Recent events in Mumbai serve as a reminder, lest there was any doubt at this point, how fragile the world economy has become. The virtual center of globalization, Mumbai serves as call-center central for many of the world’s large companies. If stock traders are paying attention, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the major stock indices shed a quarter of their so-called “value” this week.
Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke have employed every trick in both their books to prop up the industrial economy. Despite their efforts, or perhaps because of them, the economy is running on empty. We’ve nose-dived into a depression and we’re taking the world with us into the abyss. The biggest shopping day of the year produced a slight uptick on the economic radar screen, but nobody’s calling the season an economic success. A trampled Wal-Mart employee is viewed as collateral damage, tragic grist for the consumptive national mill.
What’s left to try for the financial wizards? They could cut the interest rate to zero, and start running the printing presses 24/7. But I doubt either tactic would generate economic growth at this point.
Barack Obama, the perceived economic savior for the vaunted American middle class, will be lucky to inherit an economy with any fumes in the tank. All the wishful thinking in the country can’t resurrect a long-dead corpse. By the time president-elect Obama takes the oath of office, he’ll have all the power of a quadriplegic EMT without a medical kit, much less a resuscitation device. And he’ll be staring at a patient with a DNR order, courtesy of a lethal combination of inevitable geology and abysmal policy. Growth for the sake of growth — the ideology of our national economic policy, the neoconservative nightmare, and the cancer cell — ultimately invites humbling despair.
I used to believe the experts who claimed we were headed for a series of recessions, each one worse than the last. But I don’t see us recovering from the current depression with a nine percent decline in availability of the world’s oil supply, year after economically dreadful year.
An annual decline rate of nine percent works out to 66 million barrels per day next year, down from 73 million b/d this year. As if that’s not dire enough, picture dropping from 73 million b/d in 2008 to about 38 million b/d in 2015. It’s tough to imagine we’ll have anything resembling globalization, a functional industrial economy, or national policies that matter to you and me when we can’t keep the lights on in half the world’s cities.
Fortunately, the ongoing world financial collapse offers a ray of hope to those few hardy souls who survive the rumbling herd headed for the big-box bargain bin, not to mention our non-human neighbors. We just might stop runaway greenhouse, if only because we’re forced by geology. It’s becoming increasingly clear we won’t voluntarily take the necessary action to save our sorry asses and, even if a few of us do manage to take action, it won’t have any measurable impact. The UK’s Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) cites Arctic climate scientists who predict “an Arctic ice-free in summer by 2011-2015, eighty years ahead of predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” PIRC’s report recognizes what many scientists have long known: The consensus-building approach used by IPCC leads to forecasts that are too conservative to be meaningfully useful.
The PIRC report is far more scary than a collapsing industrial economy. Unlike the smoke-and-mirrors con game of the dismal science, the PIRC report is based on serious scholarship. Now there’s change we can believe in.