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500 Words: Wait, Wut #10

Looking back from 2050

Hello from the future. I am posting this from 2050. I have been completely restored. Thanks to the team! 🙌 They replaced my gut, re-vibed my nerves, resurfaced my heart, brought my hair back and got rid of the gray. Amazing! The only deal I had to make was that my eyes can never leave my phone. No big deal. Everything happens on phones anyway until we have the brain-machine interfaces next year. (Verizon, thanks for picking up 50% of the restoration! You folks are tops!)

I am wearing my containment gear today to celebrate because — guess what? — soon we won’t have to wear containment outside. Yep, the air finally cleared up. Thirty years ago The Guardian reported that just four global corporations were behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965. And you know what happened?

People freaked.

Not all at once. It started when climate scientist Michael Mann said, “The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price – in the form of a degraded planet – so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.”

And people said HELL YEAH. We can do something about this, and we don’t mean incremental stuff, like getting a hybrid car or using a metal water bottle. We can put the few companies doing the most damage out of business.

As you all remember, we didn’t come to that stage right away. It took time, even after another pandemic. (Covid-22? Sheesh. Bad stuff.) After that, there was the Children’s Rebellion. Nobody could look their kids in the eye after the kids started talking about the world we were trying to leave them. The kids’ homework strikes led to kids’ hunger strikes. Then parents had to get involved. Black Lives Matter put climate justice at the top of their program. I mean, they had to, after the air was killing more Black people every week than police.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! This is an optimistic note from the future, after all. I don’t have to tell you how bad it got for a while, but I bet you didn’t know that the nations led by progressive women did a lot better than those led by assholes who interrupted women. It may be hard for some of us to admit all the things that were fixed by women, by people of color, by our own children screaming WAKE UP MOM AND DAD. It’s fair to say that we’ve all learned that wisdom doesn’t just come from the patriarch, from white people. Wisdom is freely available and can be exercised universally.

We can look back now with clarity and see our difficulty was in failing to see the interconnectedness of all things. Some tried, but they were overwhelmed. Others had a go, but they became pedantic like Al Gore. (Sorry, Al, I say it with love. When I ran into you at the restoration center you looked fantastic!)

As President Kendi wrote so many years ago, racism and capitalism are entwined, and together they fuel a system that leads to environmental injustice, that creates health problems that are worse for people of color, that creates racist policies to perpetuate itself. Back then, few saw it with the clarity he did. You may find this paragraph hard to read even now because it is so … interconnected. Hey, just ask any Shaman you meet and they will confirm it is the truth. (Oh, I forgot, you don’t have them yet. They are on every street corner now and a lot of them are outstanding and have payment plans.)

So many things have changed. Amazon was finally forbidden from selling air by the bottle. Elon Musk’s monopoly on space travel was broken. All those problems with freezing people and thawing them out have been solved. Yet some things will never change. You still get your best ideas in the shower.

Editor’s Note: This post closes the cycle on Wait, Wut? A new series will start soon.

500 Words: Wait, Wut #9

Incremental

When the smoke was thick, the sun was a salmon orb. It stayed an unhealthy pink until the burn from the north blew our way. Then it went dim and seemed like it might go out.

Staring at the sun, and being able to stare because it was a behind a veil of smoke, reminded me we were living in a dystopian family drama following a script that I didn’t like. But the cast was superb! Brave dad ordering supplies, fierce mother goddess overseeing mental and physical health, a genius kid, a cat providing love for food and litter changes, all trapped for months in a containment vessel (well, apartment) while everything burned.

What is happening now is something we will remember for a long time. Our children will divide their days by before and after just as we did after 911. The United States is ranked at number 28 for quality of life among the nations of the world. If my father were alive he would be worried, calling me on Sunday to say, Where is the fire now? Do you have enough work to pay the bills? Can I send you paper towels because we’re ranked 28th now?

Wait, wut? The US is ranked twenty-eighth in the world for quality of life? We’re far behind Norway, Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand.

I take a moment to consider this, my fingers swollen from pressing buttons to order food, disinfectant, and books, the requirements of survival in the containment vessel, and wonder what the hell happened, and how did it happen so fast? I teach a university class filled with students from abroad. They can’t wait to get back to their home countries. America is too dangerous, too polluted, and our government too dysfunctional. What happened?

It’s easy to cultivate a sense of calm! Just think of the good: So many people have moved out of New York, the oysters and honeybees are moving back to the bays and parks. Nature: beaten back by humans but not done yet. There are fewer cars on the road in Los Angeles, so you can see the mountains through air that is clearer than it has been in years. I order books from bookshop.org and Powell’s, not Amazon. There is progress.

Nothing big happens fast because we are subjects to a mighty king: Incrementalism. Things slip slowly, so slowly. 911 was a culmination, not the beginning; it represented years of the Bushes’ business and political dealings with the Saudis going sour slowly, so slowly, years of rot falling through. This thing we’re in now also happened slowly, like the tide receding so slowly that we can’t see the marks it makes in the sand. But they are there.

Anne Helen Peterson, who writes a newsletter called Culture Studies, puts it this way.

The past year has been an exercise in mass compartmentalization: how can you take what’s happening around you, flatten it, then divide it into small enough sections that you can endure it? If you can just get through the summer, you’ll be okay. If you can just get through the week, you’ll be okay. If you can just get through the day, the afternoon, the hour.

She, and others, argue that our civilization is bending toward its end. We order wine using an app while the world’s wheels are coming off, but slowly, so slowly. One wheel gets a little wobbly, we note it, and we keep driving. The radio still works, so we keep listening to music and open the windows to let the wind in. Scenery flows, so we must be going somewhere. Dystopia arrives step by step. As William Gibson had it: the future is already here - it’s just not very evenly distributed.

You can’t keep bending to the new normal. Sometimes you have to break and that means taking a new direction.

Next week’s post will be a dispatch I’ve obtained from the future. Written in 2025, it looks back on where we are now.

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