Placing a gigantic one-way bet against the planet

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Published 15 January 2009 in the Irish Times (Read full article) 

Cuba is an object lesson in a different way to tackle shortages and slumps while remaining independent, writes John Gibbons

THOMAS LICCARDI could have been New York’s answer to Eddie Hobbs. An accountant by trade, and cautious to a fault, some years back he noticed one of his clients was earning 25 per cent on investments. “It sounded much too good to be true,” said Liccardi.

Although sceptical, he agreed to visit the financial wizard producing these returns. “He impressed me very much, and there were banks of computers and people all over the place,” said Liccardi. He invested – and promptly lost – his life savings, as Bernard Madoff’s elaborate Ponzi scheme unravelled with losses running into billions.

This is one tiny vignette in an unfolding financial crux whose magnitude and depth is still impossible to gauge. This crisis in turn is but one of “five tectonic stresses which are accumulating deep beneath the surfaces of our societies”, Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote in The Upside of Down, which was published three years ago, well ahead of the current crunch.

The other four are: population stresses; energy stress as peak oil approaches; environmental stresses from pollution and resource exhaustion; and climate stress from global warming.