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Author talks about lessons from superstorm Sandy

Gregory Copley speaks to the editorial board at The Globe and Mail in Toronto November 5, 2012.

Dennis Owen/The Globe and Mail

Gregory Copley, the Washington-based author of Uncivilization: Urban Politics in a Time of Chaos, talked to the Globe and Mail editorial board about his new book and the vulnerabilities of modern society.

Q: Should we be worried about the state of the world?

A: My book talks about the overwhelming urbanization and the electrical dependency of modern society. Modern man is now energy man. That makes us vulnerable. Look at the disruption of Sandy. Vast areas couldn't be reached for several days. There was no power. Civilian infrastructure could not cope. But superstorms aren't the biggest threat.

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Q: What is?

A: Cyber attacks. Cyber warfare is more capable of a strategic victory than nuclear weapons. A cyber attack can selectively target large areas of the urban population which is very fragile and energy dependent.

You can lock down a loss of energy, water and fuel and do an enormous amount of damage and cause a huge loss of life over short period of time.

Nuclear weapons are so 20th century.

Q: Who is likely to launch a cyber attack?

A: It's no longer about a few hackers. Non-state actors rarely have the resources to target major strategic areas of a population. They can do minor damage. So really it is state actors.

The holy grail of cyber warfare is to identify and nullify an attacker as quickly as possible, rather than deal with consequences of an attack on large urban area. This is a threat on a scale much grander than chemical or nuclear weapons.

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Q: You said all societies have natural cycles. What phase are we in?

A: I think we have already hit the apogee. Medical science and wealth have created longer and longer life spans. But now we have things like a sedentary lifestyle and its impact, as well as pandemic diseases such as diabetes that curtail life expectancy. Families have become smaller. Global population will eventually stop growing. That will lead to a decline in the value of urban real estate, which is a primary driver of capital investment. How will we reorganize our sense of identity and purpose?

Q: Are any countries still in the vibrant phase?

A: I think Canada is. It is like Rip Van Winkle awakening from a long and pleasant sleep, getting its identity together, energizing its natural resources and really moving forward with a sense of purpose. Canada is recovering its sense of national cohesion. If you don't know where you're going, every road will lead to disaster. China in the same mode. Both of these countries are now in their primacy.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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