America’s Ticking Time Bombs
The world is growing at a rapid rate, but with new growth comes new problems. They need to be dealt with before it’s too late.
It is a tough time for politics. Our two parties, already dangerously polarized, seem to be moving even further apart. Leaders spend too much time holding on to their power, and not enough time leading. Lots of people have lost faith in the government’s ability to make actual progress. All this comes at an unfortunate time, because we need strong leadership now more than ever before.
Our government already has its hands full trying to tackle all kinds of problems. Most of our political issues don’t change much over the years; it’s hard to imagine something like immigration or income inequality being fully resolved in the near future. But in our modern, dynamic world, there are always new challenges coming our way. In order to be prepared, we should take a step back and consider where we’re headed. I’ll begin with the most urgent problems — current, mainstream issues that could slowly spiral out of control — and some of the challenges we’ll face as we try to tackle them.
We are still procrastinating on climate change. We have indisputable evidence that climate change is real, and that it harms us. Global temperatures are increasing at an unprecedented and alarming rate. They are beginning to take their toll in certain parts of the world, such as the ice melting at the poles. Global warming will contribute to rising oceans, increasingly intense weather, more frequent droughts and heat waves, and more, all of which will begin (if they haven’t already) to take human lives.
Yet we are making no progress. We haven’t done enough — on either side of the aisle — to so much as break even on atmospheric carbon or global temperatures. They continue to rise rapidly. Political action is inconsistent at best; the Paris Climate Accord, whose provisions were weak enough to begin with, has lost the support of our president. The planet is in trouble, and we are doing almost nothing to save it.
Soon enough, the debate will really begin. It will center on the best way to reverse climate change, not on whether to do so at all. It’s impossible to know how or when it will get started. But the debate will happen, even if it takes a catastrophic event to get us there.
What will the conversation look like? Historically, Republicans pick the smaller government option, and Democrats pick the bigger government option. Republicans may advocate for aggressive green energy tax breaks, while Democrats propose fees and regulations on carbon emissions. This would be consistent with each party’s usual way of shaping the economy.
But we aren’t really talking yet, because conservatives continue to insist that nothing is wrong. Perhaps we can move faster. With the right strategies, Democrats may be able to spark discussion about the realities of climate change. Maybe they can bring Republicans to the table by proposing a tax break solution, which Republicans could then sell as an economic policy win. After all, conservatives’ biggest objection to environmental policy is that it strangles the economy. Alternatively, liberals could make a proposal of big, stringent regulations designed to elicit a Republican response.
Either way, the ball is in conservatives’ court, especially with Democrats out of power. We need Republicans to acknowledge the problem before we can begin working on a solution.
Our national debt presents a dilemma similar to climate change: right now everything is fine, but eventually we will be forced to act. As discussed during past US debt crises, if a default happened, it would be catastrophic. American investment accounts would plummet, social security payments would stop or be reduced, and the value of the dollar would collapse, driving up the cost of everything on the market. It would cripple the US economy and destabilize global markets as well.
The problem is that we don’t know how much danger we’re in. If we come too close to a crisis, and a well-designed law brings us back to safety, that law’s proponents won’t get much credit. No one will claim it prevented a crisis, because no one will know what could have happened otherwise. In fact, the law’s spending cuts or tax increases would probably draw backlash. On the other hand, if something terrible did happen, it would probably be blamed on the congress and president in power at the time. So current legislators are tempted to wait, as long as they believe nothing bad will happen for a while.
There has always been discussion about balancing the budget, and both Republicans and Democrats are campaigning on it. But they have incompatible ways of solving the problem. Republicans typically want to cut spending, often on big areas like healthcare. Democrats want to raise taxes, normally on the wealthy. And each party strongly opposes the other’s cost-saving strategies. It’s hard to imagine a Republican supporting taxes on the wealthy, or a Democrat supporting big cuts to medicare, without serious and urgent reasons to do so. It’s been a tug of war, and no progress has been made.
But maybe Democrats and Republicans can work together on a solution to this problem, and its cousin, climate change. These issues, unlike most others in politics, are becoming more serious the longer we wait. If treated carefully, with steps to minimize the burden on the economy, bipartisan legislation would help avert potential disasters.
Next, I’ll discuss new issues in science and technology that may soon enter mainstream politics.