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Three Immediate Crises - Market Failure And Green New Deal

By Bill Henderson

30 October, 2008

We face three crises each of which needs mitigation immediately. Three crises that we should have been taking measures to mitigate over the past several decades.

The economic crisis is front and center in all the media but the end of cheap energy could end recent economic history and make economic recovery from the present economic downturn a very difficult, uphill process.

And, most importantly, there is a dawning awareness amongst informed scientists and even the poorly informed public that climate change may be at a tipping point to humanity threatening runaway warming : the unprecedented rapid melting of the Arctic and methane bubbling up from warming permafrost; Jim Hansen making the case of getting back to below 350 ppm as quickly as possible; climate change as an emergency requiring urgent, massive, systemic change.

The market rollercoaster has taken attention away from the environment. Joe Public, worried about his job, his savings, his house and way of life hasn't got a lot of time anymore for paying carbon taxes or for going green by making smart consumer choices, but that shallow green was just greenwash anyway. No incremental change to the car-sprawl economy was going to lead to sustainability. The biggest waste of resources in history pyramid scam is an economic and environmental house of cards vulnerable to any number of potentially devastating black swans.

The collapse of the financial sector and speculation and the fear of a deep recession has cut the price of oil by more than half but actual petroleum production and current global demand has been little changed for the moment. A deep global recession will cut the demand for oil and all fossil fuels but it can't create more oil or coal; the peak constraint was always geological not economic. Demand will ebb to some degree and there will be less investment in discovery and production, at least in the short term.

The Hirsch Report for the US DOE stressed that mitigation would take at least two decades, that we should have started making the change to a post- fossil fuel economy at least two decades before peak. A slowdown in demand and in investment for production won't change the peak timeframe much, perhaps more of a plateau than a peak, but a recovering economy will have to battle ever higher energy prices because the mitigation wasn't done; because free markets didn't magically use the last decades of cheap oil to develop renewable energy sources and much more energy efficient, relocalized and powered down socio-economies and lifestyles.

There is a hopeful silver lining to the very black cloud of the present economic crisis for those aware and concerned by climate change as an emergency and peak energy. Yes, for the moment, economic concern has eclipsed the other two more serious crises, but the financial meltdown has both proven the Church of Business deregulators and smaller government advocates wrong and in the idea of a Green New Deal has begun to provide the key beginning mitigation step: an end to political and economic business as usual.

bill (at)

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