Let’s unpack the lessons of the year a little.
The unravelling of Wall Street has exposed the extent to which speculators pushed up the price of oil, wheat and money itself. One year ago oil raced through one hundred US dollars a barrel, on it’s way to a short term peak of around one hundred and fifty. This price of petrol at the pump hit 1.70 a litre. It is temporarily back down at $US45 reflecting a working price of somewhere between $US50 and $US75. Five years ago it was $25. Just as the speculators falsely pushed the price up, so has the economic collapse falsely pushed it down. At its peak, between half and two thirds of the price was going into the speculators pockets.
Rice, wheat and other grains went through a similar spike this year as a food shortage here and a failed crop there, sent the market into a similar spin. By mid-2008 food agencies could not afford to feed the world’s billion starving people, and the speculators moved in. As a net food exporter, the boom worked to Australia’s advantage, as long as you did not borrow money against a bumper crop. Food is different from energy for another reason, even when times are tough, people do not stop eating.
The impacts of climate change in 2008 were more subtle. Big tides did not scare landowners nearly as much as councils refusing to allow coastal development, insurers refusing to insure coastal land and courts ruling that development approvals on low lying land were illegal. Global disappearance of the arctic ice, the national shame of the losing the Barrier Reef did not worry voters as much as bankers complaining that any attempt to save the world would upset an already unstable economy.
We also found out that the NSW government is criminally insane, has no intention of providing a train, and will sell buses, schools and hospitals down the drain. Despite a few symbolic gestures to start their term, the kev-heads Canberra are little better, paying billions to fossil fuel miners and millions to low income earners by raiding the piggy bank of future generations.
Amidst this heavy pondering and the hard hitting, though, the thing that stands out for me is your company. Your letters, emails and phone calls are an inspiration. It recharges my batteries to know that my writing sparks your thinking. It takes two to tango, it takes a village to raise a child and it takes an audience to make a performance. Your input has made this column a joy.
Thank you for making this a year to remember. Merry Christmas.