And Irma, we don’t really give a crap about you, either.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Twenty-seven TRILLION gallons of water dumped on Southeast Texas in six days? That’s what the various reports say.
And we say, “Big whoop!”
Wild-Westy, pavement-obsessedy Houston essentially destroyed, molded, and steeped in a toxic stew from chemical plants gone kablooey while the persistent deluge rose?
We roll our eyes and ask, “Blah, blah, blah — what else you got?”
Thousands of people displaced, their homes, jobs, and daily lives in ruins, their assets lost, and a mountain of recovery left to climb?
And we have to wonder, “Why exactly am I supposed to care?”
In a cruel spin that I in no way actually mean, I jest of course. Yes, I jest in the face of a mammoth American tragedy. Not because I want to, so much, but because I have a thing for wanting to speak the truth. And I guess I’m influenced by wanting to tell it slant.
Because every single one of us knows the truth…EVERY LAST AMERICAN KNOWS that when it comes right down to it, beyond opening our wallets for the obligatory ten buck donations, and the apparent wisdom to not send it to the Red Cross, beyond our sincere prayers and inner empathy, with our eyes glued to videos and photos of the destruction, bearing distant witness, maybe dropping some stuff off at our churches to be shipped down there — clothing, toilet paper, bottled water, toothpaste, snack packs — that we have no intention of changing even one thing about our lives or lifestyle in the face of Harvey’s unmistakable message.
Harvey’s message being, “Global warming is so going to kick your asses.”
We will change nothing.
And frankly, we’re just fine with that.
Just as an exercise, let’s take an inventory to see how well my theory of our profound and even cruel indifference holds up. And brace yourself, because Hurricane Lindsay’s gonna blow, and I will spare no one.
I’m going to start by taking it as a given that, like me, you actually do care about humanity and have no wish to see anyone suffer. This is real, heartfelt, and true. And palliative care is critical — getting aid to people right away IS the most important thing in acute situations.
But broadly speaking our response to disasters is a severely limited kind of caring that lives entirely in sentiment, minimally in deed, and not at all in conscious transformation.
Harvey happened, one of America’s broadest-reaching natural disasters, a scathing indictment of bad zoning and paving over paradise, and yet there’s been no follow on transformation effort within our society, culture, or nation. At all. We might as well say, “shit happens,” and move on.
But don’t dismay, this is nothing new. In fact it’s a pattern that’s as American as apple pie.
For example, the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, only the second ever, along with Chernobyl , to be given a 7 score on the “holy shit-o-meter” of nuclear disasters, was so yesterday’s news after less than a week in the US, our significant relationship with the Pacific Ocean from coastline to food chain notwithstanding.
It’s just who we are.
We’re ADHD Nation and we’ve somehow come to this place where real world problem solving and a humility and honor in the face of our relative national wealth just aren’t in the wheelhouse anymore.
We’re a people who don’t really care. Not when there’s, like, Game of Thrones to watch and Trump to ridicule and Confederate memorials to spank and strut our virtue-signals over and baby’s newest month-birthday to Instagram.
We are the fantastically generous, 10-bucks-giving and “our thoughts and prayers are with you” peeps. And that’s not nothing. But it’s close to nothing. It’s what people literally call, “The least I could do.”
What You Didn’t Do
After Hurricane Harvey struck and it was for sure that Mother Nature clearly gets the last word, and that we’re the most inbred, back-assward know-nothings on how to construct a meaningful and sustainable built environment, and essentially satanically deluded and in denial on our excessive and addicted consumption patterns, how many things about our lives didn’t change at all?
You didn’t wake up the next day and decide to change your relationship to oil, that pervasive, billions-of-years-old dino-goo that’s in almost everything manufactured into plastics, everything packaging our products, almost everything disposable, and everything used for shipping and transport, and is the most polluting, dirty-energy-sucking, climate change-fueling, death-knell announcing, suffocation-inducing, criminal product ever to fool us into thinking it was the great black hope.
You didn’t connect how we live to the “human” part — the YOU-man part (to cop a Berniesque accent) — of human-caused global warming.
You didn’t decide to never again use a plastic straw — SHEESH, Americans use over 500 million plastic straws a DAY! — or give up those ubiquitous “on the run” plastic covered plastic forks, or styrofoam To-Go containers, disposable diapers, tissues, paper towels, single-use “party-ware,” zip lock lunch baggies, squeezable yogurts for the kids, “convenient” individually wrapped lunch snacks, air conditioning, one-off sodas/waters/kombuchas/juices/beer. Nope.
(I’ll spot you toilet paper out of goodwill and shared guilt.)
Sure, we think these things are just about disposables going into the landfills, or maybe piling up like the trash mountains in the brilliant — and increasingly prescient — film Idiocracy.
But it’s more than that.
It’s about toxic extraction and production modalities, and worse, their exponential use and impact.
You might personally just use 1.2 plastic straws a day, but together Americans use 500 million a day, as cited above. That’s over one hundred eighty-two BILLION, 500 million a year. And what for? Can we not lift cups to our mouths?
Multiply that by all of our other essentially unnecessary crap (I’m not attacking the useful stuff, like sanitation, communications, reasonable transportation, record keeping, healthy local foods, etc.) and the mathematical product is that WE are global warming. I’ve seen the eye of the storm, and it is us (The U.S. especially, with our outsized consumption compared to other nations).
But what are we actually doing about it? Freakin’ nada!
After Harvey or any other man-multiplied disaster you — and I’m guilty too, our system is guilty as a whole — didn’t say “enough already!” to plastic bags at the grocery store, hand sanitizer, aerosol-pumped shaving cream, bottled body wash instead of good old fashioned soap, a new smartphone once a year, a blue ray collection, and flights, flights, flights.
Instead you said, “Fly me somewhere, anywhere, I just gotta fly for it to be a real getaway. I want Italy, bitch, and global warming can kiss my ass.”
Your church definitely didn’t decide that teenagers don’t need to fly to Russia to do their mission trips because there’s plenty of mission right out our front doors to perform. Your church didn’t preach that Sunday that solar panels are going up on the roof with the buildings fund and we’re planting a garden on that pristine, chemical-soaked church lawn, and that we will only use reusables in the social hall from here on out.
Only one in a million churches does that. Oh, but “we recycle.”
You definitely didn’t decide that, even though every other person in pre-flight human history, IF they traveled long distances at all, a massive rarity, did so carbon-footprint free, and that you would commit to join them by abstaining from seeing even beloved relatives because, IF you all decided to live thousands of miles away from one another, well then tough bippies, baby. Pen a letter. Dial up Skype.
No, you said, “If I can fly, I am flying. ‘Nuff said.”
The Band — the Whole Orchestra — Played On
You didn’t wake up and say, “That’s it, today I’m beginning a committee to lobby our city/county/district to get solar on every school and government building within a year, and that all disposables will be removed from the cafeterias,” and then put out the call for joiners.
You didn’t publicly declare yourself a single-issue voter from here on out — 100% commitment to the climate-and-energy nexus ONLY — and as for everything else: healthcare, education, LGBTQ+, military spending, taxes, immigration, jobs, abortion, whatevs, can all take a WAY back seat.
This shift in politics being because there’s no one to love on a dead planet, no equal rights to win on a dead planet, no wars to fight on a dead planet, no doctors to see on a dead planet, nothing to learn on a dead planet, no genders to opt in or out of on a dead planet, no bodies or babies to save on a dead planet, no government to work with or against on a dead planet, no people to admit or deny on a dead planet, and basically nothing but death on a dead planet.
Time for some priorities, here.
You didn’t get on the horn and lobby your local, state, and federal officials that day demanding they make a public statement about aggressively addressing global warming, carbon reduction, clean energy, lower consumerism, and conservation efforts.
You didn’t ask for their leadership. You didn’t plan for your own.
And your mayor didn’t come out and say, “That’s it, every street in this town is being jackhammered up and replaced with pervious surface and every roof either solarized or painted white and plastic bags are banned in our town,” (if they even could do this. But they usually aren’t allowed, due to a little known thing called being a Dillon Rule state, which most states are. Look it up, son.)
Your state reps and senators, your governor, your congressmen and senators, the White House, no one said, “That’s it, we’re on a war footing now with a plan to draw down cars, build a national rail infrastructure, in-build smart development, solarize and windify and hydrofit the nation’s energy systems and grid, tax the fuck out of petroleum products**, ban coal, and tell the methane-fueled truth about “clean” natural gas, abandon development in the wetlands, mandatorily remove folks from vulnerable coastal towns, abolish plastics except for medical applications, offer incentives to insulate homes and buildings, and overall focus on the next iteration of our world, starting with a clean, green, economy.
Nope. We yawned.
And we’re gonna yawn again. And again.
When we wake up on Sunday and if, after Irma, Miami Beach is eliminated from the map, Florida flattened flatter than it already is, we will send our “thoughts and prayers,” dig in for our ten buck donations, tell stories of those we know who live there and were “hit hard,” and watch for those breath-holding survival stories videotaped by intrepid reporters and America’s salt of the earth alike.
We’ll pack up socks and canned goods and useless toys for kids with much bigger problems on their hands at that point and send toothpaste and deodorant and post the Florida/North Carolina/Georgia map with a transparent heart on our Facebook profiles.
“We are all the East Coast now” will trend. #ICare,Really
And then we’ll yawn, shop for pre-boxed frozen foods made by low-wage workers in the heartland and wage slaves in Asia and elsewhere and shipped thousands of miles to our 24-hour climate-controlled stadium-lighted supermarkets so that we can microwave dinner in time for our Tivoed binge watch and flop on our couches, a bendy straw dipped into our 2-liter bottles of life-adding cokes.
And, while skimming the channels and straining to hear past the crinkling packages of our corn-dipped snacks, with one hand surfing our smartphones, a dim glow illuminating our collective zombified faces, we’ll yawn.
We can’t be bothered to change. We are entitled. We are America, and we are exceptional, after all.*
— Lindsay Curren, Average American
*If you think you’re ready to change here’s something you can do:
- Join the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and then take membership seriously.
- Look at your consumption habits and ask what you can give up.
**That is, carbon fee and dividend.