Economic Meltdown vs. Global Meltdown


Pop Quiz: which of these is more important?

A. The banking industry is in free fall and the problem is spreading.

B. There’s methane bubbling out of the Arctic.

To me, the really interesting thing about this period in history is the amount of uncertainty over what story lines will dominate our lives, moving forward. Both of the topics are obviously important, but only one of them is grabbing massive headlines.

In science fiction, it’s convenient to extrapolate based on a small number of factors – say increasing computing power and network effects, or in my case, something like intense drought. As you add more variables, it becomes harder to construct a coherent future, and it’s harder to deliver a focused experience with meaningful take-aways for your reader.

But the current set of events is a pretty interesting window into how randomized our future can actually be. The banking crisis is happening now, and so we’re already trying to construct storylines about what this means, everything from the next Great Depression, to the rise of China as financial hub. But these storylines either heark back to past (and probably outdated) metaphors to explain the present, or depend on the idea that there are no other variables in play. Even with just two variables, you can have a lot of interesting outcomes.

Which brings me to the methane bubbling away up in the Arctic. Right now, we’re under the impression that the banks are the story. That’s what those huge type-face headlines tell us. But maybe the real story is that climate change legislation is being put off yet again thanks to the banking crisis, or that the bailout may drain our coffers to the extent that we have no appetite to go after a comprehensive energy plan, regardless of who gets elected in November. Maybe, in a hundred years everyone will look back on the moment when our last window of opportunity closed for addressing climate change, and yeah, the banks were important, but only because they ensured that we missed the real storyline.