The following is a talk I gave a few weeks ago at a local college campus. As was anticipated, it was met with mixed reactions. This sentiment was not crafted to be a crowd-pleaser, but a direct and concise perspective which I sought to amplify within my community. Given yesterday’s decision to retract our country’s pledge to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, I’ve decided to share the message with a wider community. I am deeply concerned that, instead of erupting in indignation, our country is more or less carrying on as usual. If you find the following contents offensive, I have reached the audience I most hoped after. If this perspective is already palpable to yourself, please consider sharing it with someone who will take offense to it, for it is they whom we need to reach most of all.
2 June 2017
Superheroes and Zombies
Humanity is in trouble. Am I the only one here who checks the news every morning just to find out if we’re at war yet? Even if we manage to avoid a nuclear holocaust, we’ve yet to address the alarm bells that are blaring from virtually every ecological facet of our planet. Countless climate scientists postulate that we’ve already surpassed critical tipping points that will soon result in a massive upheaval of societal infrastructure, resulting in an unprecedented refugee crisis. In fact, these crises are already unfolding. As we sit here in this air-conditioned hall, on this jewel of a campus, brutal wars are being waged over access to fresh water. Coastal cities that are vanishing under a rising sea line have already been evacuated, leaving their residents homeless and destitute. Since we haven’t yet experienced this in our city, however, you and I aren’t losing any sleep, let alone considering how our daily decisions may be exacerbating the conflicts we perceive as remote and ambiguous. In practice, scientists have been urging a systematic paradigm shift in our energy policy since the 1960’s. First we laughed. Then we shrugged. Next, we argued. We have allowed the very premise of this urgent issue to become bogged down in semantics. Bipartisan politics have divided the country as to whether or not climate change is the result of human activity. What an imbecilic argument to be engaged in. If our canoe is leaking, we would show wisdom to stop the leak before we spend decades arguing about the cause. Well, our canoe is leaking badly, and we have taken on an alarming amount of water as we bickered about who was or wasn’t to blame. Despite decades of clear scientific data, we have not seen the forrest, for the trees. Now that forests are in short order on this planet, perhaps we can refocus our priorities. Let me finally state clearly the words we’ve all been choking back: We are all going to die if we don’t make drastic and immediate changes to our daily lives. We don’t have to wait for a consensus before we take action to save our lives. And we certainly can’t afford to wait for world leaders to bring about solutions. We know our atmosphere is in trouble. We know our oceans our in trouble. We know coastal communities are in trouble. We know agriculture is in trouble. In short, we know our planet is threatened, and we know our only chance of saving ourselves is to drastically change the way we source and consume energy.
If this news is painfully obvious to any rational thinker, how have we wasted so much time rapt in debate? Simple. The debate was an intentional stalling mechanism, contrived by those who stood to lose from any alteration to our energy policies. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the fossil fuel industry. The elite cabal who controls coal and oil have long since bought-out the first world governments. That used to be a dicey claim, but I feel the fact is well established at this point as a demonstrable truth. Put plainly, the world’s most powerful people have intentionally negated the future survival of our species in order to maximize personal wealth in their own lifetimes. It is an understatement to say this constitutes a vast global conspiracy. Since our governmental policies are crafted to serve, not the well being of the common people, but that of special interests, we can infer that the integrity of our foreign policy is just as lacking as that of our energy policy. The aptly named Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it’s been since the US began testing nuclear bombs in the 60’s. Is this the will of the people? The reality of our predicament looks like some comic book-inspired action film, in which an evil super-group is trying to destroy the world. Unfortunately, our caped hero seems reticent in arriving to save the day.
If evil super-villains are real, who among us will step up to challenge them? It’s very easy to point our fingers at the fossil fuel industry, or even our complicit government. Unfortunately, millions of displaced refugees can’t be fed on blame. The simple truth we have been stubborn to accept is that, in our complacency, we are all just as culpable as the super-villains. Every day we live our lives according to the status quo, we are the bad guys. The super-villains have come to power because we’ve allowed them to. We have sold them our ethical dignity, our moral compass, in exchange for a life of excess and modern convenience. They’re happy with their trillions of dollars and unchecked political influence, and we’re content with our snapchat, our carne asada burritos, our endless hours of screen-time. Who here tonight can honestly claim to have made it this far into the event without becoming distracted and playing on their phone? As long as our addictions to varied physiological stimuli are sated, we do not rise up against those who directly threaten the lives of our children. Until we reject the poison with which we’re being controlled, we will not succeed in changing our reality. Until we refuse the mind-numbing false-reality with which we are being drugged, we will not be living up to our potential. The common people have the advantage in numbers. We could be an army of revolutionaries. We could be a legion of superheroes. Instead, we are a legion of zombies. History has shown that imperial powers can be defeated by the common people. Mercifully, or perhaps not, our oppressors have not dominated us through violence, so violence is not required for us to fight back. We have been enslaved though cunning, so it is cunning that can set us free. As Americans today, our strongest bargaining chip is our prerogative to opt out. We are relinquishing our voices in exchange for shallow luxuries. Don’t buy it. For every sacrifice we make of our comfort and convenience, we shed off a layer of complacency. The industries we are accusing are the same who provide us unrestricted internet access, unlimited global transportation and limitless food options that don’t require any thought or work. We love this stuff. We have no business complaining about these corporations if we are kneeling at their throne, mouths gaping, awaiting our daily spoonful of their goods. If we expect industry to change, our spending must reflect that. Many of us could get by without a car. Some of us could manage without a cell phone. Many of us could get by without internet in our homes. Some of us could survive without eating processed and packaged convenience foods, instead preparing our own family meals from foods produced locally and sustainably. We all must ascertain which sacrifices we are willing to make. However, if we choose none, they will all be heaped upon us at once, as the unsustainable infrastructure we’ve built our society upon tumbles like a house of cards. If we are not willing to make dramatic changes to our everyday mode of living, we would do well to quiet our belligerent blaming, and accept the consequences our apathy has facilitated. With one arm outstretched, pointing an accusatory finger at government, and the other arm leveling a finger at industry, we make rather convincing zombies, lumbering about without direction, all but dead inside. But when we use our fingers to email our congresspeople, to play songs of protest, to raise food from the earth, then we are powerful. When our actions reflect the will of our hearts, and not our habits, then we are valiant. When we make sacrifices so that our children will have a world worth inheriting, then we are superheroes.