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Letters from Downunder

Old Glory, New Glory

Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
George Orwell, 1984

(1/2016) Welcome to 2016, the year that leaves just four major players in the game of futures – no, not the stock exchange type, but that of the world. One of them took to the stage about 500 years ago, one 100 years ago, the about 50, and the last is still in development. Do not think your normal races or calamities – domestic American politics, the Middle east, Africa, refugees, or trade, because they are small in comparison to the other things, which are China, America, global warming, and the European union.

China discovered America in 1423, long before Columbus. This age of oriental discovery was long and inquisitive, not bent on trade or domination, but a display of daring, self-sufficiency, and cultural and technical achievement. Their world was sufficient to please and entertain the emperors without dreams of empire or conquest. It was not for another 400 years that they knew their old ways were dying, and it took another century for a bloody and punitive cultural revolution to forcibly expel them into the 20th century. The transition from emperor to state as supreme power happened at a time when American capitalism was in its heyday, and seeing their arch enemy Japan had fought America and been rewarded by lavish support and trade, they saw their future as one in which lay in them controlling world trade. This could well lead to the power to implant their philosophy without firing a shot, (well, hardly), with displays of daring, self-sufficiency, brinksmanship etc as they had done so many centuries before. Their dreams of glory had escalated, and still do.

In the meantime America, the powerhouse, the can-do entrepreneur, home of innovation, democracy, the dream, happiness, equality and other lies, became subsumed by the only true god. Not money, but profit. Money had become just a byproduct, and with a population induced to buy in new ways, with a stream of novel inventions, with media mind control being refined, profit was guaranteed providing you did it right - it was much more exciting than mere dollars and cents. Basking in the world’s largest consumer economy, preening at being the envy of all, with a population always on the increase, nothing could stop the juggernaut - not even near zero interest and the printing of paper money with only the future as collateral.

With their own dreams of glory infusing the by now quasi-military government, the preening got out of hand. The fall that should follow pride, as we are told, was limited to a series of stumbles; the club became larger, the pursuit of power, profit and preservation became the blind excuse for a shadowy police state, and commerce went happily on its uncaring way. The world was made of oysters ready for shucking.

Enter China, now the manufacturing whirlpool of consumer goods and consumers. Hey presto, it didn’t take long to become owners of a large chunk of its biggest customer, and a symbiotic relationship was formed in the most unlikely way. Profit was in capitals, and life bloomed. But can one live without the other?

Well, yes, if we believe the hawks - who value power above survival; both nations have similar dreams, China posturing and pouting, America protesting and powering up their arsenal. Or no, if you believe that ruling the world is only for megalomaniacs, and that you are not. So here’s the first challenge for 2016: Can You and China raise white flags, go down the road of mutual awareness rather than self destruction? OK, poke out your tongues at each other, but recognise your similarities rather than your differences and develop an uneasy harmony.

The third player has been created by the symbiosis shown above: The need for ever increasing profit, trade and consumption at all costs has increased the burning of fossil fuels so that CO2 levels, due to fall in the geological time cycle of about 100,000 years, have suddenly risen to an alltime high, and are now in excess of 400 ppm. China’s contribution is 10 million tons of CO2 per year, America is at 5, the EU at 3, and that is only from burning fossil fuels for energy. China’s aim to lift its citizens out of poverty – an achievement already estimated to be over 50 million and set to increase tenfold over the next five years - will exacerbate the problem; that, coupled with its plan to lift the middle class to 50% of its population by 2050 will make dealing with this the equivalent of to that faced by Canute.

All this is politely known as called global warming, and although you may not want to know, it’s here to stay. The Paris talks look good, and there is now some hope that the drivers of warming will be slowed, but nothing – and I mean really nothing- is going to stop sea levels rising, productive areas becoming deserts, displacement of enormous numbers of people, and so much stress on world economy resources that it is impossible to look ahead with any equanimity, or even confidence. I rather hope the naysayers will be the first to feel the true force of it.

The last to emerge on this troubled world stage is the European union. As the third largest population and trade block it is somewhat akin to the keystone in the arch, and the stresses in that are growing. You may say ‘so what?, we can survive even that’, but it only takes the UK to withdraw and the edifice crumbles, leading to chaos in this bastion of reason, tolerance, social awareness and research. You would not survive that, whereas China may, retreating once again into becoming a nation closed to the outside for another few centuries. Neither you nor China would prosper. It boils down to cooperate or perish. It is going to take every bit of goodwill, skill, bargaining and diplomacy to survive the next fifty years or so. It will be the most difficult thing ever undertaken in the world, by the world and for the world.

Perhaps combining your expertise and resources will turn the temperatures down, reverse the weather patterns, and save the world. It will also take something unprecedented – worldwide cooperation. Or, to put it on Mr. Orwell’s words, the clocks are going to have to start chiming thirteen.

Are you up to that challenge?

Lindsay, Down Under

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker