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As we watch China's economy crumble, and the developing world seize up, greenhouse gas targets may become more reachable:

In India, enough small steel-rolling mills around Delhi have closed that levels of sulfur dioxide (which forms acid rain) fell 85 percent in October 2008 compared with a year earlier. The recession is bringing a green dividend in the developed world, too. Reduced economic activity is projected to cut Europe's emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made greenhouse gas, by 100 million tons in 2009, and the United States' by about the same amount.          

Don't you wonder, as this massive global event gathers pace, if there isn't something inherently healthy about some of this retraction?

I don't mean to discount the real human suffering involved, the poverty that will come back, the jobs destroyed, or the lives interrupted. I just mean that the capitalist machine we had built, when harnessed to the entire world since the early 1990s, had begun to overtake itself. The immense complexities of international finance have been shown to be terrible weaknesses as well as strengths, and the entire planet becoming America was clearly pushing the climate past the point of no return. Our values had become distorted, and the almost addict-like demand for the spigots to stay open suggests they are distorted still.

From a longer term perspective, this sudden collapse in momentum may look like a global attempt to digest change so rapid and bewildering it needs to be ratcheted back to a level where it does not overwhelm our capacity to control it. Or maybe I'm just looking too eagerly for a silver - and green - lining.

(Photo: Peter McDiarmid/Getty.)

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