Monday, July 30, 2018

When the World Unravels

We live in a global economy, a tightly woven matrix of production and consumption. 

A Dell computer, for example, may be an assembly of parts each produced in one of dozen countries. The supply chain is tight and incredibly brittle. If one part of the chain breaks, a critical nation succumbs to unrest, production can be curtailed until a new supplier is brought online. "Just in time" inventory management magnifies the vulnerabilities of the end producer.

Another example comes from Scotland where fish and shellfish, caught in local waters, are shipped to Asia for processing before being re-frozen and shipped back to the UK for sale to the retail market.

In May, Ford had to halt production of its best-selling F-150 truck when a critical "just in time" supplier, Meridian Magnesium Products, suffered a devastating fire.

Part of globalization has been to whittle down redundancy wherever possible to reduce costs to a minimum and thereby maximize profits. This adds the risk of potentially devastating vulnerability to disruption of supply chains.

The globalized economy also demands a high level of political and social stability across the nations involved in these supply chains. That now is beginning to unravel and one of the main culprits is climate change.

One of the principle triggers of the Arab Spring was food shortages. Grain production dropped sending food staple prices soaring. In Tunisia and Egypt this led to the overthrow of corrupt governments. Wealthier countries, such as Saudi Arabia, moved to nip unrest in the bud by implementing free staple foodstuffs for an extended period. In Syria, food shortages caused by drought, led to the bloody and protracted civil war pitting the Sunni majority against Assad and his Alawite following.

Now, according to The New Republic, a new generation of authoritarians are exploiting the impacts of climate change to seize power.

Take the Maldives, an atoll nation in the Indian Ocean. Rising seawater is projected to consume most, if not all, of the country this century. In 2008, the Maldives chose its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed. Almost immediately, he made climate change preparations central to his administration. He announced plans to move 360,000 Maldivian citizens to new homelands in Sri Lanka, India, or Australia, and he promised to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral country. Nasheed also demonstrated a flair for the dramatic, staging an underwater Cabinet meeting that turned him into a viral climate celebrity. “What we need to do is nothing short of decarbonizing the entire global economy,” he said. “If man can walk on the moon, we can unite to defeat our common carbon enemy.”

In 2012, the military deposed Nasheed, forcing him to flee the country at gunpoint after mass protests over economic stagnation and spikes in commodity prices. His eventual successor, Abdulla Yameen, has since suspended parts of the constitution, giving himself sweeping powers to arrest and detain opponents, including two of the country’s five Supreme Court justices and even his own half-brother. Meanwhile, Yameen has tossed out Nasheed’s climate adaptation plans and rejected renewable energy programs, proposing instead to build new islands and economic free zones attractive to a global elite.
If any lesson can be drawn from the power struggle in the Maldives, it is that people who feel threatened by an outside force, be it foreign invaders or rising tides, often seek reassurance. That reassurance may come in the form of a strongman leader, someone who tells them all will be well, the economy will soar, the sea walls hold. People must only surrender their elections, or their due process, until the crisis is resolved. This is perhaps the most overlooked threat of climate change: Major shifts in the global climate could give rise to a new generation of authoritarian rulers, not just in poorer countries or those with weak democratic institutions, but in wealthy industrialized nations, too.
... It’s not just developing nations that are at risk of opportunistic climate-fueled authoritarianism. Wealthy countries may possess the resources to insulate themselves from the near-term physical impacts of climate change—they can afford sea walls, emergency services, and air conditioning. But when conflicts over resources break out in the developing world, they are bound to generate crises that spill into wealthier countries.
...“Even the specter of refugee crises and population movements can impact attitudes toward authoritarianism,” said Jonathan Weiler, co-author of Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. These fears aren’t going away: According to a 2017 study published in The Lancet, extreme weather could displace up to a billion people around the world by the middle of the twenty-first century—an unprecedented human migration will undoubtedly influence the politics of wealthy countries, pushing them to the right.
The best way to counteract this phenomenon is naturally to halt, or at least slow, the effects of climate change. So far, the Paris agreement is the only tangible result of those efforts, and its fate is far from certain, with the United States threatening to withdraw. But this might change, if the problems caused by climate change—not just stronger hurricanes, droughts, and rising seas, but political rupture—keep washing up on the disappearing shorelines of wealthy governments.


Lorne said...

The report about the Maldives does not surprise me, Mound. Ontario, you may have heard, has elected an authoritarian regime with a decided and egregious contempt for democracy, its most recent manifestation a halving of Toronto city council. From my reading, I infer that it will accomplish two things: looser oversight for developers, and the shutting out of new faces (including non-white and progressive ones) in city government.

But hey. People elected Ford on the promise of lower gas and hydro prices, part of which he will accomplish by the elimination of cap-and-trade. The masses seem to feel that is a fair trade-off. What's not to like, eh?

The Mound of Sound said...

It seems we're going to be increasingly on the outside looking in, Lorne. It's unsettling to watch this unraveling.

rumleyfips said...

Lorne: Dougie may have promised lower electricity and gasoline prices... check in three years; both prices will be higher. Politicians can't change reality.

Owen Gray said...

A reckoning is around the corner. Something's going to break -- catastrophically.

Trailblazer said...

@ Owen.
going to break?
It has and is called runaway global warming.