There is a grim set of interconnecting issues shaking the stability of the United States as the central government crumbles in the face of COVID-19, white racism, capitalist exploitation of the poor and the Earth, political bribery and the denial of science. Many themes are haunting.
Out in the real world, the hurricane season has started, and the Siberian forest and peat are burning. The permafrost and Arctic sea-ice are melting and irreversible changes are setting in. Across a vast area of Russia, temperatures in the first six months of 2020 averaged more than 10 degrees above the climate of 20 years ago. On the summer solstice, one town within the Arctic reached 100 degrees F. Globally, 2020 is likely to be the warmest year on record, as global climate change is slowly accelerating. As more heat is stored in the oceans, warmer sea water is undercutting and melting the huge Antarctic glaciers, which will flood our coasts in the coming decades.
The United States, after withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, is not simply avoiding these issues, but heading into a new dark age. Under the cover of COVID-19, the president is taking multi-million dollar bribes from polluting industries to roll back the EPA clean air, clean water and cleaner car regulations because he needs money for re-election. The 1970 establishment by President Nixon of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act was a real achievement; as were the Clean Air Act extensions passed by President George H.W Bush in 1990 — just 30 years ago. G.H.W. Bush was the last Republican president who listened to scientists. Following Reagan, he was responsible for extending the Montreal protocol, the global regulation that saved the Earth from an ozone catastrophe. G.H.W. Bush fully understood society must pay to protect future generations from pollution. In contrast, the shocking actions of the current president and his advisers in rolling back pollution regulations for ready cash, which condemns hundreds of thousands of children and old folks to sickness and death, are simply despicable.
The glaring issue is our society is no longer placing much value on the future, because capitalism has become increasingly focused on maximizing current profits for corporations and the wealthy. Most capitalist economies, such as those in Europe, include the future costs of pollution as real costs for doing business. Here, rich corporations, the fossil fuel industry and right-wing politicians have conspired to pretend the future of our children and the Earth itself have no value. Alternatively, we could just say they are refusing to take responsibility for the future. Once the United States claimed it stood for freedom, responsibility and justice (at least for white racists). Now the U.S. capitalist economy simply prizes the freedom to exploit the poor and the Earth for profit.
For example, we hear that paying fees now for future damage is not “cost effective.” This is warped logic, because although we care deeply for our children in the present, this means we are willing to sacrifice their future to increase current profits a little. When will we start asking the honest question: “Is this cost effective for our children?”
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads again across the U.S., the political response has been dismal. We hear the strange rationalization that freedom to not wear masks is more important than the spread of the virus. This is not freedom coupled with responsibility. Where in the U.S. Constitution is the freedom to spread diseases that kill people? Of course, government denial of the reality and science of COVID-19 has played a large part.
Another haunting group is the so-called “Christian” evangelical right, who backed slavery and then white racism for nearly a century after the U.S. Civil War. Now they are encouraging the white racist views of the president. Where is their Christian compassion for the suffering of the poor during this pandemic? They claim to be concerned about women and children, but as climate change accelerates, they are silent on the destruction of so much of the Creation. Remember the example of the Black Baptist minister Samuel Sharpe, who called 60,000 Jamaican slaves out on strike for half-pay on Christmas Day 1831. He was executed for treason, but his clear moral stance lead directly to freedom for all the slaves across the British Empire.
Yes, we have much to do. So take a deep breath, and step out into the beauty of summer. Breathe again and connect with the whole of the Creation, and resolve to preserve it. Support those who want to hold classes outside when schools open in September, so children can learn immersed in the natural world. Above all, resolve to stand together for freedom, responsibility and justice for all.
Alan K. Betts lives in Pittsford.