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Crisis? What Crisis?

Was there a time in living memory when the human race felt more concerned, even downright petrified, about its future?  

During the Cold War, I’d say, when the threat of a nuclear confrontation between America and Russia had everyone on tenterhooks much of the time, most of all during the Cuban missile crisis.  But John Kennedy, calling the bluff of that fat little Mr. Khruschev, sorted it out, and good.      

Of late, though, each week seems to bring some new scare, some new looming threat of apocalypse.   

The winter floods in Europe earlier this year were taken as evidence of a worsening climate, the first palpable portent that there really might be such a thing as global warming and that we really might, one not too distant day, be battling to keep the sea at bay as the ice caps melted. 

In recent weeks, ISIS, or ISIL, has been painted as a real and present danger to Western society, worse by far than al Qaeda, which in comparison seems to be regarded as a paragon of reason and moderation. 

As if ISIS wasn’t enough to worry about, we now confront an infection of a different kind, the outbreak of Ebola in western Africa which, if allowed to spread outside that poverty-benighted region, could cause a pandemic of a kind not seen since the Black Death.  Or so we have been warned. 

And then, quietly beavering away in the background, while we’re not looking, is Vladimir Putin.  Vlad, we’re told, is shaping up as a latter-day Stalin, intent on restoring the dominion of the Russian Confederation over its neighbours.  Should the rest of us attempt to curtail his plans beyond meaningless sanctions, the rascal would cut off Europe’s gas supplies.        

While we have been distracted by all these impending disasters, stock markets around the world have fallen ‘off the cliff’, as one newspaper described it, in response to signs of a global economic downturn that threatens to dwarf that of 2007, from which we have only just recovered.  Wall Street thinks the American economy is a fragile vessel, while the British economic recovery is a boom waiting for the next available bust and Europe sags under the weight of its debt and its frustrated expectations.

What a mess. 

But is all this doom and gloom justified? 

Well, yes, say our leaders, with that sense of proportionate response we’ve come to expect of them. 

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has ‘lent’ British warplanes to a United States-led military coalition formed to stop ISIS taking over Iraq and creating a monster Islamic state from a country supposedly liberated from another dictator only a few years ago.  And Mr. Cameron has now moved ‘decisively’ to fight the Ebola threat by putting British airports on high alert, with screening measures designed to spot potential Ebola carriers as they arrive.  Try not to sweat when coming in from holiday.  He hasn’t quite decided what to do about the ‘Putin problem’ other than refusing to talk to him, but Vlad knows our PM is not a man to mess with. 

Politically, the world does I admit seem to be adrift. 

In Britain and America, an emerging consensus – or perhaps merely a steadily expanding one from an existing base – is that The West is bereft of leadership and imagination.  In constitutional terms, President Barack Obama is on the last leg of his administration’s journey.  Or, as some would put it, his administration is on its last legs.  And Cameron, for all the reassuring news about the British economy, is likewise seen as ineffectual, lost and woefully out of touch with his constituents.  At a time of economic recovery, when the government in power ought to be surging ahead in the opinion polls, UKIP has burst onto the scene regardless, threatening to overturn that government.  Cameron is urged by the Conservative party faithful to deal very firmly with, or perhaps even merge with, UKIP, a party which, until last month, had failed to secure a single seat in Parliament. Few have confidence that he has the wherewithal to succeed.   If he fails, then the betting is that Cameron will lose the pending general election, thereby ceding his office by default to Ed Miliband, who is widely dismissed in opinion polls as a clot.   

Yes, what a mess!  What a collection of messes.  There must be a collective noun for them.  A pottage of messes, perhaps.

How we get out of the pottage few can be found to venture a guess.  It may, however, surprise you that my own outlook is optimistic, if mildly rather than wildly so.    

Global warming is a threat, but as much that needs to be done, and as little as one might think is being done, the planet is not in imminent danger of exploding or burning or drowning.  We may have a few years yet.  That is not being blasé, merely to emphasize that there is still time to tackle the problem more effectively.

As for ISIS, how is it that a band of religious zealots can appear out of the desert – three months ago we had never heard the name – and threaten the entire civilised world, with all its resources, military and moral?  The answer is that ISIL can’t threaten civilisation, even if Obama and Cameron tell us it can.

The Ebola crisis is, I submit, no more worrying than Aids and Avian Flue were a few years ago.  Neither has been eradicated, but both are under control.  Ebola is not a world crisis but an African crisis, arising from poverty and ignorance.   We should take it seriously, which is more than we’ve done for its causes, but with a sense of proportion that our political leaders are plainly lacking.  Unless, of course, they know something that they’re not telling us.

Mr. Putin, I’m guessing, is not intent on taking over Europe but merely on creating a cordon sanitaire around Russia, as leaders of that paranoid country have been doing throughout modern history.  Yes, he seems to have psychopathic tendencies, but I’m sure he’s getting adequate treatment from his personal if not his political advisors.

The equilibrium of the world economy may be endangered, but then it always is.  The stock market mavens may be rattled, but a thousand points off the Dow and they’ll be telling us not to miss out on the buying opportunities offered by the market’s ‘oversold condition’.

Now, I hope you feel better for reading this.  I feel better for writing it.  So much so that I think I’ll watch a little television.  I understand The Day After Tomorrow is on.  I love watching those guys save the planet by blowing up a giant meteor with a nuclear weapon. 

Next to them, we have nothing to worry about after all.

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