If a house is being consumed by termites and the corrective action drives them away from the places where they can be seen, but doesn’t actually remove them, then the problems will return again and worse.
In the depression of the early 20th century the over-population of various world regions was relative rather than absolute. Peak oil, peak water, peak food, peak environmental free services, peak oxygen and peak environmental stability were not issues, and while not divorced from environmental concerns (mid-continental dustbowl), the major fixes could be political and economic. The situation today is different.
Today we are hard up against the biophysical realities of a small planet with its exquisite stability challenged by its most profligate species; and it is running out of good humor. There are thousands of metaphors: If people acquire the means to meet their needs from bailing a sinking boat, some of them will fight to stop the repair of the leaks, even punch some extra holes. But our easily observable actions are out-metaphoring the metaphors as sources of comprehension. One hundred and fifty pound people can’t survive without traveling in 3000 pound steel cars that use a liquid sucked from the ground 9000 miles away; the production of the car, the use of the liquid and total supporting infrastructure are destabilizing the biophysical homeostatic and chemically buffered environmental stabilities that allow the people to exist as they do in the first place.
The economy is the process of moving, exchanging and using the materials and energies that allow, and require, the 150 pound person to use the car, and so, cannot be independent of the earth’s capacity to supply essential biological and industrial resources. That some greedy criminals in very good suits figured out a way to steal from the Great Many using the federal tax system is actually the least of our concern. Fixing that and ‘fixing’ them will only buy us a little time. Our real economic crisis is that the human economy (a sort of Madness that believes that human wants, money and calculus create a reality) is in collision with the natural energy economy of the biosphere.
It is, to some extent, co-incidence that this bit of high crime is occurring in the moment when humans have so overextended themselves ecologically. The destruction of the economic expectations may exacerbate the ecological/economic “readjustments,” but they also offer the opportunity to recognize and act on the real crisis. However, as Krugman wrote today (3/21/09) on his NYTimes blog, there seems to be no recognition of even short-term economic realities. And no one is talking with any clarity about the real and lasting concerns.
There are many levels of danger immediately before us, but one of them is that we just might luck our way out of these troubles ‘this one last time’ and set the stage for mindlessly passing all points of no return for ecological failures that will expose human economic activity for the Monopoly game it is.