John McCain, currently one of the front-runners in the Republican presidential race, is fond of saying that international terrorism is the “preeminent threat” facing the world in this century. I beg to differ.
The greatest threat facing the world in this century is the increasing unavailability of natural resources needed for humanity’s survival. International terrorism is merely an extreme reaction of relatively powerless people to the cultural displacements that have accompanied predatory consumption in an accelerating global economy (there may be an appropriate analogy in raids by some Native Americans on encroaching European settlers in the 19th century). I suspect in this case that terrorism is but one small component of the noted reduction in population growth associated with resource decline that will eventually translate into a drop in the net population.
As the world’s resources are drawn down by cultures like ours who have become expert at exponential consumption, that consumption will be seen as more and more of a threat by others who sit on the remaining resources and do not want to enter into economic relationships that could greatly modify their cultures. The plunderers have a duty to recognize this potentiality, as well as the inevitably destructive consequences of their actions. We must alter our behavior out of respect for everyone, present and future. Any remaining threats can then be honestly dealt with.