By Kumar David –
Nostradamus would say: “Seven signs the end of the world is neigh” – Troubling fault lines crisscross the world
Not all seven omens on my list are apocalyptic in that they do not all portend the end of life as we know it on the planet; only the first two are sure bet doomsday. Nor are all seven equally likely; my gut feeling is that only the first is a near certainty. The rest are malleable to policy, preventable, or avoidable with a pinch of luck. Here is my doomsday list coaxed from shenanigans and visible trends, listed in order of calamitous consequence, not in order of likelihood. That is (a) to (g) are ordered by how appalling the consequences. The numeral after each item is a guess at likelihood of occurrence – how likely, but not how soon. It is a coincidence that (a) is also (1).
1. Global warming and melting of the great ice-caps (1)
2. Russo-American nuclear armageddon ignited by an event like the Syrian conflict (7)
3. Trade war between China and the US, possibly extending to other US trading partners (2)
4. An Israeli-American first-strike on Iran followed by general conflagration in the Middle East (3)
5. An American first-strike on North Korea followed by whatever response the later can offer (4)
6. Neo-populist (alt-right) movements, now sweeping across Europe, taking a neo-fascist turn (6)
7. Chaos in America following impeachment or deep-state elimination of Trump (5)
It is reasonable to include all the above on the ‘possible’ list though not everyone will agree with my ordering of awfulness. But surely no one doubts that items (a) and (b) spell the end of life on the planet as we now know it, and hence head the list. Anthropogenic climate change, that is the effect of human activity known as global warming (a), seems irreversible, though we may be OK for about a century. The melting of the Artic, Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps, rising sea levels, global drought and water shortage, crop failure and famine, within two centuries already seem too late to reverse. I am aware that climatologists say that if we do this and that (limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C and reduce greenhouse emissions below certain limits) we can stave off the worst, but the subtext is clear. They can’t say “It’s too late, the damage has been done; there is no sign of reversal”; they’ll be driven out and their research grants terminated, but the pessimism is hard to miss.
Capital’s greed for profit puts mammon above mother earth, promotes fracking, poisons the seas and strips the forests. I have met Brazilian businessmen who drool that felling every tree in the Amazon is good for business; I have primitive relatives in the US who would like to shred every environmental regulation that get in the way of investors – oddly, they are Micawbers, themselves as poor as church mice! Don’t blame capital alone; humanity in the mass is plain deaf to Gaia – respect for mother earth, a concept traceable to Teilhard de Chardin though the word was coined later. People pay lip service to the environment but the great majority will not lift a finger to do anything about it.
Research findings reported in the Times of India on 16 April theorise that the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilisation, better known as Moheno-daro, Harappa and small sites spread over a large area, was extinguished by a 900-year drought from 2350 BC to 1450 BC. A 900-year drought doesn’t make sense. Not even the previous theory of a 200-year drought makes sense to me, but that’s what the IIT Kharagpur experts say. And a long drought in a specific region is small change compared to global climatological disorder on a planetary scale.
Nuclear conflict between superpowers will result in a long winter lasting decades. The effect will be similar though less severe and briefer than a climatological catastrophe. Hence it scores a (b), but it is avoidable, indeed it is unlikely. If say a deranged Trump presses the nuclear button I think his generals will disobey. This is why I have number scored it at (7). Radiation, nuclear winter, loss of life on a very large scale and a complete redirection of world history, or what survives of it after humanity reawakens, are themes that readers have been exposed to. I want to skip past this and go down the list quickly.
The ordering of items (c), (d) and (e) and their number-order from (2) to (4) are up for grabs; switch them around if it seems more sensible to you. The destruction following (d) or (e) will be horrific but localised. A conflagration in the Middle East following an Israeli-US strike on Iran will be protracted; Lebanon, Syria and Iraq will go up in flames and global terrorism will raise its head again. The effect of (d) will linger for a long time unlike (e), a US strike on North Korea. The consequences of the latter will be sharp, nasty and brutal but unless North Korea can deliver a nuclear device on American soil the firestorm will be comparatively short-lived. Actually, I am in a bit of a hurry to drop (d) and (e) and spend the rest of this piece on (c) and (g).
Trump confounded about trade
Trump bounces in and out of TPP and NAFTA as if he were playing badminton. The latest target is China. US imports from China in 2017 were valued at $506 billion while exports to China were only $130 billion; a net trade deficit of $376 billion ($350 billion in 2016, $340 billion in 2015). This is the worst US trading relationship; others are smaller. It’s been like this for years leaving US Treasury Bonds of $1.3 trillion in Chinese hands; Japan holds $1.1 trillion. Total US debt is about $70 trillion; government $20 billion, corporate $25 billion and household $15 billion. Of the gross US government debt of $20 trillion, $5 trillion is owed to foreigners, of which the Chinese hold the largest share, 26%. That’s a thumb-nail sketch.
Threats by the US and Chinese have been blow-for-blow, but in between, exhausted by blow jobs they subside into sanity and talks. The first US blow was tariffs on $1.7 billion worth of steel and aluminium imports from China. China responded with tariffs on a similar value of imports; all small change. Next the Americans demanded a $100 billion reduction in the trade deficit, the Chinese said ‘impossible’ and then came the big threat; to impose tariffs on $46 billion of imports from China – electronics $27 billion, medical equipment $6 billion, TV & displays $5 billion, printers $3 billion and very long list of lesser items. China responded with a shorter but more potent list covering $50 billion of US exports to China – aircraft $16 billion, soya beans $12 billion, cars $11 billion and a few small items. This hits very hard because of the crafty choice of products. Soyabeans will hit Trumps rural Midwestern base, aircraft will be traumatic because China is projected to be the world’s biggest aviation market by 2022, and cars means jobs. Passions seem to have cooled for the moment.
The real problem, however, is elsewhere – alleged industrial and intellectual property theft, contractual insistence by Chinese joint venture partners that Americans hand over technology, and regulatory pressure to reveal hi-tech information. The Americans see the first item as robbery; the second and third they deem unfair access to trade and research secrets. The Chinese see the latter two as a technology upgrade and development strategy. I can’t see how this tangle can be resolved though the standoff on import tariffs may be amenable to negotiated arrangements. This is why I have rated it at (2) on the number scale, meaning it will be difficult to circumvent.
Donald Trump is the most conflict prone, chaotic and unpredictable president in US history. In part this is to do with personality, but more important are the forces that created his presidency. I have in this column rejected the superficial liberal pastime of mocking, ridiculing and deriding Trump sans political and class analysis. Liberals will not venture into deeper analysis for fear of coming face to face with uncomfortable notions like systemic failure, capitalist recession and millions of whites living just above or below the poverty line. Less educated, alienated, fearful of modernism, angry, anti-immigrant, nativist and mostly white, this is a social phenomenon, a personification of system failure. The “swamp” and nose in the air elites dare not acknowledge its existence as a social category since it denotes the failure of liberal capitalism. The ideologically shrivelled analytical tools of the liberals avoid such analysis – vide the vapidity of its “learned” journals. Liberals abhor the Trump-base but evade the intellectual effort to comprehend it.
That an alliance of business interests, liberal intellectuals, Democrats and the “deep state” wants to be rid of Trump before he causes irreparable damage or drags America into debilitating local or global disruption or war, is palpable. In 1962 the deep-state hand in glove with political reaction removed Kennedy. Different conditions, different alliances! Liberalism, modern America, CNN and the New York Times cheer James Comey, Robert Muller and generals resigning from the White House staff. The FBI, the Justice Department, the CIA, the military and a good half of Congress loath Trump and despise his base. Impeachment is possible; his past is so besmirched, something damning could come to light. He may have a nervous breakdown, or perhaps issued with a departure ticket, as was Kennedy for different reasons, to go make his peace with his creator. I don’t rule out anything.
The American state is strong and stable; it can ride through either eventuality with a few burnings and lootings. Nor will such an outcome disrupt the global apple-cart. Nostradamus, take it easy, no end of the world in sight on this score! That’s why it’s last on my list. Or am I underrating the rage in the base if its populist edition of Il Duce is dispatched to that other place?