Our scorched world is politics writ large
Across the western US seaboard fires rage from Washington to California, skies become dystopian, and lives are lost to the flames. In this tragedy many thousands of lives are upturned, each moment of loss and fragmentation that will take years to heal. While forest fires and drought are not new phenomenon, the climate crisis is exacerbating what was once containable into calamities that tear at the very fabric of the American pioneer spirit. In the Amazon and arctic tundra fires rage unchecked, adding carbon to the air, and highlighting the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis on a systemic global level. What is a tragedy for an Oregon town is catastrophe for many millions of others. Over the next year America and Germany both go to the polls, and it never has it been more pressing to hold both governments to account for their climate policies. In an age of civil unrest, rampant division, the scorched world we find ourselves in is becoming politics made manifest in the most pressing way possible.
There comes a point when such things become impossible to ignore, when drought dust bowls farms, when food prices rise, when fresh groundwater is polluted by rising seas. It happens incrementally that very often we do not notice it until the change has gone too far, frogs in a slowly boiling pot of water. Misinformation is endlessly cycled about climate crisis cause and effect, to the point that many folk don’t have any clear understand about what action is needed to prevent the scorching of significant areas of the planet. Earth will survive this climate moment, as it has many others in the past; humanity and the ecosphere are a different matter. It is not hyperbole to suggest that the world we want for our children and grandchildren is the one we inherited, yet if the climate crisis progresses much beyond the current point then their world is going to be much more of a struggle.
Covid-19, MERS, ebola, and yellow fever have all come from ecosphere degradation, with human settlement encroaching ever inwards into habitats harbouring viruses and illnesses that lay civilizations low. Covid has sent a systemic shock at precisely the moment when populist politics is at its apotheosis, the zenith manipulating the organs of state and the media. Climate change is political precisely because governments refuse to engage, outright call it a hoax, and punt it ten years down the road to the next government. Twenty years ago the same conversations, the same fires, the same climate migrations, and yet few countries have outright made progress on tackling the systemic causes.
There are no easy solutions, only choices. We can dial back consumerist economies, in turn requiring less natural resources, less ecosphere destruction, and less degradation of the world we depend on. However, how do we then account for the loss of jobs, the shift in skills, the multitude who are suddenly adrift in this post-consumerist society. Judge Dredd imagined hab blocks full of unemployed folks whose dream it was to be in the 10% who worked, seeing labour as an escape from the perpetual drudge of idleness. I don’t believe that this is the world that awaits, as freedom from a 9–5 job does not mean you would not want to engage and create, just doing it on your own terms within your own communities. If this is a socialist or libertarian idea then so be it, but we have to face the fact that whatever outcome we have from resolving the climate crisis will lead to a massive re-ordering of how we perceive work and politics.
A scorched world is catastrophic for all caught up in it, and no amount of waving it was as an anomaly will solve this. We need engaged politicians, grass roots, and business leaders to work to actively resolve this would collapsing society further into the 0.1% and the rest. Equity of opportunity and human rights are further eroded if we rely on divisive rhetoric to propel us into a two degrees world. Climate crises are knocking at our doors, burning down our communities, salting our water, smashing through costal defences, and parching our crops. What we take for granted is ever more fragile, and unless we act, unless we vote, unless we demand change all we have left is the ashes floating down as snow on our coming winter of discontent. We can want for all the horses to lash to effective change, but without collective action and affirmative climate politics we risk wading through ashes for many years to come.
November 2020 is a critical moment, a chance to change direction, and while Biden may not be to your tastes, what is the alternative? Climate kleptocracy, deregulation, pollution, and wilful ignorance of both science and observable fact. The world over we must apply pressure to all our leaders, demand that effective action is taken, and see through this age of flames and bitter divide into something that is fit to hand down to the next generation. The climate crisis is hear, and it is political in the most urgent way possible.