5 July 2009

Crisis a manifestation of deeper bigger problems

I think the denialists, paid optimists and pollyanas are dim, Andrew Agrees...

Today, after decades of easy growth feeding off widespread, indiscriminate destruction of the global environment, rapid depletion of basic resources starting with oil but extending to water resources, fish stocks, forests, arable soils and even iron ore, and the stacking up of probably open-ended climate change for perhaps centuries ahead, De-growth is the new No Alternative. In other words the current Black Swan big surprise for growth fanatics is simply an outrider for other, more exotic and terrifying animals that despite the current and biggest ever Mass Extinction will fly, swim, leap, hop or slither towards us.

This outlook is almost completely discounted, denied or ignored for rather evident reasons, for example the fond hope that somehow the global economy lurches back into growth, maybe with a large dose of inflation, but lurches back all the same. However this pious hope changes nothing in the real world. We are increasingly able to forecast the almost inevitable, unavoidable sequels of so many splendidly ignored crises starting to coalesce and congeal. They generate huge and unfortunately very logical, increasingle easy-to-identify tipping points for the world economy, human societies around the globe, and geopolitical stability. Rather soon and rather predictably we can find ourselves not in the "real Black Swan" context that Durden talks about, but something much worse than worriers about Wall Street liquidy like to bleat about. The endgame recession which can logically come will of course be called hard to predict and "a surprise", like its 2008-2009 outlyer and forerunner. We could say: like getting a headache from continuous headbanging, round the clock, but announcing this result as a “surprise” !

We may find that we didn’t need cleantech after all, because global economic gave such a good impression of being a dead cat that organic catfood and alternate energy catwarmers for cold nights in parts of the world unaffected by global warming were found to be unnecessary. This however will be at most a two- or three-year illusion, before real world resource and environment limits quite quickly restore the need to invest in, and spend on sustainable alternatives. What the world's deciders decide at the Copenhagen summit will be interesting, if only to see what extent they accept that an era of no-growth must also be one in which long-term sustainable alternatives are heavily funded, where necessary by international agreement and treaty.

When we turn to current attempts at generating conventional economic recovery, ie. growth, this by definition is conventional. As such, it can only depend on fossil energies, high throughput of mineral resources, depletion of bioresource stocks, increased soil erosion, intense water needs, loss of agricultural land to urban expansion and road construction, pollution of waterbodies by pesticides, and so on. The net result is already peeping out in the data used by "green shoot" enthusiasts, that is a fast bottoming out in the fall of world demand and consumption rates for energy, mineral resources, transport, food, cement, water and so on. In truly mechanistic fashion, this underlays or rationalizes the 'exuberant recovery' of tradable asset prices we noted above.

Because 'ecological' is the new trendy word, we can take an ecological outlook and use ecological analysis to the above paradigm. One key concept we can utilize is teleology which may perhaps be an evolutionary trait, but in any case describes the goal-seeking and goal-setting characteristic of large, even continental size ecosystems. Both conventional economic growth, and present format sustainable economic growth, have no teleological capability. They set non-goals, or pernicious and unattainable goals. Even worse, if the goal of conventional economic recovery, through conventional economic growth was achieved, its sustainability would be a few months - not a few years. This is the dramatic extent of what we can call "shrunk horizons". This is the real, real world outlook at this time, with multiple, quite easy-to-predict impacts in the trading circus – quite a large number of light years away from what Durden and Roubini take as their kickoff points.


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