When Ben Bernanke was asked about the weak US jobs figures for January and February 2014 (averaging at 129,000 jobs created each month, compared to the average 204,000 per month in the 11 previous months), his response was:
“Well, obviously, there was the bad weather.”
In the United States, Gap, McDonalds and General Motors have blamed their bad sales on the US two-month polar freeze. When the Fed released their most recent overview of the US economy, they mentioned the bad weather a record 119 times*.
*Those figures are thanks to this article.
In the UK, that land of drizzle, there have been hurricanes. Sorry, there haven’t been hurricanes – just “hurricane-level winds”, two months of flooding, and the wettest January on record since record-keeping began in 1766. Here’s a picture of the storm-looking-suspiciously-like-a-hurricane*:
*sourced from “Britain’s 100 days of WEATHER HELL“
Then, also in January, Australia suffered from a heat wave which caused rolling blackouts as their energy grids struggled to cope with all the air-conditioning; especially after the “extreme weather” caused “unexpected equipment failure” at some of their power units. Some matches at the Australian Open were delayed, and the tar on the roads in Tasmania started melting. Also: wildfires.
Here’s a graph of Australia as the hottest place on the planet:
And in South Africa, we have received an unseasonal amount of rain. Enough to saturate Eskom’s stockpiles of coal, and leave the country paralysed by crippling waves of power cuts. Some people, naturally, make assertions like “I pay my taxes and I demand an explanation”. These are the same people who accuse South Africa of being mismanaged, and keep threatening to move to Australia. Whiney bitches – go ahead and move. Good luck with the heat and the wildfires. And the power cuts.
I think that we have forgotten that we live in a world of natural forces. We cannot control them. We cannot even reasonably forecast them. And there is nothing that a government, or any collection of governments, can do to change that.
And regardless of whether you see the bad weather as a sign of global warming or not, the point is that the weather is the weather. And she can take half a decade of quantitative easing and make it irrelevant with a few weeks of snow. And she can also take a first world country that prides itself on being efficient and organised and tough on the big climate change issues, and rubbish it with a few extra days of a few extra degrees.
Perhaps it’s climate change. Or perhaps the impact is symptomatic of a world that has become increasingly connected – and I don’t mean in a media sense. Our free market push toward labour specialisation has left us uncomfortably exposed because we have created a highly-complex system that is highly interdependent: the supply of electricity is dependent on the supply of water and the supply of water is dependent on the supply of electricity. Both of those are dependent on the supply of fuel and the supply of fuel is dependent on the previous two. And so on and so on.
If the weather knocks one system out of play, the rest fall like dominoes.
Perhaps it’s time to get a bit more self-sufficient, and a bit more generally-skilled. Because if we don’t, we’re going to be more than just victims of the weather. We’re going to be helpless victims.
And, presumably, still complaining about the government as the flood waters lap at the door.