SINGAPORE (Dec 16): Political polarisation, climate change and social media are three trends that keep former US president Barack Obama “up at night”.

Obama was speaking at a dialogue session today called, In Conversation with President Barack Obama, which was organised by The Growth Faculty. The sold-out event was held at the Singapore Expo.

“I didn’t put things like nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorist on the list [because] there are other things that [you] could worry about,” says the former US president, adding that the world could end up having even greater problems, if it does not get a handle on these three issues soon.

According to Obama, the current political polarisation seen particularly in the US and Europe was the result of several factors.

One of them is the rise of globalisation, which saw the influx of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds, giving existing citizens a sense of cultural disruption.

“People felt their traditions were under assault,” he says.

And the increasing trend of automation and outsourcing, which led to the loss of jobs – especially that of blue-collar workers – led to increasing awareness of greater societal inequality in a winner-takes-all economy.

“As a consequence, you have this populist backlash – sometimes from the left – but more often from the right. And a fall back to tribalism, racism, misogyny [and] ethnic or sectarian conflicts. Strongman rule would come and exploit those divisions,” he says.

“[This] is a return to political trends and societal tensions that help lead to World War I and World War II. We have to be on guard against that kind of trend,” he adds.

Touching on rising sea levels, melting polar caps, and the increasing “frequency” and “force” of natural disasters, Obama says these events will lead to more societal problems ahead.

He points out that the conflict in Syria was partly caused by a “massive, longstanding” draught in the Middle Eastern country, apart from geopolitical reasons.

Likewise, natural disasters in other parts of the world could potentially see drastic shifts in demographic trends that would weigh on existing infrastructure and resources.

“You will start to see mass migration resulting from these disasters,” he says.

While Obama admits that social media had helped him get elected as the 44th US president, these platforms are increasingly used to propagate falsehoods and hatred, he says.

And the debates have shifted from differences in opinions to contesting what is true or false – which is a regression, he says.

“You start seeing a political breakdown as a consequence of that,” he adds.