Is the Financial Crisis a Preview of the Climate Crisis?

Earth EggI took a couple of hours out tonight to watch the Frontline special “Heat”, a poignant and well-produced look at the climate crisis, the tacit complicity in ignoring the problem by both consumers and corporations, and the expedient lack of leadership on the issues that really matter by both presidential candidates. The more the documentary played out, the more familiar it sounded.

Over the past few years, we’ve had very public discussions and analysis of the housing bubble and the subprime mortgange crisis, along with constant speculation of when the bottom would eventually fall out of the market. Anyone who claims to be surprised by the financial meltdown either hasn’t been paying attention or has a stake in denying the obvious and longstanding evidence of impending trouble. Now we’re on the brink of a global financial meltdown.

The Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman was on FreshAir today discussing Ben Bernanke, and remarking how he was, by fate, the most informed person possible to heading the Fed, having based his academic career on studying financial catastrophes from the Great Depression to Japan’s banking crisis. He has more knowledge about how to fight the crisis than any predecessor, and more resources and support in attacking the problem aggressively. And yet, everything he’s thrown at the crisis so far hasn’t had the intended effect. We may have simply passed the point of being able to manipulate the the system to produce desired outcomes.

Patterns like this make my synapses light up, because patterns often show you the future in a complex system. We are living right now in tremendous fear of financial meltdown, even though we were all complicit in the leveraged consumption that drove us to this point, despite the evidence of danger–and even now, many of us are whistling past the graveyard.

Is this what we’re doing with the climate? If you missed Frontline’s “Heat”, it’s worth a look.

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