10 Possible Future Disasters

Global Economic Collapse
A protester sets fire to copies of euros in Greece in 2011. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

While pundits and politicians enjoy trotting out global economic collapse to energize the voter base, economists are split over the chances of such a crash. It's a ticklish problem, partly because forecasts can distort the very system they seek to describe, and partly because collapses can result from disparate sources, from a deep and protracted depression to runaway inflation. Indeed, economists still struggle to unravel collapses that already occurred.

All we can really say, as we watch China prop up its ailing stock market and the European Union struggle to define a set of economic policies suited to the diverse needs of its member states, is that indicators look more than a little dodgy. Whether we look at the tepid fiscal recovery, obstinate job insecurity or looming food and water anxieties, it seems likely that problems will only worsen under global climate change scenarios or energy-asset depletion [source: Froetschel].

Or not. That's the nature of the dismal science, after all: risk and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, China's economic strategies, including its debt addiction, are past due for a reckoning — one that could rock the world economy. Elsewhere in East Asia, Japan courts a currency war by exporting its deflation [source: Mauldin]. Then again, Japan could sidestep the issue entirely by leading the world in building the robots that will revolutionize our lives — or end them ...