I expected this summer — post-Trump presidency, post-lockdown, post-blah — to be more relaxing, more sunny in every sense of the word, more like the joyous “Hot Girl Summer” the kids meme about.
Or at least less apocalyptic.
In retrospect, the trillions of cicadas that emerged in the spring might have been a sign. Brood X, swarming above ground in some parts of the country for the first time in 17 years, gave off an unsettling, end-times vibe.
What we’ve seen since has been positively biblical. But let’s not drag God into the many catastrophes that currently besiege us. We’re in this mess mostly because of very human failings. And nobody should be surprised: Experts have been warning us for months, years, decades that our inaction on various crises would come back to bite us.
We are bitten, all right.
We’re still dealing with a pandemic that could have been contained by now, with life-saving vaccines made available to every single person in this country, thanks to a functioning federal government committed to the novel mission of preventing needless deaths. But while billions across the planet are desperate for shots to protect them from COVID-19, vaccination rates in the United States have fallen off a cliff, our plentiful doses going begging — even in Massachusetts, where vaccination rates are among the best in the nation. And a good number of those who are turning down those shots are doing so because of a terrifying misinformation campaign by Republicans and Fox News personalities.
So the Delta variant is wreaking havoc, especially in parts of the country with low vaccination rates. Experts expect hospitalizations and utterly preventable deaths to rise again, which means the return of masks and more lockdown-like behavior among those who take the threat seriously: That endangers the economy, a fact that had the stock market, and even a few Republicans, spooked this week. What could be more doomsdayish than Sean Hannity feeling compelled to tell his viewers that he actually believes in the science of vaccination?
Along with pestilence and plague have come cascading natural disasters, some of them very likely directly caused by climate change, some of them a preview of our near future on a planet warming faster than even pessimistic scientists predicted. We’ve seen deadly floods in Europe, heatwaves here and in Scandinavia and Siberia, and wildfires in the West and elsewhere that have sent hazardous haze across the country, thick enough to block the sun — which has been infuriatingly shy around here lately in the first place. It has all been relentless, enough calamity to finally make those who would deny the effects of climate change cry uncle. Or so one would think.
Then there was the other Amazon: This week Jeff Bezos provided us with the perfect metaphor for this dystopian moment. As millions suffered on Earth, the world’s richest man burned who knows how many millions taking his own rocket to the edge of space, fulfilling a childhood dream (and trying to corner yet another market). After his flight, Bezos, who has been criticized for his employees’ poor working conditions and his ruthless monopoly-building, thanked “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, ‘cause you guys paid for all this.” Talk about saying the quiet part out loud. Bezos says ticket sales for seats on future flights have already reached $100 million, because of course obscenely rich folks are lining up to set millions alight for a 10-minute, 10-second thrill. But Bezos wasn’t entirely clueless about the optics of firing up his rocket to escape a planet on fire: In one interview, he suggested moving polluting industries into space to protect the planet. Which is a good bit less practical than using more of his immense wealth — including his fair share of taxes — and his power to fix what ails us closer to home.
And plenty ails us, including efforts across the country to defend an insurrection, gut democracy, and shut down discussion about giant chunks of our history that we need to understand, even if they make some people uncomfortable.
It’s a mess, but an entirely predictable one. So many warnings — from just about everyone with expertise or a conscience — have gone unheeded to bring us to this point.
Hot girl summer? It’s definitely hot. And the girl’s name is Cassandra.