All Things Must Pass

 

Forever timely words sung by George Harrison, one of the many great people the world lost in 2001. This was a year many are eager to leave behind. Any attempt to sum up the year 2001 is quickly haunted by the tragedy of that terrible day in September and its still unfolding aftermath. Like 2001, this strange state of shock in which we find ourselves must, eventually, also pass.

One of the things Mr. Harrison was likely trying to get across in that great song is that although all things must pass, in this passing there is always some kind of rebirth, usually in the form of experience gained, lessons learned and values strengthened. We will all interpret, or bring away from things that pass different kinds of rebirth, different lessons learned. If we allow ourselves to do so, we can experience tremendous growth from death, as individuals and even as societies and nations. I just keep hoping, and believing, that from the ashes of 2001, the shoots and blossoms of the new millennium will emerge and thrive. If ever there were a time for healing, optimism and regrowth, now is such a time. This goes for the economy as well, which still seems to be wringing out its excesses.

I’m not going to continue to ramble on about what I think humanity should learn from this strange year, humanity rarely gives a damn about what I have to say anyway, but I would like to mention a few other things about this year’s passing that may have been forgotten, or even left undiscovered, or crowded out by the media’s feeding frenzy on war and death and the struggle that seems to me to all be the result of an inevitable globalization. Much of the world has a problem with the way some of the world is growing and developing and expanding, and this struggle will not end anytime soon. It’s almost as if this friction is heating up the planet as much as the greenhouse effect…

2001 one of warmest years on record

In mid-December a United Nations weather agency called the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that the average temperature on Earth for the year 2001 is expected to be the second warmest since global records began about 140 years ago. WMO officials cited this data and the trend of the most recent decades as more proof of human influenced global warming. Some of the consequences include more severe droughts and storms, and the agricultural and economic troubles that come along with those kinds of events.

“Temperatures are getting hotter, and they are getting hotter faster now than at any time in the past,” said Michel Jarraud, the organization’s deputy secretary-general.

According to the WMO the global average surface temperature in 2001 was expected to be 57.96 degrees Fahrenheit. The record, set in 1998, was 58.24 degrees Fahrenheit. Nine of the 10 warmest years in the last four decades have occurred since 1990, and temperatures are rising three times faster than in the early 1900s.

Carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels is the most prevalent of the infamous greenhouse gases, whose growing concentration in the atmosphere is thought to be warming the Earth. Many scientists believe the warming, if not stopped, will cause severe climate changes over the next century.

Few critics disagree that global warming exists. But opinions diverge when scientists forecast the severity of the temperature hikes and their effects. Climate is a complex system of nature interacting with itself, such as weather patterns squeezed between the forces of the atmosphere and the physical terrain of the earth’s surface. The most severe long term effects could include literally a shift in life on earth as we know it. Desert regions could become tropical forests and vice versa, places where we now grow corn and beans may be better suited for wheat, or rice, or nothing at all depending on the place and the severity of the climate shifts.

At a two-week conference in Morocco in November, negotiators from 165 countries agreed on rules for implementing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which calls on about 40 industrialized nations to limit carbon emissions or cut them to below 1990 levels. The United States , the world’s largest polluter, rejected the accord. It argues that the treaty would harm the U.S. economy and says it is unfair because it excuses heavily polluting developing countries like India and China from any obligations.

The WMO agrees that predictions for world temperatures 50 or 100 years from now are extremely difficult to make, but emphasizes that “continued pollution at today’s rate - or faster - presents several risks, especially a rise in sea-levels” as polar ice melts. “Many of the world’s fastest developing cities are by the sea, and they could face floods, land erosion, and the pollution by salt water of fresh water supplies.”

Bush pulls U.S. out of ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty and makes way for missile defense

The Bush administration decided that the proposed missile defense system, which might work in some situations (can a speeding bullet shoot down a speeding bullet?), is worth scrapping years of progress in nuclear arms and other weapons reduction agreements between the U.S. and Russia. Despite objections from many in the public, groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, numerous other nations and many in congress, all of whose voices were overshadowed by recent events, Bush officially announced the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty earlier this month. Although they certainly could have objected more loudly, there was little congress could do legislatively to interfere with the withdrawal. The strong public support for a general national defense was certainly a contributing factor as well.

Critics express legitimate fears about the $80 billion system, which has not been proven to be fully functional or effective. Unfortunately, such a shield would have done nothing to prevent the attacks on September 11. This is the first time in history that the United States has withdrawn from a major international arms control agreement.

Congressional shift

Vermont senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become newly defined as an independent earlier this year, quickly shifting the balance of power in Congress. The initial bitterness toward Senator Jeffords has cooled, and he has no regrets. He saw the G.O.P. moving too far right of his moderate viewpoint, and was one of many concerned about a government controlled almost entirely by a single political party.

Political battles continue, and the course of legislation has certainly been detoured by the power given to the democrats, most recently in the “economic stimulus” legislation. Sometimes gridlock is good, especially when the will of the people, as expressed in the strange presidential election of 2000, seems difficult to represent. While stating that he has no regrets about his controversial decision, Senator Jeffords said “I accomplished my major goal, and that was to try to make sure that when we did things, we would do them evenhanded, thinking about the people rather than the party.”

The Recession

Knowing whether you are near a peak or a valley, and how long you will coast along gently before the next turn, is almost impossible when you are blindfolded and riding a roller coaster. Throw in a war and the near-certainty of a return to an era of deficit spending on military and other programs, and you’ve really got an interesting situation. The various “experts” will give you different forecasts, but many of the market’s problems are very similar those of the last transition to a new year. The outlook for the economy, corporate profits and the price of stocks remains, well, unclear. However the consensus seems to be that this recession too will pass, possibly by mid-2002.

As we’ve said before, this is as much an opportunity as it is a crisis. We should all be thankful for the food on our plates and the warmth of our homes. We can live without an overrated concern for profits. Perhaps the kind of economy we’ve been living in is not a healthy one. Like forests and grasslands, which need to burn once in a while in order to rejuvenate themselves, sometimes human institutions need to be reinvented.

We have the opportunity to initiate growth through investing in clean water and clean energy. We can invest in efficiency, in smart and sustainable growth, and in the health of all the life around us, without which we would be lifeless ourselves.

To start anew, with the knowledge and wisdom gained in past experiences, respecting our values and what is truly important, is always a great opportunity.

Adam J. Coppock