Out with the old…

And so, out with the old, in with the new. According to insurance giant, Munich Re, 2008 has been one of the worst ever for natural disasters. Overall global losses ran to around $200bn, with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% up on 2007. In a dry understatement, a spokesman commented: “Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes”.

And as we all know by now, the global economy hasn’t been in this bad a shape since the early 1930s; the difference this time is there are way more people in the world than was the case seven decades ago, and also, the highly globalised nature of trade and economics generally mean that the very strength of globalisation – its high level of interconnectedness – is now seen as its greatest flaw. As the virus of financial collapse spreads, there are few corners of the world with even the slightest immunity to the contagion.

The latest joke among financial types in the City of London runs thus: ‘what’s the difference between Ireland and Iceland? One letter and about six months’. Lest we forget, Iceland has this year been bankrupted, its entire financial system has been shredded and its economy now lies in ruins. Frantic government attempts here to shore up Anglo-Irish Bank seem like an extraordinarily stupid way to whitter away the taxpayer’s rapidly shrinking reserves.

Though I’m not a major fan of economists, you have to hand it to Morgan Kelly, UCD economics professor, when he wrote in the Irish Times: “The bailout of Anglo Irish follows a compelling political logic. Anglo Irish funds developers, and developers fund Fianna Fáil. By any other criterion, a bailout of Anglo Irish is senseless”. Bingo. Kelly deftly dissected the get-rich-quick scheme at the heart of Anglo Irish, as exemplified by its once CEO, and now former chairman, Seán Fitzpatrick.

Had Fitzpatrick been at the helm of a US bank, at least now we would now have the consolation of knowing he was in a federal facility, his personal assets having been seized by the IRS. But hey, this is Oirland, and the Fitzpatricks of this land will likely slip quietly back to their dinner parties and soirees hob nobbing it at black tie events with the property developers we taxpayers are now in the process of bailing out and the government ministers and flunkies who just love to be in the company of these financial titans.

The Sunday Business Post yesterday had an excellent piece explaining precisely how the government bail-out immediately made Fitzpatrick personally wealthier to the tune of at least €800,000. You’d have to laugh, really. The Irish taxpayers’ exposure to the dodgy dealers of Anglo Irish actually goes as far as us having to pick up the bill for Fitzpatrick’s nefarious ‘loans. As the Business Post put it: “This could even include some of former chairman Sean FitzPatrick’s €87 million in secret loans, if he fails to pay the money back and the security on the loans is not up to scratch”.

The screwing-over we are all in for as a result of the threesome involving Fianna Fail, our biggest property developers/speculators and banks like Anglo Irish will only become apparent by the middle of 2009. Expect Brian Lenihan to gaze dole-fully into the cameras telling us that ‘if only we knew then what we know now, we would of course not have sold you suckers, sorry, taxpayers down the swanee.’

On the bigger picture, with Copenhagen due next December, and Obama’s inauguration just three weeks away, it was heartening indeed to see our Pope display such profound moral leadership a couple of days ahead of Christmas. No, sadly, it didn’t involve him sacking Bishop John Magee of Cloyne for his complicity in keeping a clerical paedophile ring in business. Hell no, the former Hitler Youth member had far bigger fish to fry on his crozier.

“Saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction”, was the pontiff’s considered, nuanced contribution to two debates which, up until that moment, I and I suspect many other people, felt were entirely, utterly and completely separate. But hey, I’m not infallible, then which of us is? Quentin Fotterill did an excellent job the other day of nailing papal mendacity. In the closing line of his piece, he writes: “Some advice for the pontiff: fix your own child protection policies and let the rest of us worry about protecting the rainforests.” Well said, sir.

Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, I cling to the belief that 2009 represents the best, probably last, chance for humanity to finally confront the crisis that’s been tapping on our shoulder for at least the last decade, but we were far too busy making paper money and totting up our paper wealth to have paid much heed. Now, perhaps, now we’re ready to sober up, snap out of our collective slumber and get serious. Here’s hoping anyhow.

Happy New Year!

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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  • Coilin MacLochlainn

    Well, it’s about time you wrote a piece. I thought the website had died or something. Good piece. I thought the new Pope had more sense, but apparently not. The whole climate change thing has now changed in my understanding of it: if all of the developed world meet their Kyoto limits, or even the new limits that will be set at end of next year, we are still screwed. Why? Because the global population is increasing exponentially. It has to be hauled back to realistic levels through voluntary family planning. Which will only happen if developing countries find or are given the means to rise out of poverty. And secondly, if deforestation is stopped globally. But how will that happen? If the developed world were to pay the forested countries to protect their forests (which is a good idea), how would those countries prevent logging if their people continued to starve? With population growth and people facing starvation the world over, the forests will be picked away at until nothing remains. And we’re heading there real fast.

  • http://www.climatechange.ie John Gibbons

    Hi Coilin,

    yes, guilty as charged! I’ve been a bit negligent on the blog this last few weeks, probably the cumulative wear-and-tear involved in getting out the IT column every week for 40 straight weeks – was feeling a bit knackered in the run into Christmas, but expect to be back in the saddle more frequently from next week.

    On the points in your posting, hard to argue with any of them. Agree entirely that population remains the bogey issue in all this, one the Green Party (and most environmentalists, come to think of it) avoid discussing like the plague. But with a global ‘sustainable’ carrying capacity probably below 2 billion people enjoying a reasonable standard of living (ie. significantly lower and more sustainable than right now) we have a demographic mountain to climb to get to that theoretical level. – and

    That all assumes of course that the journey to that point doesn’t thrash our remaining resources to the degree that even that lower carrying capacity is also a chimera. Well, lots to discuss and debate in the year ahead, that’s for sure. John G.

  • Shay

    While I agree with many of your points, I feel your pope bashing will only serve to alienate some readers. He is not the head of an environmental movement and the fact that he is raising environmental issues is a highy significant step for this ancient institution.

    As for our illustrious leaders, lets hope that at least the greens are able to implement as many of their policies as possible before they are all kicked out of government.

    A thought, if we are indeed on the precipice, should we consider life after global warming and how we as a country will cope?

  • http://www.climatechange.ie John Gibbons

    Being accused of Pope-bashing is a risk I’m willing to run, Shay. In my view, there hasn’t been nearly enough bashing of the religious orders in this country. You may recall a few years back their friends in Fianna Fail wrote them a €1 billion cheque to cover all their liabilities for abuse cases against them, past, present and future.

    And guess who paid up for these horrendous clerical crimes? Yup, the poor sucker taxpayers, and not Ireland’s wealthiest private organisation. Getting clean away with it has emboldened the likes of Bishop Magee of Cloyne to continue the work of obstructing justice in the pursuit of paedophiles within Church ranks. What has his direct boss, Pope Benedict done to bring this miscreant to heel?

    Absolutely nothing. He’s been too busy gay-bashing over the Christmas period to give a fig for the helpless victims of clerical paedophiles, or to be bothered sanctioning Magee for his disgusting, shameful behaviour. As long as the Catholic Church continues its criminal actions (and inactions) regarding the cancer of paedophilia within its ranks, it deserves nothing but our continued opprobrium.

    On this matter, to remain silent is as good as giving this lot your active assent. On your final point – about considering “life after global warming”, I agree entirely. A good place to start is the ‘Transition Handbook’ by Rob Hopkins (which I’ve been reading over the Christmas break – you can get it on Amazon or buy direct from Cultivate in Dublin’s Temple Bar).

    A really good time to have started planning in earnest for what lies ahead might have been 10 or 20 years ago, but we are where we are, so I guess 2009 will have to do.

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