Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Complex World

It's a complex world we live in and though of course it is not anything new I was confronted several times with that thought in the past couple of days. Just take this for instance: with our world's growing focus on the effects of global warming, on seeking to reduce greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions..., we start to look more and more for environmentally friendly technologies and models for sustainable development, so enters the currently best alternative to our dependence on oil to make our cars take us wherever we want to go: biofuel. We're not quite there yet, but it's supposed to be one step in the right direction. But is it really ? Because of the success of the biofuel crops, other crops get neglected and before we know it, the more vulnerable places on this world have another famine in the making. So shall we choke or starve ? Indeed not an easy choice.

Or what to think about this ? About two weeks ago, my colleague was telling about the solar panels he had installed half a year ago on his roof, and how, after a sunfilled weekend, it had been the first time he had actually produced more energy than he needed so the overproduction gets sent onto the nations' power grid and no energy gets wasted. Sounds beautiful ? It does but think again. About two days later I heard a representative of the incumbent energy supplier explain on the radio that the success and growth of new environmentally friendly energy systems such as solar panels started to become a problem, because the national power grid was at it's maximum capacity and couldn't take all the new energy that was infused onto it by all these households that were under the impression they were making a contribution to making our planet a place that might actually survive.

No fact seems allowed to be taken for granted anymore and adding to the complexity in this confusing world is ... China. As if the French had a monopoly on people who could foresee the future, there was next to Jules Verne -who took us for a trip of twenty thousand leagues under the sea more than a century before Jacques Piccard would steer his bathyscaphe "Triëste" to the deepest point on earth, the Marianen Trench- that other Frenchman of worldfame, Napoleon, who predicted that "Lorsque la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera" (When China will wake up, the world will tremble). Nobody will argue the fact anymore: China HAS waken up and the world is just dressing up to go and attend it's welcoming reception as the new kid on the block is hosting the Olympics ... the single biggest spor ... euh ... geo-political event in the world since it was assigned to the Middle Kingdom in 2001.

Shall we tremble ? It is not so difficult to see where the unease of the Western world with respect to China is coming from. Like it's very symbol, the dragon, China is a hybrid creature of the capitalism we have grown up with on the one hand and communism that we have been told was the enemy on the other hand. It just doesn't fit in a Cold War model, so you can't attack it like we used to see with the USSR (remember some slogans like: "Rather a nuclear missile in my garden than a Russian in my kitchen" ?). Okay, then let's go for the engagement model. But what happens when you engage a giant ? People see their jobs being taken away and handed over to Chinese who, after some trying, succeed in producing roughly the same quality as we did here, only at a fraction of the cost, and all because of the very system we have all been very happy with while all went well for our side: capitalism. We brought the gospel of capitalism to China and now China is outdoing us at our own game. It's difficult to grasp when you actually have to face the facts, it's actually quite ... complex.

The Chinese reality is evading us at every level. For years we have been predicting the decline of their economic model, for too much too fast. Still, the double digit growth is still on the tables and voices claming an imminent collapse have become increasingly rare. So could it be that China has developed a system that actually might work ? The problem with being the first is that you can't prove it until it has existed long enough to be able to withstand any further scrutiny. As for now, we still don't trust China will be able to sustain what it is doing right now, for it hasn't been done before. Not in a country of this scale. So now we tremble, for a collapse of the giant has become just as frightening as it's further strengthening. We can only hope that, as "capitalist roaders" amongst each other, in the end we will be able to find a modus vivendi ...

Pierre de Coubertin may turn around in his grave, but for this year's host of the Olympic Games, it is NOT about participating, it's all about winning. It's up to the rest of the world to decide how to deal with it.


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