Yes, yes—we all want to know what will happen in 2009—a year that, to borrow words from horror author Stephen King, promises to be "a classic." We'll get to our calls on likely
2009 trends shortly, but first...
In December of 2007, we offered some thoughts about what the world would see in
2008. So, how did we do?
First, let us state that we really don't do "predictions." Trying to get the timing right on predictions is waaaay too tricky; there are just too many unknowns to get both the gist of a trend and its timing precisely right. We prefer to note current trends and try to project them into the future, offering our reasoning on why things are likely to happen a certain way, but leaving the exact timing for Fate to work out.
That said, let's do a quick review of the trends we noted a year ago. (We'll try not to gloat.)
1. Predicted 2008 Trend: Ethanol is uneconomical without massive subsidies, will not solve our energy problem, and will lead to increases in food prices.
2008 Wrap-Up: The world did indeed see a spike in grain prices in 2008, with much of that being blamed on increases in ethanol mandates. Ethanol production was up in 2008, but that did not keep gasoline prices from spiking in the summer. The financial meltdown and crashing oil prices have now ruined the perfect-future scenario assumed by investors in new ethanol plants, and they're going bankrupt at a fast pace.
The push for increased ethanol production will no doubt continue in 2009 and beyond. But the continuing economic crisis and reemerging tightness in supplies of fossil-fuel inputs will mean that corn-based ethanol stays a loser's game, offering a paltry increase in liquid-fuel supplies in exchange for continued pressure on food supplies and prices.
2. Predicted 2008 Trend: On global warming, people are finally starting to "get it," but political bickering over solutions will continue. Emerging science will continue to show that we've been underestimating the severity and speed of the coming climate-disruption effects.
2008 Wrap-Up: Yes, people got it. The more frequent global-warming reports in the mainstream media were reflective of that. But after people acknowledged their concern, they yawned and went back to whatever they were doing.
Polls consistently show action on climate change to be way down on most people's priority lists. Among our political poltroon class, the only global solution that is even being considered is a cap-and-trade program, and that will only happen if the corporations and banksters can figure out how to make it line their pockets with money. The right solution, a
global warming tax shift
that would reduce or eliminate income taxes and shift the burden to fossil fuel use, is not even under consideration.
As for climate change science, professional climate watchers are very worried about the data they're seeing. The news on ice melting in 2008—far faster than computer models have predicted—continued to be particularly stark. More generally, the public is somehow failing to notice that climate scientists are jumping up and down screaming warnings, an unheard-of occurrence in the white-lab-coat world of mild-mannered brainiacs.
3. Predicted 2008 Trend: In December 2007, we said that you ... "reeeaaally need to be paying attention to what's going on in the financial world"... that the sub-prime mortgage problem was just the tip of the iceberg. Believe it yet?
2008 Wrap-Up: In 2008, the bare-knuckled "free market" was shown to be the sham it always was. This is the one good thing to come out of the meltdown: All that nonsense about government just needing to get out of the way so Mr. Market can do his magic and make everyone on the planet fabulously wealthy is now clearly that—nonsense. Not only has Mr. Market created a colossal mess, the millionaires and billionaires are not even willing to suck it up and take the pain. Instead, they are trying to stick us average Joes and Janes with the bill—over $8 trillion worth of "rescue" funding at last count. (That number may be far higher by the time you read this, if the Fed and US Treasury continue their exponential rate of money printing in 2009.)
The bailout funding is all funny-money for now (since they didn't raise anyone's taxes yet), but we'll all pay in the end when the excessive money printing causes hyperinflation and the rest of the world finally shuts off the credit tap, leaving the US with no easy way to import luxury items like, oh, say, coffee and oil and most of the goods people buy at Mal-Wart. We'll say more on all this in the 2009 Trends section below.
4. Predicted 2008 Trend: The global challenges are worsening and converging: peak oil; climate change tipping points; trouble in the money system and an imploding US dollar; shortages of fresh water; toxic chemicals permeating everything everywhere; seemingly endless military conflicts over limited resources.
2008 Wrap-Up: In short, all of those things got worse, except one: In the second half of 2008, the US dollar finally stopped imploding and staged a rally. But it's still way down from its highs of years ago, and in 2009, the dollar's comeback is a likely to prove a temporary phenomenon related to investor jitters over the ugliness of global stock markets and the possible safety problems in banks and money
market funds. That is to say—for now the US dollar is seen as a safe haven, and even with the outrageously irresponsible behavior of those at the helm of the US system, investors still think treasury notes are safer than anything else. For now. (We'll say more on that in the other two parts of this series.)
As for the other converging crises...
- Oil production is still at a plateau. Major producers were unable to significantly increase production in 2008 even though oil prices moved significantly up, at least for a while.
- Climate change, as we noted before, is still on the fast track to becoming the Biggest Thing In the Future We Never Should Have Ignored in the Past.
- Chemicals still reign supreme in everyday modern life, though one, bis-phenol A, finally got some much-deserved attention. But there is no sign of any grassroots change of heart on the whole deal of Better Living Through Chemistry (Even If It Kills Us).
- Water resource problems are worsening, with many rivers that no longer outflow to the sea, groundwater that continues to be pumped faster than it recharges, and the
permanently melting ice of glaciers that threatens the future supplies of drinking water for hundreds of millions of people.
- As for resource wars—which, for now, means
oil wars—we'll see whether Obama really gets us out of Iraq. And in the meantime, he's promising more military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan—where important pipelines are supposed to go—so the trend still seems to be very much alive.
5. Predicted 2008 Trend: Go local, get resilient.
2008 Wrap-Up: OK, that was more of a recommendation than a trend assertion, but it was great advice, and still is. You were ahead of the game in 2008 if you figured out how to reconfigure your life to live with less gasoline, moved your banking activities from monster mega-banks to a local bank, and began growing more of your own food. That will go double in 2009.
As you can see, we've already started to let slip some of our thoughts about 2009. But never fear, we will shortly get to specifics of what we think the front viewing screen of the Starship Wrecked Enterprise will be showing everyone in 2009. First, though, because the financial crisis is likely to be a dominant theme in 2009, it's important to take a couple of minutes to revisit how the world—and especially the United States—got into this mega money mess. In part 2, we will briefly cover the
causes of the financial crisis.
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