What qualifies to you as violence? What qualifies as failure? If a small, powerful group of people made decisions that led hundreds of thousands of people to untimely deaths, would it be accurate to call that violence? If another powerful group ‘acknowledged’ the crisis wreaking havoc and still neglected to push boldly for things that could contain it, would you consider that failure?
We are living that reality most overtly through the Covid-19 pandemic, as the United States stands unmistakably as one of the worst-responding countries in the world to the health crisis of a generation. Yesterday, it was announced that SARS-CoV-2 has claimed the lives 200,000 Americans thus far, with signs of more horror yet to come. Other countries have shown this is containable — beatable even, and yet leadership over here has largely balked at their methods.
Flippant Republicans have ensured this country be held hostage by a science-denying minority and the whims of shortsighted profit-mongers, hamstringing any serious chance of us seeing an ounce of normalcy in this calendar year. On the opposite side of the aisle, Democrats meekly forked over all of the leverage they had in negotiating stimulus packages and allowed gaping opportunities for irresponsible dispersal of bailout funds to corporations. Notably, in the early American epicenter of the virus, New York, two hapless Democrats allowed their petty feud to damn now nearly 24,000 of their constituents to early, preventable deaths.
I point out the failings here because when laid bare, we see that neither of the prominent sides of the great American political divide is effective as we face crisis. There are and will be a litany of excuses from each side, but ultimately, whether our elected officials are uninterested or unequipped, their response to this crisis has been an abject failure, and the most decisive move they have made in its wake was to hand off mountains of taxpayer cash to big businesses with little or no oversight.
Roughly 200,000 people are dead who didn’t need to be, and more yet will face unsure health futures after infection, be it through lingering effects after Covid or full-blown “long haulers” struggling with the virus for much longer than the conventionally understood two week bout. Failing to address the health crisis early and strongly gave way to other unnecessarily harsh crises — tens of millions of Americans are at risk of eviction and tens of millions more are struggling just to feed themselves. Should we even be surprised that a mental health crisis is coming to a head through all of this?
What’s so maddening is that none of these crises were brought about by the pandemic, only exacerbated. In a country that touts itself as the richest on earth, the supposed land of opportunity, why does a brief shake-up to the landscape of employment suddenly mean doom for so many? Drastic government intervention in this moment is becoming necessary because steady government support has been so lacking. Even through this, only meager payments of $1200 and some supplemental unemployment insurance made their way to struggling Americans, and the small businesses which employ so many of them were largely out of luck. Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars in the trillions were thrown at economic powerhouses, with the expectation that somehow that money would sustain our society from the top down. It took widespread disaster for these long-looming crises to come to a head and gain attention, even though the growing economic insecurity of millions of Americans has been known of for quite some time. Even then, meager government support was all that came. What will it take to offer real support to struggling Americans — mass starvation?
The cruel reality for many debt burdened, underpaid Americans is that if their work goes away, many of their basic needs fall out of reach in mere weeks, if not less. That isn’t a problem uniquely brought about by a pandemic, but it was hastily worsened by it. This toxic relationship to work also likely allowed the virus to sweep through the country in a way it did barely anywhere else — if not for an absent safety net, millions could have been able to safely live in their own homes and not be necessary vectors for disease spread. That was never on the table for America.
Whether due to malice or apathy, ego or timidity, an ever-growing number of Americans is being left behind by elected officials that are refusing to represent their needs. The very human condition is in jeopardy for a greater and greater percentage of this country because of how we approach the problems facing us. Their suffering is well-documented, and yet, until it reaches the point of crisis, it isn’t deemed worthy of the attention of our leadership.
Let’s not allow statistics to dull the individual human reality of these problems. We’re comfortable spitting the statistic that 200,000 people died of Covid-19, but shouldn’t take lightly the horror of this disease at that scale. Fatal cases of Covid are horrific — these 200,000 people died as their lungs painfully withered without a hand to hold. Their loved ones, if lucky, said their last words to them through plexiglass windows or over video chats. The death toll is massive, and somehow with each day that it grows, it seems to be perceived more as some acceptable reality of our lives rather than a preventable atrocity and failure.
Facts and figures about the growing wealth gap and ballooning cost of living are aplenty, but behind those numbers we must feel that people in this country are scraping together paychecks to keep their children full, rationing necessary medicine, and finding cancer and other horrible illnesses late due to inadequate preventative health care — because this country is failing them. These problems predate Covid-19, they long predate even President Donald Trump. They’ve been exacerbated by a failure to adequately prevent a public health crisis, but other external crises will surely magnify these problems again even once Covid is eradicated.
We urgently need to address those problems, and even more urgently, we need to address the single-most pressing worldwide crisis that will impact this country and humanity. A crisis that will disproportionately damage the lives of so many already struggling with the aforementioned economic precariousness in this country.
The skies over California are glowing red. “Hundred-year storms” come at us with much more than hundred-year frequency. The parallels from Covid to climate change are very obvious to see. There is science to deny, there is money to be made. Who cares if lives will be horribly worsened or lost along the way? So long as the number of acceptable losses can tick up without mass unrest, many of the people with the power to do anything of consequence will maintain a status quo which pillages the only earth we have. They will relegate the hardest-hit voices to the back row so their screams sound like whimpers. They will protect their own interests until their insolence hurts them in the form of personal inconvenience or electoral disadvantage.
Covid-19 is billed by some right-wingers as a crisis that isn’t scary because of its low mortality rate. The severity of the crisis especially doesn’t land with them because it is most harshly impacting demographics they barely treat with human dignity. Many Democrats’ weak opposition to these people shouldn’t surprise anyone — they barely stand for those same demographics, and when push comes to shove, they protect many of the same interests as their Republican counterparts.
The climate crisis most gravely threatens the same people our country was leaving behind long before a pandemic threw their lives into disarray. In pure damage potential, it makes Covid-19 look like a blip on the radar. Extreme weather and climate change are unmistakably linked. Wildfires in this country pop up with increasing severity each passing year. Our air and water are becoming increasingly polluted; homes are being lost to flooding and fire; jobs, livelihoods, and economies are being shattered. That all projects to get worse if we fail to take drastic action, and the scientific facts of the matter are somehow being ignored just like they were with Covid, even as the warned-of consequences play out in front of our faces. Many of the leaders who we are expected to trust on this issue still accept money from the most deadly contributors to the problem.
The climate crisis is playing out now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that we have only ten years until its effects are irreversible. The wildfires in California and Oregon and the unprecedented number of violent storms brewing over the Atlantic are equivalent not to when Wuhan had to shut down, not when Italy was experiencing mass infections, but — if we’re lucky — when New York saw its first cases of coronavirus. If we knew then what we know now, we would have taken drastic action to prevent further spread and damage. We had the opportunity to curb the danger, scientists warned of its reality, and we barely did anything. We cannot let that happen on the scale that is the projected impact of climate change. Denialism will lead to death, and inadequate response will also lead to death.
For much of the current political guard, death is the only impetus that may move them to act, even when desperate masses and worried experts call out for change years prior. Even as America faces intertwined health and economic crises, and looks down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, many of our leaders blithely ignore the fragile position of so many. By the time deaths spike, the problem will already be primed to claim even more lives in short order. If our leaders continue to deny the severity of the climate crisis, they immediately endanger the lives of so many already on the fringes, and even more yet who won’t realize how precarious their life status is until the warned-of consequences threaten them personally. We can’t let this happen again.
In the immediate future, we must at least vote for the presidential candidate who acknowledges the severity of the climate crisis, even if his methods to address it may be inadequate, and that is clearly Joe Biden. Beyond this election cycle, “acknowledgement” will simply not cut it anymore.
We must frame this issue for what it is. Denying the reality of climate change, and continuing down a dark path that will cause immeasurable suffering, is violence. Acknowledging the damage climate change is capable of, and still neglecting to act with urgency, is failure.
Innumerable lives can be drastically impacted by the mounting crisis of climate change. Many of the people who would suffer the worst are already struggling. Time is running out to prevent this crisis from doing permanent damage.
The good news is, we have a piece of legislation, pushed by some of the brightest young leaders of our time, that meets the gravity of this moment. There is no single piece of legislation that offers the necessary transformation of this country in the way the Green New Deal does. By offering economic relief and opportunity to the Americans already struggling, in the form of massive, necessary investment in a green future, there is genuinely no other solution that sufficiently addresses the grim emergencies of our time.
We need to get serious about our leadership if we want to prevent mass destruction, suffering, and death. The future can’t just be “green”, it needs to be net zero carbon emissions by 2030; or the fire, the storms, and the flooding will not stop. The movement necessary for an adequately green future is also a chance to alleviate many other economic struggles in this country and bridge divide — we can give opportunity to so many who are desperate for it.
We must demand a Green New Deal, or the consequences will be grim.
By the time smog fills our lungs and food lines stretch for miles, many of our current leaders would only begin to grasp the severity of the problems they neglected to solve. Demand more from them now, or they will fail to save you from a catastrophe we already know is coming.