Global Warming and the Stock Market Suffer Same Uncertainty

I was doing some research yesterday when it hit me; the stock market and global temperatures (i.e., global warming) are both undergoing a period of such unpredictable instability it’s hard to know what to expect from one day to the next.
Photo: dao hodac, Creative Commons, Flickr

Charting the Dow Jones in one-month and three-month increments shows fluctuations that make twisted hazel branches look relatively straight.

I’m using the hazel comparison because I’ve recently been warned about my outdated aphorisms. I could have said “dog’s hind leg” but you get the picture. No one gets the picture painted by recent Dow Jones fluctuations, though a recent post by QualityStocks called On the Edge makes it pretty clear that 10,800 is the floor below which anything bad that can happen, will.

Chalk it up to exorbitant energy prices, the burst housing bubble, tension and possible war with Iran, storms in the Gulf of Mexico, the situation in Georgia/Russia, an election year, recession/inflation, hedge fund activity, insider trading, the failure of the Fed to act on Fannie and Freddie or, conversely, their precipitous but dubious rescue of Bear Stearns. Whatever cause you assign, it is – as one pundit describes it – “Dow Jones bungee jumping.

Global temperature patterns and predictions about warming or cooling are equally as dizzying. One camp argues that the earth is indeed warming due to human activity, and cites Arctic ice melting at a record rate as proof.

In the Arctic this summer, ice melt has exceeded the record set in 2005 and – with several weeks of Arctic summer left – threatens to topple that record, or so say scientists with the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Ice-melt in 2005 slowed by early August. This year, it continues to trend upward at a “brisk” pace. The worst of the melting is in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska, home to one of two groups of Alaskan polar bears.

Melting Arctic sea ice doesn’t just threaten polar bears, however. It accelerates warming by substituting highly reflective ice for darker, denser seawater. As the oceans absorb this heat, they warm circumpolar winds and thus continents, leading to more heat and melting permafrost which releases more carbon dioxide, which creates more warming. Again, you get the picture.

Another camp insists that we are facing another ice age. One spokesperson for this view is geophysicist Phil Chapman, an Australian astronaut with NASA, who cites the fact that we are in a solar minimum (no spots on the sun). This lack of sun activity is why, Chapman explains, last winter was the coldest on record both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Of course, the idea of global warming having taken hold in the modern psyche, many view Chapman and his cohorts as modern-day Cassandras.

Opponents argue that sunspots have nothing to do with earth’s weather, and that last winter’s big chill was the result of a La Nina in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina, a Pacific current that produces unusually cold water temperatures in the eastern Pacific (and corresponding cooling on land in the Northeast), is currently inactive but has not been replaced by its twin, El Nino, which causes warming. Last winter also saw the beginning of a cool phase in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which exacerbated La Nina’s effects.

One environmentalist in the global warming camp says that the expression is woefully inadequate to express the dangers inherent in continuing to pump out carbon dioxide emissions at the current rate.

"This isn’t ‘global warming’,” David Orr maintains. "This is planetary destabilization.”

Both Orr and Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute’s founder) apparently agree that an 80-percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 is the only solution, and want to engage presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain in taking a similar stand on the issue.

Obama’s stated goal is 80-percent by 2050 under a cap-and-trade system. McCain wants to try a free-market approach to doling out permits under the same system, even though he admits that special interests, political lobbying and corruption could make a shambles of any such approach. There are some who charge that emissions taxes in general are simply a scheme invented by the "green" lobby and certain politicians to extort more money for failing social welfare programs.

Meanwhile, the two camps continue to debate the global warming/cooling issue, the candidates squabble over foreign policy, the press argues over who has more houses (McCain, by a landslide), voters argue over perceived religious and racial issues, and the stock market reflects the turmoil in every bounce and sag.

We live in interesting times.

Disclosure: I don’t own stock.

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