Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Unhealthy Stew

In the last few days I have heard news reports about 800,000 children having no health care, and former foodbank donors lining up at the soup kitchens. Stories from the Great Depression? Bangladesh? No. They are tales from that well known third world country, California.

If it were a nation, California would be in the top ten by GDP; and it is the largest farming state in America. It may sound like a rhetorical question to ask how such a rich place can allow such poverty. But until the question is seriously addressed, it is not obvious that America will be able to find a sustainable path through the economic and energy situation now unravelling.

But perhaps it can only be addressed as one of series of interconnected issues, all of which are systemic issues. The history of civilizations getting into trouble suggests that it is difficult to know when decline is really setting in, or instead when a new upward cycle is about to begin. But when a complex system finds its inputs (eg energy), outputs (emissions) and entire modus operandi (economics) constrained and compromised, if it cannot comprehend this and change, possibly rather quickly, it will take either great luck or a miracle to save it.

To compound matters, it may be that as the effects of decline start to bite, they may be misdiagnosed. This looks to be the case at the moment from a number of angles. In the meantime, a lot of poor children - and adults - will go on being hungry and unhealthy, unless sensible ways can be found to address the complex crisis we are entering in such a way that large numbers of people can survive and prosper even as extraordinary transformation takes place.

No comments: