In my "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" class, students are often confronted with "Grey Swans" -- my term for low-probability, high-impact events -- as part of their world affairs simulation. In the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the British news magazine The Economist recently ran a series of articles looking at a variety of Grey Swans that merit government consideration.
"Low-probability, high-impact events are a fact of life. Individual humans look for protection from them to governments and, if they can afford it, insurers. Humanity, at least as represented by the world’s governments, reveals instead a preference to ignore them until forced to react—even when foresight’s price-tag is small. It is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of the future. ... Pandemics are disasters that governments have experience of. What therefore of truly novel threats? The blazing hot corona which envelops the Sun—seen to spectacular effect during solar eclipses—intermittently throws vast sheets of charged particles out into space. These cause the Northern and Southern Lights and can mess up electric grids and communications. But over the century or so in which electricity has become crucial to much of human life, the Earth has never been hit by the largest of these solar eructations. If a coronal mass ejection (cme) were to hit, all sorts of satellite systems needed for navigation, communications and warnings of missile attacks would be at risk. Large parts of the planet could face months or even years without reliable grid electricity. The chances of such a disaster this century are put by some at better than 50:50. ... Keeping an eye on the future is part of what governments are for. ... It might seem quixotic to insist on esoteric preparedness when there are greater threats staring the world in the face, including catastrophic climate change and nuclear war. But this is not an either/or. ... Scanning the future for risks and taking proper note of what you see is a mark of prudent maturity."
www.economist.com/leaders/2020/06/25/politicians-ignore-far-out-risks-they-need-to-up-their-game (related articles in the same issue)
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