Recent unemployment figures from Greece has everyone scratching their head: 26.7% for all age groups with a staggering 64.9% unemployment rate for those between 15 and 24 years old. I am of the opinion that the Greek phenomenon should be watched closely.
Ecology has much to teach about changing environments, at times more than economics, a case that is highly pertinent to Greece.
In June 2010, I was strolling through Confederation Square downtown Athens and leisurely watching workers march down the streets with placards denouncing the new austerity measures taken by the government to revamp the country’s economy. Noise behind me attracted my attention. A riot squad was forming to meet the protestors. For a moment I stood between protesters and a riot squad in one of the most significant economic crisis of the European Union.
Fortunately I walked away unharmed: demonstrations were still peaceful in June 2010. Those people I interviewed said they understood the country was in financial trouble: something needed to be done to take control of the national debt.
Three years later I returned to Greece, intent on understanding the effect of the austerity measures. Greece is a unique culture that is neither Western nor Eastern. Likewise the same applies to its forests and fields: not the desert of the Middle East but not the lush forests of Europe.
Greece is to the West what the Arab Spring is to the East. But more importantly it is a transition zone, which in ecology has the most vulnerable type of balance. Ecological disturbance make transition zones unpredictable. Species may repopulate after disturbance or the ecosystem may reorganize itself to something completely different.
The austerity measures have demoralized the middle class, cutting wages and benefits up to 50%. The mood is sour, especially the actions of the middle class are pointing to a massive youth exodus.
An elementary school teacher with 25 years experience now earns a thousand Euros a month, enough to buy food and gasoline but not enough to pay for private language classes to permit one’s children to seek jobs abroad. The budget offers no frills. They stay home for holidays because they can’t afford it: This year, tourism has dropped dramatically in the Greek Islands.
My Greek friends are making sure their children have a future: they are planning to work abroad. Who can blame them with 64.5% unemployment rate for young people? Their only hope is to find well-paying jobs elsewhere.
In ecology the young cohort ensures rejuvenation: provides new genetic material for succession. But what happens when there is no regeneration? Desertification, ecological tailspin, and species extinction—generally the stuff interest groups lobby against.
Gasoline in Greece is almost three Canadian dollars a liter.
The Greeks I interview—doctors, architects, software engineers, entrepreneurs, and teachers– seem to share the same fear: we’re really scared about the future and the worst has yet to come. This makes me wonder what will happen to the rest of the global economy because Greece is a transition zone. What will happen to Greece after the youth has gone and the baby-boomers have outlived their working lives?