The ship is sinking. Most of us are begging the passengers to get into the lifeboats. Others are telling them to ignore us, that they’re better off trying to swim. Or, worse, denying the plain fact that they’re in danger at all.
That’s where we are on the planet’s two biggest crises right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a practice run for the even bigger global catastrophe that is climate change. And instead of doing everything we can to save as many people as possible, we’re trying to get past the morally bankrupt right-wingers who would sooner see our fellow passengers set adrift on the ocean than admit they’re wrong and lose sway.
This repellent spectacle was hard to watch at the start of the pandemic. Now, in the midst of a devastating and entirely avoidable fourth wave, it is absolutely enraging. The cold-blooded governor of Texas, whose pigheaded policies have helped fuel a massive spike in COVID cases, pleads for help from health care workers in other states because his hospitals are overwhelmed. Yet he still bans local governments from requiring the masks and social distancing that could stem the deadly tide.
In Florida, the steaming sack of sociopathy that is Governor Ron DeSantis presides over a hospitalization rate higher than New York’s at the start of the pandemic, but has vowed to punish schools -- punish them! -- for making potentially life-saving masks compulsory for children.
Some Republican politicians and pundits continue to attract votes and money by discouraging Americans from taking the plentiful vaccinations for which millions are literally dying in other parts of the world, and which, if enough people got them, would make all of us safer. They wrap their pitches in freedom and the flag, which is sure to delight their die-hards, or at least those who survive.
As goes the pandemic, so too goes the climate catastrophe.
The IPCC report released on Monday lays it out with gobsmacking clarity. The Earth is warming faster than scientists expected, our addiction to fossil fuels contributing to the disastrous conditions that have become obvious even to some who have refused to see.
But most people didn’t need the UN report to know which way the hurricane is blowing: A Pew survey from last summer found that 60 percent of Americans view climate change as a major threat and that 65 percent believe the federal government is doing too little to reduce its effects.
We can help hold it off if those with the ability to do so make different, and more difficult, choices: installing solar panels, driving electric vehicles, being more mindful of how and how often we travel, pressuring companies to use less plastic, eating less beef. But most people don’t have the luxury of those choices: Solar panels can be expensive even with subsidies, for example. And you can’t avoid driving if there are no good public transit options.
Besides, making big-enough change requires more clout than most individuals possess -- it requires a government with the will and the funding to make much greener policies happen. Only governments can shift all of the incentives we still give to fossil fuels over to renewables. They can push companies to quickly cut the lucrative practices -- the waste, the plastic use, the emissions -- that are wrecking us.
The limitation of individual actions is why government exists in the first place.
But here, as with the pandemic, too many truck in electorally lucrative denial, or worse. The death-cult that is today’s GOP argues government is the problem, that taxes amount to theft, that any discomfort we might feel today -- even though it will literally save lives tomorrow -- is too high a price to pay. Mask mandates, vaccine requirements, carbon pricing, dropping to fewer than three beef burgers a week -- they all betray our vaunted freedoms.
Our biggest problem when it comes to climate change -- as with the pandemic -- is a political one. We won’t be saved unless we vote out those whose posturing and policies are killing us. And that won’t happen unless everybody’s votes count.
That makes the current battle against voter suppression an existential one. Unless we win that, all the lifeboats in the world won’t save us.