Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Horshack's Prophecy

In a simpler time, a big laugh line on "Welcome Back Kotter" was that Arnold Horshack's last name means "the cattle are dying."

But how funny is it when the cattle aren't dying back in some mythic "old country" on a 70s sitcom, but in the most celebrated cow region on the planet, the Pampas of Argentina?

And how many of us know this is even happening, or wonder if it's not an isolated event?

Scour the papers as much as you like, no one has been connecting the dots between the extreme weather events from Australia to Iraq to Texas, or wondered whether this weather will be a complicating factor in the recovery that's we're constantly assured is just around the corner. Until Tom Englehardt has done us all this melancholy favor.

I find it interesting that Englehardt readily admits to having patched together his meditation, titled "Burning Questions: What Does Economic "Recovery" Mean on an Extreme Weather Planet?" from "Google University." (Previously, about a year ago, he asked another important question that no one was asking: Why don't journalists in Iraq look up?) In both cases, the guys who are paid to do it ain't stepping up.

Englehardt writes:
Now let me explain why I even bothered to write this piece. It's true that, if you're reading the mainstream press, each of the droughts mentioned above has gotten at least some attention, several of them a fair amount of attention (as well as some fine reporting), and the Australian firestorms have been headlines globally for weeks. The problem is that (the professional literature, the science magazines, and a few environmental websites and blogs aside) no one in the mainstream media seems to have thought to connect these dots or blots of aridity in any way. And yet it seems a no-brainer that mainstream reporters should be doing just that.

After all, cumulatively these drought hotspots, places now experiencing record or near-record aridity, could be thought of as representing so many burning questions for our planet. And yet you can search far and wide without stumbling across a mainstream American overview of drought in our world at this moment. This seems, politely put, puzzling, especially at a time when University College London's Global Drought Monitor claims that 104 million people are now living under "exceptional drought conditions."

What if, he wonders, this weather problem and the crisis of the world's economies dovetail in ways that are currently not being imagined?

We're now experiencing the extreme effects of economic bad "weather" in the wake of the near collapse of the global financial system. Nonetheless, from the White House to the media, speculation about "the road to recovery" is already underway. The stimulus package, for instance, had been dubbed the "recovery bill," aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the question of when we'll hit bottom and when -- 2010, 2011, 2012 -- a real recovery will begin is certainly in the air.

Recently, in a speech in Singapore, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, suggested that the "world's advanced economies" -- the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan -- were "already in depression," and the "worst cannot be ruled out." This got little attention here, but President Obama's comment at his first press conference that delay on his stimulus package could lead to a "lost decade," as in Japan in the 1990s (or, though it went unmentioned, the U.S. in the 1930s), made the headlines.

If, indeed, this is "the big one," and does result in a "lost decade" or more, here's what I wonder: Could the sort of "recovery" that everyone assumes lies just over a recessive or depressive horizon not be there? What if our lost decade lasts long enough to meet an environmental crisis involving extreme weather -- drought and flood, hurricanes, typhoons, and firestorms of unprecedented magnitude -- possibly in some of the breadbasket regions of the planet? What will happen if the rising fuel prices likely to come with the beginning of any economic "recovery" were to meet the soaring food prices of environmental disaster? What kind of human tsunami might that result in?

Happy Friday to y'all! Funny weather we've been having.

No comments: