By Jake Strickler, Co-editor
I’d like to start by saying that I hope each and every one of you soaring Thunderbirds had an enjoyable, productive, and relaxing break. Unless you went out seeking adventure and excitement, in which case I hope you had a totally stressful and crazy break and ended up at risk of personal injury or getting arrested at least once. I had hoped for the latter but, in the end, spent three weeks snugged up in snowy Colorado with these adorable little moppets in the picture (my nephew and brand new niece, names of Duke and Sunny respectively) reading 732 books, y estudiando mi español. All-in-all, it was very pleasant, which is really the best that anybody could ask for.
I also spent a lot of time watching cable news and obsessing over the ongoing US Presidential election, to the point where I’m tracking the polling numbers for all candidates in every caucus, primary, etc. I have these dates written down in my planner as casually as a normal person would have “March 1 – Doc Appt.” My March 1 says “IOWA CAUCUS” in red Sharpie with a bunch of squiggles and arrows around it.
This isn’t out of boredom or anything, but all stems back to the fact that what is (still) the most powerful nation of the world is having a Twilight-Zone-crazy election in the context of a world growing complex beyond the seeming comprehension of any one of the candidates.
Thusly have I arrived at the following learned conclusion regarding our new year: 2016 is going to suck. Like, really, really bad. Like, we’re all just going to want to spent the whole thing in bed with the shades drawn watching Netflix until it’s over. Here are my reasons for believing so:
1) The US Presidential Election. Check out that header photo. It features an obscenely rich, heartless, racist, elitist, Dangerous Orange Man whose reputation and lack of tact are so onerous that the Parliament of the UK, one of this country’s greatest allies, recently met to discuss barring his entry to the country. Standing by his side is reality TV star Sarah “I Can See Russia from My House!” Palin, who some may also remember from her 15 minutes of fame during the 2008 election, and who for some reason still enjoys enormous popularity. She has chosen to endorse the Dangerous Orange Man, who wants to prevent any and all Muslims from entering the country and maybe even consider putting the ones who are already here into WWII-style Internment Camps, as was done with the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. The Dangerous Orange Man is leading all polls, by a distance, and the candidates closest to him in popularity (though still a couple laps behind) don’t have too much to offer either.
On the other side we have a self-declared anti-Capitalist and the wife of an ex-President whose past is replete with scandal and contention, and whose position on a wide range of issues has a historical tendency to change according to whichever way the winds of popular support are blowing. I actively support one mainstream candidate but will not publicly declare whom for fear of a Trump Presidency and the resurgence of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
2) The Economy. We’re all business students here so I shouldn’t have to go into too great of depth. But, to put it lightly, we’re not off to a good start. I have personally lost OVER TEN DOLLARS on an app I have that rounds all of your debit/credit purchases up to the nearest dollar and throws the change into a mutual fund (which is a much better strategy than my previous M.O. of throwing my change into a jar, cashing it in every four-five months, and spending the proceeds on Chinese food and lotto tickets). And if I lost $10, that means that people with a whole lot more money invested than I do have lost a whole lot more than I have. We’ve been experiencing brief and inconsistent upticks, but as the old saw tells us (which my dad taught me over break), “As January goes, so goes the year.” And while it seems like the validity of this statement should hold about as much water as any other folksy little aphorism, its accuracy has been borne out historically 73% of the time.
And if you’d like a little bit of that patented Jake Strickler apocalypticism, take a look at a report released last year by a handful of top Goldman Sachs analysts warning that the “Third Wave” of the global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of the US subprime mortgage industry way back in 2007-2008 is now upon us.
The First Wave was, of course, the initial crash which cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes, as well as sticking them with the bill by propping up the banks who caused it through a taxpayer-funded government bailout. So began the “Great Recession,” which we have only just now seemed to have crawled out of enough for the Fed to raise interest rates for the first time since the crash. Wave Two was the European Debt Crisis, which was triggered by, among other things, European investors buying subprime bonds as investments and whole countries like Ireland and Iceland trying to emulate the scale and complexity of the US financial industry and failing miserably.
This new Third Wave is expected to affect growth rates in emerging markets (ahem, China) and wreak havoc on commodities prices (i.e. oil prices falling toward $20/barrel). No part of this is pretty, and a cottage industry has risen around protecting investments against a coming global economic collapse. Maybe we should all start buying gold from Ron Paul.
3) Increasing global complexity and conflict. ISIS hasn’t gone anywhere. Boko Haram hasn’t gone anywhere. All of the other groups plotting mass mayhem and destruction? Yep, still here. Even the guys who we thought we’d taken care of? Hey, still here too! And they’ve been using their time out of the limelight to strengthen their networks and capabilities. And what, you ask, is the reigning US strategy for dealing with these groups, or at least the strategy of our leading presidential candidate? Behead our enemies and take their oil. And build walls. A bunch of walls.
For the morbidly curious, here’s a list of global terror attacks that have taken place in the first 20 days of the year. The breakdown leaves us at 48 events so far, or an average of 2.4 attacks each day this year. North Korea tested what it says was a hydrogen bomb but most likely wasn’t. Either way, independent analysis concludes that the boom was big enough to kill a whole lot of people. The crazy little dude in charge of these weapons is in the picture over there. And unfortunately, it’s not Dennis Rodman. I’d feel much safer with his finger on the button.
Saudi Arabia kicked the year off by executing 47 suspected terrorists and other people they just didn’t like in general, including a prominent Shia cleric. This, naturally, upset the Shia world. Protesters in Iran responded by burning down Saudi’s embassy in Tehran. At the same time, as a show of power, the Saudis are refusing to cut oil production and help abate the massive overproduction issue that’s driving the price down and wreaking havoc on the global economy.
And then there’s Syria and Turkey and Russia and the EU and China and Venezuela and Puerto Rico…
4) Climate Change. It’s still there, too. Ever since Svante Arrhenius wrote, in 1896, “if the quantity of carbonic acid [CO2] increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression,” it’s been there, building up, intensifying with every leap forward, with each time mankind makes progress. A report released by the D.C. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies declared that mankind was now entering “The Age of Consequences;” the time when Lenny “Six Toes,” Mother Nature’s bill collector, raps upon the door, Louisville Slugger in hand. He wants some payment on the last century of unmitigated growth and production and factories and gas-guzzling SUVs and factories spewing their waste into our air and rivers. He eventually wants all the cost that we’ve externalized, that we’ve passed on to future generations who we believe will live in some sort of inevitable utopia in which technology has neutralized all of the world’s environmental problems and we have global peace and harmony and all the people of the world can come together to make everything right and well.
Well, guess what? It’s time to start paying some of that debt down, and Lenny, with his six toes, ain’t such a nice guy when it comes to deadbeats skipping out on their vigorish. According to NASA, 2015 was the warmest overall year since data collection began in 1880. This is a new high in the average temperature rise that has conclusively been taking place since the Industrial Revolution with most dramatic rise beginning around the time of the era of Globalization (roughly the last 35 years). 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have taken place since 2001. We’re quickly approaching a “point of no return,” where if drastic changes are not made in our lifestyles, a feedback cycle may begin whereby rising temperatures melt polar ice more rapidly, resulting in the release of methane trapped within that ice. Methane is a greenhouse gas with an immediate potency 84X that of carbon dioxide that is currently spewing from a massive leak in California that sprang in late October of last year and is expected to take months to fix. You can watch the amount being released into the atmosphere rise in real time on this handy counter!
When the huge amounts of methane within the ice are released, the atmosphere is warmed even more, and the process repeats and intensifies. Before you know it the movie Waterworld with Kevin Costner becomes reality. My advice: start hoarding jet-skis and drinking water. Grow gills if possible.
In all seriousness, enough scientists have made the argument that we have exited the Holocene epoch, and have entered a new era, called the Anthropocene, that the term has entered the popular scientific lexicon. It refers to an era where human activity has begun to affect the natural environment to such a degree that the latter is being drastically altered by the former. The term is expected to be formally adopted this summer.
Whatever the terminology, expect the wacky weather we experienced this year (intensified by El Niño, which was in turn intensified by a warming climate) to keep on truckin’. California, already with the poison methane cloud hanging over it, has seen its drought briefly interrupted by extreme rain. Winter Storm Jonas is expected to paralyze much of the east coast with blizzard conditions over the next few days. And the year, as a whole, is set to shatter even the records broken by last year. These means more frequent and intense storms, droughts affecting food production and migration patterns, and general chaos that we just don’t have any legitimate solutions to because we’ve never experienced anything on such a scale before.
As a matter of public service, allow me to point out that none of the remaining viable GOP candidates believe that climate change is real, and that if it is, humans probably don’t have much to do with it. Here’s are a couple of choice quotes:
Marco Rubio struggling to punch his way out of a paper bag: “I believe climate is changing because there’s never been a moment where the climate is not changing…Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activity. I do not agree with that.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump figures it all out in 140 characters or less: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012″
As Thunderbirds, these are events and trends that we all need to be following with a laser-beam focus for the simple reason that this is the world we are going to be entering upon graduation. 2016 is young but already has the feel of an Important Year to it; this generation’s 1968.
1968 was characterized by mass global upheaval, riots, racial tension, political assassinations, and increasing violence in South-East Asia as big nations fought a proxy war over ideology. It was the year when everything fractured and splintered apart; when the peace and love of the early and mid-1960s gave way to the horrors of napalm and the military draft and Charles Manson and Altamont and Kent State and the illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia. It was the year that Richard Nixon, a paranoid, egomaniacal, alcoholic, and ultimately criminal hardline right-winger, sailed into office with a mandate to restore order and put everything back the way it used to be, to, ahem, make America great again.
My hope is that 2016 can be our 1968-in-reverse: a year when the violence and instability and general madness we’ve seen since the turn of the Millennium gives way to greater global cooperation, integration, and prosperity. When the world does come together to start laying the foundations for solutions to the massive problems that lay ahead of us. For us to be at this school at this time, working to foster this should be not only a priority, but a responsibility. So, welcome back, let’s get to work, and I’ll be here with my ear to the ground, continuing to keep track of these trends and their implications in these articles.
Remember that along with the fear and uncertainty comes the opportunity to participate in history. Keep your chin up, kid, it’s an exciting time to be alive.