These stresses are of concern enough. But two other factors are likely to give them extra force. I call these multipliers, because they combine with the five stresses to make breakdown more likely, widespread, and severe. The first multiplier is the rising speed and global connectivity of our activities, technologies, and societies. The second is the escalating power of small groups to destroy things and people.

Humankind has been crisscrossing the globe for millennia, and we've been trading large quantities of raw materials and manufactured goods around the world for many centuries. But only in the past hundred years or so, while our population has quadrupled, have we created tightly interlinked economic, technological, and social systems—from industrial agriculture to financial markets—that penetrate virtually every corner of the planet. The kiwifruit on your breakfast plate comes from New Zealand, the plate itself comes from Malaysia, while the tantalum metal in the cell phone beside your plate comes from the jungles of eastern Congo. The globe, says the eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm, is now "a single operational unit."7 And only in the past few decades has our impact on the natural environment become truly planetary: we're now a physical force on the scale of nature itself, disrupting the deepest processes of natural systems like Earth's climate, and massively changing global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.

This is the real face of globalization—a phenomenon that many people talk about but few really understand. It's not just a process of growing economic interdependence among countries. That's something that's been underway for hundreds of years.8 Globalization is really a much broader and, in many ways, more recent phenomenon: an almost vertical rise in the scope, connectedness, and speed of all humankind's activities and impacts. It's as much about the spread of new diseases like AIDS and avian flu from one continent to another, the infestation of the Great Lakes by foreign mollusks, and the arrival of shiploads of poor migrants on our shores as it is about trade negotiations, farm subsidies, and currency convertibility.

The change has brought huge benefits. More trade in goods and services often boosts wealth for all involved: better movement of capital can aid investment and development, and mobilized global opinion brings attention to distant human-rights and environmental problems. Greater connectivity between people and a higher speed of interaction—caused mainly by lightning-fast information technology—let people far and wide combine their ideas, talents, and resources in ways that may expand everyone's prosperity.

But globalization has also created huge challenges. Greater connectivity and speed, for instance, allow what would once have been merely local shocks and disruptions to cascade outward as never before, sometimes affecting the whole planet. Just as the 2003 blackout ramified across eastern North America from its starting point in Ohio, so, earlier that year, did severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerge in southern China and explode into dozens of countries from Vietnam to Canada.

Greater connectivity and speed are especially worrisome in light of the spread of "lethal technologies" that have sharply raised the destructive power of angry and violent people. In a globalized world, an attack in one place can have instant repercussions everywhere. Lethal technologies don't have to be exotic or rare, like biochemical, nuclear, or radiological weapons. Technologies that provide impressive killing power to fanatics, insurgents, and criminal gangs are already widely available: conventional assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and plastic explosives—staggeringly abundant and traded in vast quantities legally and illegally around the planet—are contributing to havoc from Chechnya to Congo and Iraq. Violent groups have also been learning how to convert civilian technologies into appalling weapons—as the

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Terrorists need less than a ten-thousandth of the world's highly enriched uranium (HEU) to build a crude atomic bomb.

(Each dot above represents one hundred kilograms of HEU; the large rectangle of dots represents the amount of HEU in the world.)

Al Qaeda terrorists did so horrifically when they used passenger airliners as guided missiles.

But it's the exotic technologies—the weapons of mass destruction— that keep experts awake at night. If terrorists obtained barely one hundred kilograms of highly enriched uranium—less than one ten-thousandth of the world's stockpile, much of which is stored in insecure facilities in the former Soviet Union—they could easily build an atomic bomb that could flatten the core of any of our great cities.9 London or New York, Paris or Washington, Moscow or Delhi, Tel Aviv or Riyadh—these metropolises are all in countries whose policies evoke hatred from fanatically violent groups, and any could be obliterated in an instant. Never before has it been possible for small groups to destroy entire cities, and this one fact by itself will ensure that our future is entirely different from our past.

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