Quick Post: Europe’s Demographic and Cold Spell Challenges

Note: Posting has been and will be very light for a 1-2 weeks with work projects due and a vacation trip to Tahoe coming this weekend. As mentioned earlier, article contributions are welcomed.
While oil, the Middle East and terrorism steal the headlines, we must not forget the need to seriously consider the security challenges from a range of issues from the changing climates to shifting demographics. This past week we have seen in the media concern on the cold spell in Europe (climate change?) and the rapid population decline in Scotland and Germany (demographic shift).

These topics are less sexy than terrorism and oil prices; and addressing its challenges will be far more difficult too. Changing climates and changing demographics will cause major shifts on a very wide horizontal level– it will effect every aspect of the state from domestic issues like pensions to the state’s relative global power.

Because these changes will cause ripples on a wide horizontal space of issues, these challenges can reset the global configuration of power more so than terrorism can; this fact must not be forgotten.

Cold Spell in Europe and Economic Troubles
As being widely reported, much of Europe has fallen under a severe cold spell sending much of Europe well below freezing point. In the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian natural gas issue, there is the question of how vulnerable is Europe’s energy needs if such cold spells become increasingly common. The OilDrum has the scoop on how Gazprom has been unable to meet its commitments due to high energy demand brought on by the unusually bitter cold.

And if these cold spells will become more permanent, what is the economic loss brought on by the increasing cold? People are more likely to stay indoors away from the cold, infrastructure and agriculture would be hit hard by the cold and so on. Energy crisis brought-on by general energy scarcity and shift in the climate can cause more damage than that of terrorism.

There is no way for sure (yet) to know if this recent cold spell will be a more common feature of Europe and if its related to a wider climate change. But, the current events in Europe demostrate the challenges that will increasingly be faced by states as the climate changes.

Europe’s Demography Problem and Global Power
The issue of demographics is nothing new, but this week’s media reports illustrate that its becoming part of the normal daily discussion, along with all other national concerns. Indeed, this week’s issue of BusinessWeek has an article titled “How Europe Can Age Gracefully“, which outlines policy changes needed in the short-term to lessen the economic shock of a graying Europe.

And here are other articles from this week:

Telegraph UK: The Celtic canary in the UK’s coal mine

This was a story by Peter MacMahon, the paper’s “Scottish Government Editor”, and it begins thus: “Scotland’s demographic time bomb will explode in three years, when the number of pensioners north of the Border overtakes the number of children in school, the Executive has been warned.”

Seems straightforward enough: the country’s demographic death spiral is accelerating faster than expected. And, as far as the Scotsman is concerned, the alarming thing about this development is that it could put cushy state teaching jobs “in doubt”.

For crying out loud, man, get a grip. It puts every job “in doubt”. It puts the continued existence of your country “in doubt”. And it means the Scottish National Party is going through the motions: nobody needs a Scottish nation if there are no more Scottish nationals. See you, Jimmeh? Not for much longer.

AP: “German leaders wake up to shrinking population

“Each generation is being reduced by about a third,” said Norbert Walter, chief economist at Deutsche Bank. “The consequences are foreseeable,” he added, referring to the financial havoc a shrinking population is causing in areas ranging from the increasingly underfunded state pension system to weak consumer spending and sagging property values.

These articles discuss the issue at a limited domestic level, but what about the geopolitical and geoeconomic implications? If most of Europe’s population continues its decline, its population decline will be matched by economic decline and decline of world power. Things in Europe can still change but otherwise the whole European Project may die and with it will be the notion that Europe as one of the key centers of global power.

Who will replace them? Will it be India, Brazil and others? Even China has demographic issues to contend.




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