You know what doesn’t care about how you like sticking it to liberal scientists? The planet.
Last year, Merriam-Webster decided that the Word of the Year should be “surreal”, and it was hard to argue with it. We spent the year watching a swelling wave of madness gathering steam as we were rooted to the shore, this beast of impossible size crashing over us. It was a woozy year, seemingly disconnected from anything tangible. That the avatar of this terrible year was a truly fake person, whose personality was entirely social media bites, the crooked patois of the cheap PR hustle, and reality show conflict jargon, made it seem even more disconnected. I know I used the word “surreal” approximately 52,000 times.
Trump’s maniac press conference yesterday was called “surreal” by dozens of news agencies, and it certainly seemed to be. We were watching an unhinged man with no relationship to the truth or to seemingly any version of reality.
There are some people, though, who want to take living a surreal lifestyle to another level. They aren’t artists, per se, but they are in a sort of performance, a yowling hippie-punching play put on for the benefit of the folks back home. I’m talking about the GOP, and especially the Senators who will today confirm Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. It’s a confirmation that when it comes to the most important issue our species has ever faced–the potentially extinction-level threat of climate change–they refuse to accept the basic fact that we live on a planet.
Pruitt’s confirmation is, it seems, a done deal, despite the fact that the actual employees of the EPA are already in an open revolt, fearful that their mission will be thwarted, their voices will be censored, and the agency will be essentially defenestrated. And they should believe that! Pruitt has spent a lifetime trying to destroy the EPA, a career spent in throwing lawsuits against the agency, which the Union of Concerned Scientists called “disingenuous, and often unprincipled and extreme”, as well as arbitrary and capricious.
But anyone reading this knows that there was no reason to use the word “despite” in the above paragraph. It’s because of these things that he will get confirmed. It’s because he’s the fetch-servant of extraction. It’s because he will annoy scientists. It’s because he has the green bureaucrats of the EPA frightened. It’s because he wants to destroy any regulations that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink and the land on which we grow our food.
They believe, literally, in a different world than the one in which we live. But the world doesn’t really care about politics. It’s going to react to what we’re doing to it. And our lives are unsustainable.
The Times ran a huge story today on how Mexico City is literally sinking. There are too many people, and the weight of the city is too much for the clay bed on which it was built, and as climate change worsens droughts, and as more people need water, the city’s engineers dig deeper and deeper looking for it, further weakening the already strained base of the city. That’s human altering the earth in a fundamental way. And they are doing so because of poor planning and a reckless disregard for consequences, and that is exactly the attitude the GOP is confirming today.
Or consider that drought and bad planning (not to mention conflict) could produce four famines in the next six months, in Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia. The head of the UN World Food Progam estimates that 20 million people are at risk of starving to death in that timeframe. This will produce more instability, more refugees, more conflict.
The world is growing more urban, and as it does, the climate complexities will become more challenging. We’ll have hundreds of millions of refugees from starvation and drought and the wars that come when resources grow scarce. Even if you take away the political terrors that lurk around the corner, and in many ways are happening now, the oceans will continue to rise, and the amount of drinking water will continue to shrink.
And even as it does, we have a new head of the EPA who believes regulating clean water is against the American spirit, and we have an entire party who backs him up–a party that controls the government. We have a party who deliberately ignores science, and who (at best) think that the market will keep us safe. We have a party who thinks, and acts, like profit matters more than human lives.
Even if it does (which it doesn’t!), this is insane. They honestly don’t think there are consequences to their actions. They actually seem to believe that they don’t live on this planet. That is the most actually surreal part of this.
Living in a strange time like right now, we often say that it feels unstable, sketchy and hazy, like a TV set on the fritz, the picture shfting and glitching in a snowfall of static, strange images flashing for a second as you desperately smack it–burning buildings and jowly preachers wordlessly vocalizing and riots in the capitals of strange cities and dust blowing over barren land. It feels like the ground is crumbling beneath our feet.
The problem is that it actually is. And there’s nothing surreal about that.