise. This has led many scientists to declare that our only recourse is geoengineering—an umbrella term for large-scale projects meant to cool our planet down by changing its reflectivity or other characteristics. Yes, some scientists are seriously considering brightening clouds or using nano-materials to increase reflectivity on Earth.

Some of these ideas to fight climate change may sound pretty crazy, but others have already been successfully tested in small-scale experiments. If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about any plans to engineer a solution to climate change yet, it might be because there hasn’t been enough research into which techniques work best—and what side effects they could have. In fact, one recent study suggests that aerosol injections designed to block sunlight could make things worse by cooling oceans faster than land masses and exacerbating sea level rise (though there are other ways around these issues). For now, it seems like geoengineering isn’t a viable option—but as climate change worsens over time, it may become necessary.

Our politics are broken, and while they can be fixed, it won’t be without changing everything we think we know. According to a 2011 survey by Rasmussen Reports, 68% of Americans think Congress is out of touch with their concerns. That number is likely much higher in 2022. Just 10% believe that members of Congress understand issues affecting people like them. It’s not surprising, then, that so many Americans have tuned out altogether. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements both rose to prominence at least in part due to the general public’s disillusionment with politics as usual. With anger over the system rising on both sides of the political spectrum, it’s safe to say that most Americans are more dissatisfied with politics than ever.

Social unrest, especially politically driven, can be scary for any political party; but more importantly, it is genuinely worrisome for our nation going forward. Our government is supposed to represent us: its citizens. If we don’t feel represented, how can we expect our government to do what’s best for us? How can we trust that they will make decisions based on what we want rather than what they want? It’s impossible to know if there are enough people who feel strongly enough about changing things to get anything done. But, there is hope, if we can redirect our attentions to the real issues facing humanity as a whole. We need to stop focusing on our differences and band together to solve global problems before it’s too late.

Colophon
The photograph used in this article was taken by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash, and was used with permission.

Asides
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