Just as, in the 1970s, economic fortunes turned on a single product, oil, so today they depend on a single all-important input, vaccines. America, despite its poor initial response to the pandemic, is poised for a boom. Elsewhere, delays in buying, making and deploying shots have left much of the world vulnerable to economic setbacks. Even in Britain, despite rapid vaccination, rising case numbers have forced a delay in reopening the economy. Around the world, it is the urban poor who have been worst-affected by the virus. In well-off Singapore, migrant workers living in dormitories have endured lengthy lockdowns. Latin America has been especially hard hit by covid-19 in terms of deaths, economic contraction and the closure of schools. In India, perhaps 2m people have died from covid-19 so far, denting the popularity of the prime minister, Narendra Modi. But his position remains secure for now.
The services that ecosystems provide to humanity depend on there being a diversity of living things. So the biodiversity crisis poses as great a risk to human societies as climate change, though, compared with what has been done for the climate, the modelling of ecosystems is at an early stage. All kinds of new technology are being used to monitor the natural world. Crowd-sourced science has an important role: more than perhaps any other science, ecology lends itself to being helped by the enthusiastic layperson. The sequencing of genetic material is a powerful tool for conservation. It may even be possible to revive extinct species.
Around the world, environmental issues are gaining political salience. In Germany, climate change shot up the list of voters’ priorities after the great drought of 2018, and, ahead of an election in September, parties are reacting accordingly. In America, green activists’ exuberance over their apparent triumph in halting the completion of Keystone XL, a pipeline to transport oil from Canada’s Alberta province into the American heartland, may prove fleeting. Chinese leaders, too, make much of the importance of tackling carbon emissions. But their climate policy is a mess of contradictions. In India and its neighbours, the arrival of the annual rainy season brings reminders that climate change is affecting even the monsoon.
Every business cycle, as it turns, reveals problems that should have seemed obvious. But guessing where tomorrow’s cautionary tale may lie is not easy. In India, what turned out to be a false rumour about the Adani Group has drawn attention to a quirk of Indian corporate ownership. In America, an obvious area of risk is the thriving high-yield debt market. In the corporate world more generally the prime candidate for a governance conflagration is the technology industry. The world’s biggest tech investor, SoftBank, with a market value of more than $120bn, has been instrumental in fuelling today’s ebullience. But there are questions about how Softbank itself is run.
Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a blood-soaked despot, in 2003, Iraq has lurched from crisis to civil war and back again. Yet there is cause for hope. The economy is poised to recover from the shock of covid-19. Iraq is less violent than it was, and peace creates an opportunity for Iraqis to build a state that actually works. A first essential step in that direction is to defang the militias. Second, the government must provide not just sought-after jobs for civil servants, but services for citizens. And third, the government should scrap energy subsidies which cost 10% of GDP and encourage enormous waste.