The world as we know it is a place filled with risks and threats. We look back at 2016 and note that we seem to have entered an era of increasing peril in the US. We have compiled a list of the top twenty scariest threats to the United States.
Just making the list, as the twentieth most scary threat to confront the US, is the risk of an outbreak of a massive global infectious disease. This threat to potentially harm the US increases every year. Scientists believe we are closer than at any time in history to the US being impacted by the potential spread of a global pandemic. The world, and consequently the USA, is only as strong as the weakest country in terms of fighting an epidemic outbreak. This is in part because of growing urban populations and in part because of a massive increase in global travel
Lessons were learned from the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The deadly disease claimed the lives of 11,000 and destroyed the struggling economies of Liberia and Sierra Leone before it was contained. The Zika virus has begun spreading more rapidly since its discovery in 2015 and now affects over 80 countries. Infectious disease does not respect national boundaries and both recent outbreaks took the local and the international health services by surprise. Efforts to prevent the spread of these diseases to the US were successful in the past. But new strains of disease are emerging every day and these diseases are being transmitted more widely as in the case of avian Flu. The risk from a huge epidemic impacting the US remains very high
Ranked at number 19 in the top twenty scary threats facing the nation is widespread and prolong water shortages. Scientists predict that the US is at high risk of a “mega drought” which will test the fabric of society to its limits. California has been facing extremely dry conditions for a number of years now but the situation looks set to get worse. The American Southwest and the Central Plains area are particularly susceptible to a sustained drought which could last for decades rather than years.
The problem is not simply of sufficient water to service the population. Many cities are already struggling to meet the needs of their citizens including Los Angles, Florida and Nashville. As drought takes hold wildfires have become more common. Undoubtedly the affects of climate change will exacerbate the problems and the risk to the lives and well being of ordinary Americans will increase.
From too little water to too much the people of America know that one of the scariest threats to face the US is that of floods. Despite a level of preparedness which had previously been unseen, cities like Louisiana were completely overwhelmed by rising water. In Louisiana there was a loss of 11 lives and countless properties and businesses destroyed. Days of heavy rain contributed to one of the most serious natural disasters in US history. Record rainfall that accompanied Hurricane Harvey caused untold damage in Houston, Texas.
In fact 2016 was one of the wettest years ever with a total of 19 major floods recorded across the country. These abnormal climate patterns look set to continue and floods look likely to remain a peril to be anxious about for many Americans.
Increased racial tension in the US is one of the most chilling perils to threaten the US today. The polarization of people along racial lines is very hazardous. Increasingly racial unrest is bubbling over at flashpoints around the country. In 2016 we saw this culminate in self-styled neo-Nazis marching and intimidating the people of Virginia and the death of a counter-protestor at the hands of one of the tiki-torch yielding white supremacists.
Many people are very fearful that the current tone in public discourse is fueling this and that space and legitimacy is being given to white supremacists and fascists who appear to be growing in confidence. Polarizing candidates like Roy Moore, backed by a President who has not been cautious in how he speaks about ethnic groups, are fanning perilous flames. In the meantime black people,e and young black men in particular, continue to die at the hands of the police. Many believe that the situation is ripe for inevitable race conflict.
The growing certainty that the Russian government led a cyber attack against the US Presidential election along with the massive UK Health Service Cyber attack has led to many people taking the risk of a cyber attack more seriously. Hospitals and medical practitioners in the UK were forced to refuse treatment to patients as their entire IT systems were subjected to a massive ransom ware attack. The US power grid is acknowledged to be especially vulnerable to an attack because of low levels of investment in cyber security. Any attack which involved disabling the power grid could have catastrophic consequences for American citizens and businesses.
$20 Trillion Debt
If you are not worried about the high levels of US debt you really should bThe current level of US debt is one of the scariest threats for the future of the country. The current debt is larger than the country produces in a year. This is a worrying indicator to investors that there are potential difficulties with repaying the debt down the road. The long term impact of such a huge federal debt is of great concern. As the debt grows, investors could increase interest payments because they are carrying a higher risk. This could have a devastating impact on the US economy, including slowing growth and devaluing the dollar. The current spending is not sustainable, with the Social Security Trust Fund insufficient to meet spending promises for retiring baby-boomers. If the US were unable or unwilling to increase the debt to deliver this could further exacerbate the problem for a generation saddled with massive national debt.
Many Americans feel very frightened and utterly powerless in the face of the risk of mass shootings. In the US mass shootings have become almost commonplace and have become increasingly dangerous with the numbers of wounded and fatalities increasing constantly. The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas broke all previous records in terms of the numbers of victims and took the questionable spot as “most deadly” mass shooting to date in US history. Americans are now more likely to die violently at the hands of a mass shooter than to die in many other ways. Experts estimate that Americans have approximately a 1:1500 chance of being slain by a shooter. These are terrifying and sobering statistics. American parents are so concerned that their children will be caught up in a school mass shooting that many have equipped their children with bullet proof backpacks.
The Anti Vaccine Movement
Ranked at number 13 in our list of scariest threats to the US is the anti-vax movement. The rise in the Anti-Vaccine Movement in the US is one of the scariest things for the future and represents a serious and unnecessary risk to life. Immunization programs are responsible for the eradication of small pox, a disease which claimed the lives of 300-500 million people in the last century. Polio, measles, whooping cough and many other preventable and potentially fatal childhood illnesses were on the decline in the western world and in the United States.
As a result of the emerging Anti- Vaccine Movement the tide may be turning. Vaccines work by herd immunization, when close to the entire population is immunized. With the new reluctance of parents to have their individual child vaccinated the effectiveness of herd immunization is seriously compromised. Diseases can very easily become re-established and indeed there have been serious measles outbreaks across the US. Parents who choose not to immunize their child are putting all American children at future risk.
Demise of the Middle Class
A scary threat facing the US is the further demise of the Middle Class. The problem we are facing is of a shrinking middle class doing comparatively worse than previous generations and than their peers in other developed nations. Stagnating, and in many cases, declining middle class incomes have been trending for a while. The prospect of leading a life, poorer than that of their parents is a very real and pressing threat facing many Americans across the country. The fact that the material wealth of a whole generation is deteriorating can give rise to political unrest, instability and support for extreme political points of view.
Oil price shock
It has long been an accepted wisdom that oil price spikes, and the knock on affect at the gas pumps, are a big threat to the US. It is scary to see that actually any wild fluctuation in oil prices could plunge the US into a downward spiral and could upset the geopolitical applecart. We need to also be anxious about any fluctuation in the oil market and what it could trigger in terms of economic hardship and global conflict.
Oil prices are now steadier since the lows of 2016, which triggered a tightening in the oil supply pipeline. A production cut pact is in place with Russia and the OPEC countries to manage supply but this deal is always precarious and if it were to end there is a risk that a new supply war would be initiated. Another factor which could destabilize the shaky markets is an increase in US shale production with a risk of a return to recession across America. The prospect of an energy drought and a return to the 1970s when there were queues at gas stations around the country is a very frightening threat facing the USA.
Loss of truth and death of facts
When a leading Trump advisor told a bare faced lie to a news anchor and coined the term “alternative facts” a terrifying new reality was introduced. Americans are now contending with the scary reality of a world after truth and facts where they believe that very little of what they see and hear can be trusted. The prospect of a world without mutually agreed upon truths and scientific certainties are terrifying. Americans are filled with dread at the prospect of navigating a muddy world where it is impossible to hold the powers that be accountable and facts are no longer reliable or mutually agreed on.
Tsunamis are one of the most scary and potent threats to the United States. They are huge tidal waves, caused by earthquakes or other seismic activity and can have a devastating impact in terms of loss of life and destruction of property. We know about the hazard from catastrophic tsunamis which have hit around the globe. In 2004, a massive tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean. It impacted 11 countries and killing more than 200,000 people. More recently a Japanese tsunami struck killing 15,000 people and putting a Japanese nuclear power plant in grave danger. There have been tsunamis before along the US coast. Scientists are warning that a massive off-shore fault-line near Alaska could cause a huge US tsunami. Many coastal communities are at risk if massive waves were to sweep ashore as they have done in other countries.
A Midwest earthquake
There hasn’t been a force 8 or more in the mid west in over 200 years when earthquakes caused the might Mississippi river to flow backwards. Many believe that the area is no longer susceptible to quakes. This complacency is a huge reason why the risk of a catastrophic loss of life in an earthquake is increased. When the last one hit the area was not very densely populated. Now the high population along with lower building code requirements have made the Midwest very vulnerable and ill prepared. Once thought to be dying out, the area is known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone and it continues to show lower levels of seismic rumbling. A major earthquake in the Midwest would have catastrophic consequences.
The ninth most scary peril which the US faces is the risk of a super-volcano annihilating large swathes of the country. One of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes is in Yellowstone National Park. Fears for a super volcano eruption in Yellowstone are growing due to an increase in the seismic activity measured in the area of late. If the super volcano did erupt it would likely kill roughly 90,000 people instantly. In the aftermath of the volcano an estimated two thirds of the United States would be rendered completely uninhabitable. The volcanic ash cloud would be so large it would effectively block all sunlight beneath it and poison the atmosphere which would create a nuclear winter with the potential to destroy all life in the USA and beyond.
On December 16, 3200 Phaethon, a three mile wide asteroid missed the earth by a comfortable distance of 6.2 million miles. 3200 Phaethon missed the earth on this occasion but NASA scientists have labelled it “potentially hazardous” meaning there is some probability that it may collide with our planet in the future.
The chances of an impact by a large asteroid are fairly remote however scientists are warning that there is a very significant risk from smaller asteroids colliding with the earth. If a small asteroid hit the USA, it would do huge damage immediately, destroying a city if it were to impact in a densely populated area. Even scarier is the prospect of the long term affects of the asteroid impact which could include dramatic climate changes leading to food shortages.
Experts like Elon Musk and the genius Stephan Hawking are warning that the danger of rogue AI is one of the scariest things to face the US. Super artificial intelligence could pose a threat of total annihilation for mankind. Musk has called on the US government to create a regulatory framework to control and monitor the development of Artificial Intelligence. His suggestion found resonance in Senator Cantwell from Washington who has recently proposed just such legislation.
Many Americans are concerned about the doomsday “Terminator” scenario where AI became self-aware and immediately began to pursue goals that were not consistent with the continued existence of humanity. This is the terrifying vista of sci-fi where our technology turns on us and eliminates us as. Many people are simply frightened by the pace at which the technology is progressing and the likelihood of robots replacing us in our jobs in the future. The hazards with rogue AI only increase as more and more of the lives of Americans is influenced and affected by Artificial Intelligence.
The current infrastructure of the United States is struggling under the burdens of increased population and many years of under investment. Many people are very fearful that the additional strains of climate change may be enough to tip our infrastructure over the edge to total collapse. It is clear from the lessons of New Orleans and more recently Puerto Rico that our communications, electrical and water systems are very poorly prepared for catastrophic weather events. Many are scared that catastrophic weather events are set to become more frequent as the effects of climate change grow.
The elderly infrastructure of ancient levees proved alarmingly vulnerable during Hurricane Katrina but renovating and replenishing infrastructure is a hard sell as it is time consuming and costly. Equally if the effects of climate change do come to pass, this will result in a massive relocation of people and a resultant need to relocate the infrastructure to meet their needs. Americans are not optimistic that this can be achieved and are highly fearful about this peril.
The third most significant threat to make Americans fearful for their futures is the risk of tyrannical leadership. Americans, whatever their political persuasion, are deeply concerned about the potential of tyrannical leaders who will erode the constitution and individual freedoms. Many feel that the Presidency of Donald Trump represents just such a threat. On the other hand, Trump’s supporters are equally concerned about oppression by a covert deep state. President Trump seems to be worryingly willing to ignore constitutional boundaries and to decry the pillars of an independent courts system and a free press.
The leading threat to Americans and the most feared risk to the USA is that of international terrorism. Ever since the deadliest attacks on 9/11 the US has been on a heightened terror threat alert. The attack on the Twin Towers claimed 3000 lives. More recently attacks like the Boston Marathon Attack and the Orlando Nightclub shooting have caused Americans to be very fearful. In Europe terrorist have had a higher death rate than in the US with the Manchester and Paris attacks proving particularly deadly.
Many people are very anxious that ISIS will launch a major attack on US soil. Law enforcement officials are also very troubled by the resurgence of al-Qaeda. It has been 16 years since the last al-Qaeda attack and in this time Americans have been lured into a false sense of security, that their deadliest enemy has been defeated. In fact the group are re surging as all international attention has focused on ISIS. What is most worrying about the Afghan group is the capacity which they demonstrated in the massive attacks on September the 11th. Americans are very fearful that a terrorist attack on the same scale is in the pipeline
Without a doubt the number one threat to the US is the risk of nuclear war. President Trump and the highly erratic Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader have been locked in an escalating war of words since Trump took office. Many experts believe this US policy of brinkmanship actually increases the likelihood of a nuclear Armageddon within the not too distant future.
In November 2017 Kim Jong Un test fired the Hwasong-15 ballistic missile which has the potential to reach the Eastern seaboard of the United States Of America. The Korean despot has claimed that he has the capability to arm the missiles with nuclear warhead and whether he does or not is open to speculation. It is clear and terrifying however that the Korean missile capability has increased far more quickly than it was assumed to be able to. James Stavridis, former Navy Admiral predicts that there is a 10% chance of a nuclear conflict between the states and North Korea. The people of Hawaii, who have had “duck and cover drills” are hoping that President Trump is taking heed of the term “mutually assured destruction” as it is plain that no-one benefits from a nuclear war.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker