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2011-08-12

World in turmoil

Just a couple of years ago perhaps the most major subject of global debate at least from a European perspective seemed to be global warming. The reason for this increased interest was probably largely the fact that on the surface economy and life seemed to be developing so smoothly that there was enough mental resources to concentrate on something that's below the surface; something that seemed to call for serious long-term planning. Now, even with some small glimpses on the subject we get especially through the misery and famine caused by the drought in East Africa, several other more acute themes have taken over.

The world is in turmoil. As the death of one man caused the whole Arab street starting from Tunisia to stand up and demand for proper human rights for the average citizen, Europe is also starting to face more riots that are fundamentally stimulated by immigration-related social segregation, latest of which we've now seen in London - riots that were also initiated by the death of one man. On another front, the supply and demand of oil have reached the point where extracting oil from for example the bituminous sands in Canada has become lucrative despite the expensiveness of the process. Utilization of oil is thus reaching its final frontiers, while another form of energy, namely nuclear power is facing serious opposition and even shutdown plans eg. in Germany due to the terrifying aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan in March this year.

Still, the economy is currently taking the biggest headlines in the western world. Whereas many economies in the East, most notably China are still rapidly developing, the economies in Europe and the United States are facing serious issues with debt and insufficient economic growth. A week ago we got a significant indication of this: one of the three major credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's downgraded the rating of United States from AAA to AA+ for the first time ever. This change, even though perhaps not that big per se, is historical and might be a sign of what's to come.

World sucks, a statement painted on a stone in Athens during the 2008 Greek riots
'World sucks', a statement painted on a stone in Athens during the 2008 Greek riots. (Picture taken on 29.12.2008)

Environment, democracy, culture, energy, finances - they are all important areas of how the human world functions. The politics, economy and social relations around the world are becoming more global year by year, which causes local troubles to span across the globe more easily. The philosopher Hegel once said "periods of happiness are empty pages in history". This doesn't mean that mankind would need wars, but sometimes difficult times can result in something better in the end. Accordingly, the interesting question is, how the world will appear once things settle down.

On a global scale, the economical turmoil might have a favourable outcome in the end: a more equal world, with a wealthier east and hopefully a more balanced financial system everywhere. The disturbance in the Arab world should also finally result in sounder, more democratic societies. The question is just when and how this will exactly happen, but like we've seen, the ease of spreading ideas through modern technology can give a serious boost to potential revolutions.

What's potentially more unsettling in the longer run are the subjects that are not currently hitting the headlines. Global warming (whether caused by mankind or not) might have much more dramatic and seriously detrimental consequences at least in some parts of the world, even though I don't find widespread or large scale problems very likely. But how about what will happen when the global economy is back on track again? The demand for oil will increase, and if we've reached the peak in oil production, the prices might easily skyrocket to levels that are ultimately unaffordable by both individuals and businesses alike. Is the global infrastructure really prepared for that?

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