Disaster Hidden by the Weather, a Larger Toll

Katharine Q. Seelye’s Year Packed With Weather Disasters Has Brought Economic Toll to Match by was in the NY Times yesterday.  This is my letter to her.


I’m an economic systems physicist, and one of my favorite gold mines for hidden information about events is checking out what’s happening behind the news when more than one natural system of change is involved.  How nature’s systems work tends not to be reported, actually hidden from view *within the internal organization of the systems doing the work*, so you need to discover them.

There are two or three different long term trends behind the recent flurry of news about weather related disasters.   There are the long term trends of climate change and development in hazardous places.   There’s also a faster changing trend that began recently, also associated with severe weather in the minds of many people.

Disasters hit like lightning, like our emerging resource disaster too.

That’s the world food crisis caused by escalating prices for food and fuel resources around the world, only really noticeable since about 2004.    Climate change and development on floodplains didn’t begin around 2004, and they are not rapidly accelerating either.

So there’s a second important phenomenon to consider.     The way I read the evidence (1) is as saying the world economy is increasingly unable to recover from resource supply disruptions.   Disruptions are have increasing effects that last longer.    I believe the underlying cause is world resource demand persistently growing faster than supply.

The persistent failure of the world markets to find adequate resource supplies is an emerging economic problem far worse than climate change.   You could call it our approaching resource bankruptcy.   Like a bankruptcy it could happen without anyone noticing till vast sectors of the economy start shutting down.    You can even already see the fringes of that happening, sort of like economic gangrene setting in.

The two obvious examples are the permanent loss of mid-level jobs in the US and the permanent reduction to subsistence of vast populations around the world that were once self-sustaining.      It will get worse till we relieve the fundamental causes of ever growing resource demand.   One of those, of course, is the world policy to relieve these shortages by stimulating ever growing demand, hoping it will work as in the past.  The evidence is it will do quite the opposite.

1) A decisive moment for Investing in Sustainability – as we hit the resource limits of the earth

2) Blog – Reading Nature’s Signals






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