Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Suddenly Going Green

This spring, politics has become unpredictable worldwide. The German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, home to Daimler and Mercedes, prosperous and Christian Democratic for six decades, has elected a Green government. There is no British equivalent, of course, but it is as surprising as Hertfordshire going Socialist, or Glasgow Conservative.

The pundits seem divided over whether the key to this turn-around was the Fukushima factor (Angela Merkel had not gone far enough by suspending Germany's nuclear power programme) or the Portugal problem (she makes fierce noises about refusing to bail out Eurozone debt defaulters, but ends up subscribing to rescue funds). Merkel stands accused of being environmentally unsound by sufferers from eco-angst, and financially unsound by the patriotic Deutschemark tendency.

One way or another, it is not a great time for governments. It may be worst for the dictators of Arab states, trying to weigh up the advantages of all-out repression of dissidents (Gaddafi-style), last-minute placation (which failed in Tunisia and Egypt), or some combination of the two(as in Assad's Syria). But it is not straightforward for the NATO allies either, all with their domestic wiseacres warning of a Libyan stalemate, or for the Russians, Chinese and Turks, who sat on their hands during the UN vote for intervention, but are now trying to distance themslves from its consequences.

Financial, political and environmental instability make a very tricky combination, yet this is exactly the sort of triple whammy that governments should expect in an interdependent world. If the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can shift the Gulf Stream, and hence the weather in the northern hemisphere, how much more can a tsunami in Japan influence the budget deficit in the USA, the stock market in London, or the political landscape in Germany?

What suddenly seems blindingly obvious is that both the mathematical certainties of the World Bank's global economic model, and the political calculations by which the White House and the Pentagon tried to maintain a precarious balance of power in the Middle East, are well past their sell-by dates. Both economic and political science are revealed as little better at prediction than astrology or soothsaying.

Revisionists seem to be recognising that it might be better to focus on large-scale movements, sudden shifts and trigger points, rather than precise formulae, in trying to read the direction of global developments. In this respect, the environmentalists may have the most plausible basis for such predictions in weather forecasting, and in mapping sudden rises or falls in animal and plant populations and extinctions. Rather than trying to construct models, frame laws or detect regular patterns, ecological science might look at the lumpy clustering of 'exceptional' events for clues about the future, and become foresightful planners using the equivalents of butterfly wings and seaweed.

When the most successful manufacturing economy among the developed nations turns to the Greens to run a state in its industrial heartland, something new is stirring, and it isn't just spring fever.

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