30 January 2009

Two articles worth reading on Economic Prospects (and a hopefully farfetched analogy with Climate Change)

This article (published on Seeking Alpha) on global economic prosepcts, actually prepared Senate testimony, is very pessimistic, but nonetheless very informative and probing. (I would have thought that in preparing remarks for the Senate they would have minimized the jargon a bit better, but don't let that get in the way: the article is very intelligent and well-informed. Not to mention scary.)

This article (from NYT Magazine) is on a more journalistic level, and not (quite) as pessimistic, but also worth the read. (More focused on U.S.)

Note that even the pessimistic view seems to acknowledge that at least in broad outlines what the Obama Administration is trying to do is more or less the right thing to do. Obviously, they think that the starkness of our situation hasn't really sunk in yet, but personally I have more confidence in the people on Obama's team, and the president himself, to recognize reality and do what needs to be done than I ever had under any of the last four previous administrations, at least.

This may seem wildly tangential, but what went through my mind when reading the Seeking Alpha piece was how analogous this global economic crisis is to the likely coming global climate crisis and the planetary energy economy. Effects cascade, and multiply, in a feedback spiral. The credit collapse was a tipping point, comparable to the looming loss of Arctic sea ice, which panicked climate scientists now fear could happen as soon as 2015-2020. When (OK, if) that happens, the almost immediate consequences will be extremely unpleasant. Severe disruption of the entire northern hemisphere climate, as the Arctic Ocean goes from 90% reflective shield to 90% absorber of the Sun's heat energy. (One likely consequence: the release of a trillion tonnes of methane from Arctic permafrost. Methane is 20x as efficient as a greenhouse gas as CO2, and, what's more, when it does degrade, it degrades into: CO2 [‼] (and water)).

The consensus today is that we need to avoid a global temperature rise of anything over 2ºC over 1990 levels, at almost any cost. This scenario could mean a rise of well over that, and in less than fifteen years. Pray that doesn't happen. Energy may seem a minor problem when we're figthing wars over the drastically reduced food and water supplies, then just plain insufficient to feed a population of 6+ billion.

We are definitely living in the Chinese Curse of interesting times.
H/T SGH (1) and RHB (2).

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