My old mum said to me a while back that she doesn’t believe half of what I say about the way our world seems to be heading. She has an abiding faith in fundamental human goodness. As do I, but I also don’t underestimate our tendency to avoid seeing the big picture and focus our attention on only our immediate everyday concerns.
Meanwhile, Louise, my gypsy wife, sometimes reverts to Tarot readings about which I remain sceptical – although I admit they can promote some worthwhile analytical conversations.
I tend to be guided more by how things have played out in the past and by trying to pay attention in the here and now. And I’ve decided to put myself to the test by having a go at predicting events in 2011 – if only for a wry chuckle this time next year.
Of course, predictions are only of use if one has the agency to do something about them – other than just feel vindicated when they come to pass. And once they have happened, they are of no use at all. So this is no more than a personal indulgence but here goes…
1/ Public concern about climate change will remain low as attention stays focused on the increasingly widely felt impacts of austerity measures. Informed climate change debate will shift from how to reduce global CO2 emissions to how to mitigate inevitable warming impacts. Discussion of the pros and cons of various climate change techno-fixes, especially fantastical large scale geo-engineering projects, will come to the fore.
2/ International purchases of primary energy resources and agricultural land will increase as the rapidly emerging economies (especially China) and the oil producing countries (including Russia) seek to ensure their own future energy and food security. International conflicts over resources will intensify and nations powerful enough to do so will increasingly restrict exports of their own scarce resources whilst at the same time buying up the rights to those of others.
3/ As primary resources become technically harder and riskier to extract and economies become increasingly unstable, corners will be cut leading to one or more man-made environmental disasters on the scale of the Gulf oil spill or the Hungarian toxic sludge. There will also be further extreme weather events worldwide as a result of the changing climate. (Well, floods in Queensland, evidently – but I expect there will be more.)
Energy and Economy
4/ Chinese demand and the so-called economic ‘recovery’ in the West will cause the price of oil to rise to over $100 per barrel and probably (as in 2008) to spike much higher, potentially precipitating the next dramatic downturn in the ongoing economic crisis. Despite insisting that they have capacity to increase production, OPEC countries will fail to do so, thus calling into question stated levels of reserves. Since Western economies have been shown to become dysfunctional when oil goes above $85 a barrel, this will lead to further financial turmoil with all its real world consequences and will put an end to the present myth of a recovery in progress. Despite China’s continued pursuit of an 8-10% rate of growth, subsequent reduced demand from the West will then see the price of oil fall (and this pattern of an undulating plateau will continue through the rest of the decade). Meanwhile China’s rapidly inflating economic bubble will survive the year intact.
5/ The economic consequences of diminishing energy reserves, in particular cheap conventional oil, will finally receive wider media attention (probably as a result of evidence provided by Wikileaks or another whistle blower) and so become more mainstream in public consciousness. Despite this raised public awareness, the UK and US and most European governments will still not publically address the looming energy crisis or be seen to evolve coherent future energy policies.
6/ The 65th anniversary of the marriage of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler on the 29th April 1945 will be marked by a less private wedding which will serve to distract the UK populace from more pressing issues in the early part of the year. The brother of the groom has already made it known that he has an appropriate costume to commemorate this happy event.
Meanwhile the stars of right-wing political parties and authoritarian regimes will continue to rise in the ascendant.
Economics and Austerity Impacts
7/ In the Eurozone, Portugal and probably Spain will be forced to accept bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (although given the size of deficit of the latter, it is hard to see how this will be achieved). This will expose the vulnerability of Italy and France to the full light of day. Greece will probably default and leave the Eurozone, although, because it is as much a political project as a financial one, the Eurozone will survive (for the time being). The US, which has not imposed austerity measures, will certainly experience oil shortages, causing its real economy to contract .
8/ The exposure of banks in the UK, Europe and the US to toxic commercial property loans that have hitherto remained ‘off the books’ through continued ‘extending and pretending’ (‘delaying and praying’?) will be revealed through market discovery. This might precipitate a further banking crisis this year although investment bankers and hedge fund managers will still be well rewarded and the same people with the same mindsets will remain in control. In any event, the UK’s role in financial services – and thus its ability to rely upon substantial tax revenues from this sector – will decline.
9/ Large swathes of Middle England and their European counterparts will still largely misunderstand the energetic causes of economic crisis and will remain complacent about their own circumstances whilst still being critical of the ‘undeserving poor’. Nevertheless, increasing numbers of the middle classes will begin to discover for themselves the degraded work and living conditions of the underclasses with multiple part-time jobs, minimum wages, insecure contracts and overpriced sub-standard rented homes. Wealth and privilege will continue to migrate upwards and moral violence to be projected downwards. The advantages of more equal societies will still go unheeded. As the affluent seek to secure their assets, fewer crumbs will drop from the table and this will be reflected during the year by increasing incidents of public protest and civil unrest. In the UK, this process will be slow and simmering and, because protestors will not put forward sufficiently frugal alternatives to the status quo and will still demand the advantages of consumption growth, the present coalition Government will (most likely) survive the year.
Food and Shelter
10/ The minority trend in the Anglo-speaking world towards local and home-grown food production will continue to rise and will start to spread beyond the enlightened green middle-classes to less wealthy sections of populations, in part in response to rising food prices and under-employment. Urban food production, bee-keeping, and poultry and goat rearing will become more common and this healthy trend will be largely welcomed by governments, if not always by local authorities, as an uncontroversial form of direct activism.
11/ In the wider world, the number of people who go hungry will once again rise above 1 billion as depleting energy reserves, international ‘land grabs’, increasing global control of food production by profit-oriented corporations, inadequately regulated financial speculation and continuing climate disasters (such as the past year’s floods in Pakistan and heatwave in Russia) combine to keep the price of food very high.
12/ In the US, the UK and in parts of Europe who do not already do so, there will be a growing trend towards extended families sharing housing and other resources. Financial necessity will ensure that the stigma and/or perceived inconveniences of extended family living, particularly the elderly living in their children’s homes and young adults living with their parents, will decline. The attendant benefits to personal economies and energy savings and the challenges it presents to previously sacrosanct notions of individualism and personal autonomy will become a subject of chatter on Radio 4.
13/ Whilst I feel pretty confident in the above predictions, I cannot say with any certainty that Louise (who is away trying to replenish our funds in England while I continue to work on our project here in France) will be back living here with me before the year’s end. Or indeed where the year’s end might find us. Oh well, I guess we are just pre-empting some of the uncertainties that the future undoubtedly holds for many more of us. Maybe I’ll ask her to do a reading…
Happy New Year!