ZURICH – In 1972, during Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing, Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, was asked for his view of the impact of the 1789 French Revolution. “It is too soon to say,” he is said to have replied.
PRINCETON – The price of oil is often regarded as a sort of thermometer to measure the health of the world economy. What is less often noted is that it can also serve as a barometer – warning of approaching geopolitical storms. Indeed, the dramatic plunge in the price of a barrel of crude – from nearly $150 in June 2008 to around $30 today – is likely to fuel continued upheaval far beyond the world’s energy and commodity markets, with particularly worrying implications for the European Union.
COPENHAGEN – The European Union is highly dependent on foreign oil. For every 100 liters consumed within the EU, 90 are imported. Meanwhile, domestic oil production is plummeting, down more than 50% over the last decade. Unless the EU changes course and increases its production of alternative energy – including biofuels, an option the EU has long neglected – some 95% of its oil will come from foreign sources by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.
CAMBRIDGE – Since 2016 began, the prospect of a major devaluation of China’s renminbi has been hanging over global markets like the Sword of Damocles. No other source of policy uncertainty has been as destabilizing. Few observers doubt that China will have to let the renminbi exchange rate float freely sometime over the next decade. The question is how much drama will take place in the interim, as political and economic imperatives collide.
WASHINGTON, DC – The Trans-Pacific Partnership, the far-reaching trade and investment agreement that the United States has negotiated with 11 other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, and Vietnam, is now up for debate. In order to enter into effect, the US Congress must approve the TPP, which is not likely until enough members make up their minds about the merits of the case. So, what does the TPP mean for US voters now and in the future?
NAIROBI – The idea that oil wealth can be a curse is an old one – and it should need no explaining. Every few decades, energy prices rise to the heavens, kicking off a scramble for new sources of oil. Then supply eventually outpaces demand, and prices suddenly crash to Earth. The harder and more abrupt the fall, the greater the social and geopolitical impact.
BERKELEY – Until very recently, one of the biggest challenges facing mankind was making sure there was enough to eat. From the dawn of agriculture until well into the Industrial Age, the common human condition was what nutritionists and public-health experts would describe as severe and damaging nutritional biomedical stress.
PARIS – In The Hubris of the Zero Point, the Colombian philosopher Santiago Castro-Gomez describes René Descartes’s 1637 declaration “I think, therefore I am” as the moment white Europeans installed themselves above God as the sole arbiters of knowledge and truth. With this turning point, they began to think of themselves as observers whose scientific methods, morals, and ethics overrode those of other cultures.
ATHENS – In his end-of-2015 missive, Holger Schmieding of the Hamburg investment bank Berenberg warned his firm’s clients that what they should be worrying about now is political risk. To illustrate, he posted the diagram below, showing how business confidence collapsed in Greece during the late spring of 2015, and picked up again only after my resignation from the finance ministry. Schmieding chose to call this the “Varoufakis effect.”
CAMBRIDGE – The discovery of a powerful new tool capable of addressing health and environmental problems as diverse as malaria, Lyme disease, and invasive species should be a cause for celebration. But, because the tool, called CRISPR, can alter entire populations of wild organisms (and thus shared ecosystems), ensuring that these interventions are developed responsibly poses an unprecedented challenge for science and society.