Disruptive Forces in the 21st Century – What’s the worst that could happen?

Two months ago Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ and The University of Strathclyde published an extensive and far-sighted report that outlined trends and patterns from 2013-2030 that will be of great interest to all stakeholders in the Maritime sphere. Within this report however the authors decided to articulate the 6 major “Disruptive Forces” that it believed would be “Game Changers” between now and 2030, which I have listed below:

  1. Russia joins NATO.
  2. The Dollar loses its reserve currency status.
  3. Major Pollution accident in the Arctic.
  4. Rise of the Green Crescent.
  5. Disruptive Technologies.
  6. Global Collapse.

Exempting the fact that these phrases are fairly vague and unhelpful by themselves (and personally, not well explained in the report either), the report did raise a key question:

What would constitute a Game Changing event for the World in the next 30 years?

In light of this I thought I would venture my own list of 6 “Game Changers” and put them up for public consumption. So here it is, my list of 6 (bit arbitrary I know) Games Changing events that could happen in the next 30 years:

  1. The world (China) masters Nuclear Fusion.[1]
  2. A new Bird-Flu esque virus comes from China
  3. The Euro collapses.
  4. Radical Islam takes over Pakistan.
  5. The Internet collapses.
  6. A Manamamax class vessel sinks in the Suez Canal.

The World (China) masters Nuclear Fusion:

The Holy Grail of Energy, Nuclear Fusion would re-write the Global Economy and balance of power in a way that few can even begin to understand. If Fusion lives up to its promise (a big IF!), it is a limitless, clean, highly efficient Energy source which can continually supply Energy at a consistent price. This not only therefore would give businesses a massive advantage if they had access to Nuclear Fusion, but it would also re-write the trade patterns in the Energy sector which accounts for 10-15% of Global GDP.

If Nuclear Fusion is successful then it is unquestionable that the world oil and gas prices will fall dramatically and with a collapse in price, the loss of commercial viability will destroy many of the current fields being developed. It will also economically challenge a wide variety of Energy exporting nations, in particular the members of OPEC where some members like Russia are dependant for over 40% of the state’s revenues on Energy exports.

That’s before we even begin on the potential upside effects on climate change and downside effects of Nuclear proliferation and enhanced threats of Nuclear terrorism, both prompted by increased global demand for nuclear fuel and technology.

A new Bird-Flu esque virus comes from China:

While perhaps clichéd it should be worrying to many how often threats of pandemics have started in China, not just in recent memory but even as far back as the Black Death, Asia has been the source of major global pandemics.

For those of you who haven’t viewed foreign Policies coverage of the latest one, this is a pretty scary prospect as well….

The Euro collapses:

Again it may be Cliched but it is undeniable that a wholesale collapse of the Euro would truly be a game changing event. Not only does the Euro-zone make up the world’s largest single currency block (Est $16 Trillion), but it also represents 3 of the World’s Top 10 largest economies, the world’s second largest exporter and the world’s largest consumer market that has underpinned the growth of Asia’s (and now Africa’s) so termed “Tiger” economies.

The Collapse of the Euro due to lack of political leadership, public hostility to austerity or a disorderly collapse due perhaps to an attack on government bond yields may also lead to a default(s) large enough to trigger another global recession.

More fundamentally perhaps is the challenge to the concept of Europe that the Euro’s collapse would have, and if those who believe that the existence of the EU has prevented another major war on the European continent for over 60 years…..

Radical Islam takes over Pakistan:

This is again a very frightening event which is certainly not outside the realms of possibility. It has long been the subject of discussion as to how involved the ISI (Pakistan intelligence) are with the various assortments of Jihadist movements in the Tribally Administered territories of North West Pakistan, but the Mumbai terror attacks and the discovery of Bin Laden in Abbottabad however would appear to highlight that at best incompetence and at worst a degree of collusion happens at the highest levels in Pakistan’s state security network.

On a civil society side, we can look at the assassinations and violence against those accused of Blasphemy and several high profile incidents of acid attacks on women, all of which serve to underscore the deeply Conservative nature of many within the Pakistani system. The fact that the most recent election is the first in history as well that marks a transition from one democratic party to another, is a reminder that democracy is not a deeply embedded concept in Pakistan yet, thus while the recent election is a good sign, there is no guarantee that this is a precedent that will continue.

Of course the “Why does all this matter” is that Pakistan not only has Nuclear weapons capability and in fact exported this to North Korea and Iran through the Haqqani network (albeit unintentionally for the State of Pakistan!), but it also maintains one of the most tense and fragile borders in the world with India which has frequently threatened to spill over into violence (see the Mumbai attack aftermath). That’s before we even touch on what an Islamist run Pakistan might do for stability in Afghanistan (admittedly they aren’t great now but this could be far worse!).

The Internet collapses……Well at least in the form we know it:

Contrary to popular belief the internet isn’t invulnerable per say, more just difficult to permanently bring down globally. Whether they be Politically motivated groups, anarchists or perhaps even a state sanctioned attack, the internet will always be vulnerable in any country in the world, as witnessed by both Libya and Syria both losing internet in the entire country during the last 12 months.

Of course the other issues to the internet’s stability rest on traffic and the ability to coordinate volumes of traffic, a point which raised concern when a European internet regulation consultancy organisation was the recipient of a vast cyber-attack which was said to have slowed down the internet for certain European users.

Other issues to consider of course are what would happen to the internet if its control fell to specific nation states, a move that is being actively pursued by countries with a history of poor human rights records such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia (the full list is fairly long). If the internet is anything, many would argue that at its core it’s about freedom and moreover it is a tool to break the information monopoly held by stronger actors and allow minorities to have their say. If the internet became regulated by the respective state that an individual lived in then would it be too far a stretch to say that the internet as we know it today would have been destroyed? (granted this is very subjective rather than a factual “System Error” crash.)

A Manamamax class vessel sinks in the Suez Canal:

What is a Manamamax vessel? Good question. Currently this is a conceptual vessel size, though to be honest I could use the Triple E Maersk Class as a current one, but it isn’t as big as the planned Manamamax.

Feel like you need a dictionary for that last bit? Well to explain it simply, Maersk Triple E Class are the largest containership vessels that have ever begun construction and when completed they will be able to carry 18,000 Twenty foot Units (Imagine the largest boxes you see on lorries, though technically these are mostly 40X40). The idea of a Manamamax vessel is one that could go up to 30,000 Twenty foot Unit equivalents (TEU).

Now why does this matter? Well for two main reasons: how do you salvage a vessel that big? What would the cost implications of a salvage for a vessel that big in such a crucial part of the world as the Suez Canal be?

I have written before about the difficulties of recovering the Costa Concordia and the challenges being faced, but perhaps this envisaged scenario is even worse. Not only can the containers only be removed by machine if the vessel hasn’t listed (turned to the side), but with the sheer weight of the vessel, any unplanned movements of water or failure of the ballast system could lead to significant structural pressures and collapse of the vessel structure. This just makes the removal even harder, more time consuming and expensive.

As to the cost….Vessel + 30,000 Containers + salvors fee’s + loss of use + P.R. company to protect brand + fines from Egyptian government (+potential legal fees for the crew) + loss of transit through the Suez Canal + loss of hire and delay for other vessels who cant use Suez + loss of earnings for those who needed goods that were supposed to transit via Suez……..I am not sure I can quantify that, but I suspect you have some idea of what that might do for many in the global economy and what the lasting implications on the world Maritime and trade space maybe.

Oh and last year the largest Maersk vessel in the world (14,000 TEU ish, Emma Maersk), got pulled into port near Panama with 9 metres of water in its engine room…


Concluding Remarks:

This is not intended to be a list of events that will certainly happen nor is it meant to be exhaustive, but I do feel that it perhaps represents a more realistic list of potential game changing events than the one posited by the author of report I cited at the start of this article.

There may be many significant challenges to the world as we now it in the next few decades, but perhaps the greatest challenge is the most clichéd of all: Getting mankind to actually work together for a global, common interest.

Now that really would be a game-changing event.



For a copy of the report you can download it here: http://www.lr.org/news_and_events/news/247009-global-marine-trends-2030-three-scenarios-shaping-the-future-of-the-worlds-maritime-industries.aspx


I have not included links to many of the points but if you would like some of the sources I have used then please contact me for them.