The Perils of Future Expectations
The stock and bond market is very volatile as I write these words. In the middle of August it fell like a stone when the long term bond yields dipped under the short term yields. This has been one of the most reliable indicators of an impending recession. But by the end of the week the stock indexes had bounced back. Could this be the beginning of a “bear” market with stocks losing 20% of their value? Unemployment is still low. Many other indicators like consumer spending look strong.
Only time will tell.
I find watching the financial market an exercise in the futility of expectations. Every day there is a news article that claims to explain why the market went up or down or stayed about the same – all based on previous behavior that shapes current expectations. Yet most of the time, these explanations are about as reliable as using one’s astrological sign and daily horoscope to decide when to buy and sell.
And no one knows when the effects of climate change will hit the market and what it will do.
I think about that whenever I visit Florida and seen enormous condos lined up along the beach. We are already locked in for several meters of sea level rise that will inundate these buildings and a large portion of Florida real estate, not to mention similar real estate up and down the East Coast along beautiful sandy beaches.
I visited relatives in Eastern Shore Maryland in July. I drove along laser flat fields of corn and soy beans and passed many long, totally enclosed, industrial chicken houses. After a big rain storm, the swells along the roads were full of water, sometimes spilling onto the road, due to the high water table. A several meter sea level rise would mean much of the land along Chesapeake estuaries and eventually the Delmarva Peninsula will disappear underwater.
What happens when people default on literally underwater mortgages for flooded real estate often far from the coast? Can our banking system survive these kinds of losses?
I listened to a presentation by Bill McKibben at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater, August 15, to get an update about how bad things are right now. He tried hard not to scare the audience we’ve already passed the tipping point. He was cautious warning us there isn’t much left we can do to prevent the death and dislocation of 100’s of millions of people who can’t continue to live in places where the air temperature can now reach 130 Fahrenheit. That half the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is dead and the rest of it hasn’t got much time.
Facing the threat of extinction with a climate change denier in the White House can set up some very distressing expectations for the decades ahead, even the next five years ahead. How do we live into a future that promises to be, at the least, extremely distressing?
This is particularly hard for Unitarian Universalists who, over the last two centuries, have believed in continuing human progress. We’ve envisioned moving toward world community with cooperation to face these global challenges together. This optimism got a big boost after World War II. Our UU faith posits the inherent worth and dignity of each person, strives for inner growth and development, and unites in democratic community, with truth seeking, compassion, equity and justice as our guides. We are willing to limit our human aspirations with respect and recognition that we are part of an interdependent web of existence upon which our survival depends.
That’s not what’s happening right now. We live in a time when that vision is breaking down. International institutions are fraying as nationalism strengthens and globalism weakens. Climate stresses are driving nations to strengthen borders and reject those who do not share their sense of national identity.
This isn’t the first time human groups have stressed an area of land. Palestine has been stressed for over 3,000 years. Religions historically have been the way people from different locations and tribes have learned to live together in peace. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have become worldwide faiths because they have discovered how to unite people across differences – who share the same beliefs.
Now is the time for that uniting energy to work its magic across beliefs to help us figure out how to unite the world to save us from extinction. I have severe doubts about national governments being able to bring us together as they are driven by self-interest. I believe Unitarian Universalists, in our congregational laboratories where we experiment with ways to create community in the context of diversity of belief, may be one place we discover how to do this … before it is too late.