Not All Climate Deaths Will Be Equal, But All Are Avoidable
(Originally written April, 2019, significantly edited 7/1/21, prior to the most recent UN report on climate.)
Yes, I’m aware that I’m going to die. We all will, if only when the sun eventually expands to embrace this dead rock billions of years from now. So if I may please be allowed to rephrase….
How do we continue to live on a dying planet? Or if not how, why?
Soon, or at least within the lifetime of most people reading this, Earthlings will almost certainly be measuring the cumulative number of human deaths having resulted from climate change, directly or indirectly, in the countless millions. True, freezing to death in the tropics, or being eaten by sharks during yachting jaunts in the arctic are apparently the only outcomes so incredible (i.e.; “not credible/believable”) as to finally persuade the most ignorant to the reality of what was recently called “global warming”. There will be many other surprises awaiting those who have chosen to never remove their glued-on welder-dark climate-reality blinders until they were finally blown off their faces by sudden and unexpected solar flares while casually walking “Precious” around their suburban block. Yes, we are all now in a new place, terrifying and unknown, and destructive to everything we’ve ever known, anticipated or valued.
Will other causes of climate-driven deaths be that much easier for mankind to anticipate or survive? Will people perhaps be “differently anxious” if we call the man-made causes of death for hundreds of millions of Earth’s innocent by its more honest name; “greed”? (I think it’s fair to expect the same future levels of legislated protections for the entire murderous fossil fuel industry that we are now seeing for racist confederate statue lovers…. since we already are seeing it and have for decades.) Will humans dying from the resulting conflicts and wars, issues of migration and hate-fueled mob violence, homelessness and abject poverty due to rising sea level, weather disasters, drought, deforestation and the resulting mudslides and insect and wildlife collapses, increasing infant mortality, starvation, wildfires, economic collapse, flooding (including compromised dams and super-dams, levees and riverbanks), disease, shortened life expectancy, crop failure and lack of basic medical attention…will they even care what cause of death is listed on their death certificate? (If Rudy Ghouliani can quote “My Cousin Vinny”, then I can paraphrase!) Once climate-death becomes as much an everyday occurrence as Trump’s lies have been since 2015, perhaps people will at long last wish for answers. Or will the result instead be a very Trump-American “who cares, not my fault or problem”? Maybe ignoring both reality and the past will be reason enough for survival, in order to allow a blissful forgetfulness to encourage living amidst such increasing hopelessness and suffering…. as long as someone, somewhere, isolated from the most obvious suffering, is still growing richer by the minute. Gods forbid we ever try to connect the dots concerning blame, or to learn and grow.
Today perhaps we can still attempt to laugh at the thought of the fabulously wealthy Walmart “kids”, spending the remainder of eternity in an underground bunker in Arkansas, (or American billionaires in bunkers in New Zealand), forever testing the bounds of paranoia and trust in questioning who is actually in control in their photosynthesis-free world of echoing metal walls. But what’s the thrill of being the last human if you can only shout your domination to dark, empty tunnels? Examined more carefully, if survival alone becomes the reason for another day, how different will our own scenarios really be from their dream of success, as underground generator fuel supplies run low and memories of sunshine fade?
How do we accept that so much we take for granted as permanent, will end? And almost certainly some of it will end even as we watch. How to accept the fact that, even after our own deaths are memories at best, much (or eventually, all) that man has accomplished will all too soon follow us into meaninglessness? That humanity’s art, literature, music, science and technology, even if it exists won’t have the same meaning in a world of constant struggle, surrounded by death and suffering. (Even if humanity does somehow miraculously manage to maintain its current embarrassingly minimal levels of literacy amidst such misery and poverty, even as ignorance becomes more greatly valued by both those with most of the guns and those with most of the money.) Shall we simply forget that man once had imagination and genius and the resources to express them? Or that we had endeavored to understand our own and our planet’s evolution, growth and changes through studying the past (and to significant success?) Might even that loss of wisdom, knowledge and insight be less agonizing than the visible destruction of museum after museum and countless libraries as more and more cities increasingly considered “safe” above (current) sea-level fall to the ravages of floods, fires, looting and theoretical Cat 7 storms, and as great architecture is razed for firewood and building materials for temporary shelters (as perhaps most shelters will be soon), and as books and historic documents are relegated to toilet paper and fire building material.
Yes, of course man knew what was happening. Even the most joyously ignorant among us can understand that humanity had accelerated the natural process of breaking down fossil fuels by a time factor of perhaps millions, hastening a process that would require possibly hundreds of millions of years in nature into just over a single human lifetime. And perhaps that “subconscious/fully conscious” lack of surprise explains why the fairly recent UN announcements explaining the true severity of the issue that should have been the most significant, most terrifying news in the history of humanity…. caused not a blip on Wall Street. (Trump Fed candidate Stephen Moore claimed to believe “capitalism is more important than democracy”, and financial markets apparently agree, seemingly going so far as to presume that capitalism is more important that humanity itself.) Yes, it’s pretty clear that those whose greed is most responsible for the end of humanity will still be grabbing for “their” cash on Earth’s last day. But that’s their job, as humanity’s second most worshiped gods.
But is there evidence of greater concern on Main Street? After all, following the UN announcement there was almost no reaction on any level from humanity at large, despite just been told by experts that their world was facing almost certain destruction, and soon. Countless people either don’t know or don’t care that their world has already begun its next, and last recordable (by man, that is) extinction level event. (Of course, for billions now living, those UN announcements don’t describe any particularly new suffering, except perhaps in magnitude. And as far as more locally, even among those with the ultimate in information access, if preparation is even taking place, it’s minimal. Though gun ownership soared while Obama was president, the likely end of structured society barely generates a notice, as several gun companies were recently facing bankruptcy in some form. Bizarrely, Americans are seemingly more afraid of a Black president offering affordable health care than they are the brutal end of humanity. Apparently, the motto of the far right is still, “Let Fox News decide your fantasies.”)
In closing, as a thought exercise to explain just how quickly our so-called norms can be driven from their comfortable places in our minds and hearts, I’d like to remind any readers that there were once two specific questions fairly commonly asked in America, but no longer, and certainly never again:
“Does it really matter who is president? Surely no one person really matters, do they?”
“Could someone like Hitler possibly take power in a democracy like America?”
I’d like to add a third:
“Of course there’s a price to be paid for technology, But aren’t the advantages far greater than any possible cost?”
Thank you, and good luck to one and all.