Mon, Jul

The Future is Now


ACCORDING TO LIZ - The opening scenes of Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future, published in 2020, presciently foretold what happened in northern India earlier this month.                              

Deaths from climate change are, unfortunately, beginning to sound like yesterday’s news. The question is, where is our world’s equivalent to the Ministry of the Future that the United Nations rushed to establish in Robinson’s novel to address climate change issues?

Of course the disaster depicted in the book is still two years in the future, but our politicians show no evidence of making the changes so desperately needed to forestall the events portrayed in the book’s opening sequence.

In it, a heat-dome in Uttar Pradesh, pinned to the Himalayas by a high pressure system with particulate readings of over 1500 (readings from smoke drifting down to New York City and Philadelphia didn’t even hit 500) and power outages leading to residents booting up two-stroke generators to cool off the children and elderly in triple-degree temperatures, further exacerbated the poor air quality.

Millions dead.

This book has been read and lauded by sci-fi fans to those engaged in climate action. Barack Obama named it one of his favorite books of 2020.

The book presents a near-future society coming to grips with climate change and actually implementing many of today’s potential solutions instead of just talking about them. One proposal was for the world’s central banks to issue carbon coins and use them to pay companies and individuals and countries for emissions reductions.

This is a concrete step human-kind can take to refocus our economy onto a different kind of future return, returns generated by laws enforcing a path to a healthier climate.

The hard fact of the matter is that our economy cannot continue to grow beyond the ability of our planet to sustain it.

With summer only just beginning, a heat-dome bringing dozens of deaths and record power consumption settled over Oklahoma and Texas. And as the front with its dangerous temperatures edges ever eastward to the humid Gulf area, even more people will die.

As a Fourth of July firecracker, heat indexes (a combination of air temperature with relative humidity) are expected to surpass 110° in New Orleans, Houston, Mobile, and Jackson before the holiday.

In the summer of 2021, a triple-degree heatwave north of the border in Beautiful BC, usually a haven of cool, saw 595 Canadians die from heat-related causes, 231 on June 29th alone.

A few years earlier on July 6, 2018, toxic temperatures in SoCal ranged between 115° and 120° over much of the basin, burning the leaves off trees.

Close to 4,000 Californians have died from excessive heat in last decade, when, at times, playground asphalt spiked to 145°.

The triple-temp September of 2010 educated the state on steps to take to protect its residents.

During the Labor Day heat-domes of 2020 – when Woodland Hills hit a record 121° – and 2022, Los Angeles responded to the sweltering weather with citywide outreach opening senior centers and libraries to those without power or who couldn’t afford the luxury of a movie theater.

Much of the planet doesn’t have such options.

Like with AIDS, like with Covid, the immediate causes of death in Uttar Pradesh this month – high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, chest pains – were ascribed to comorbidities of age, hypertension and diabetes.

Denial by government officials does not remove the burning truth that the underlying and overarching causes were high heat and dehydration, that frail human bodies are incapable of maintaining their operating systems during days of blistering temperatures and excessive humidity.

Pointing a finger at the failures of the Indian national and regional governments does not remove responsibility from the global community at large.

According to the New York Times: “What is not in doubt, is that weather of the kind that is becoming increasingly commonplace on every continent is making greater numbers of people die sooner than they would have in cooler times.”

The eponymous ministry of Kim Stanley Robinson’s book is so named because it is the future inhabitants of Earth, those yet to be born, that have the most invested in our fixing today’s problems today.

It’s not only the future needs of people but the needs of future people that must be considered when governments make decisions. We must focus on making lives better for future generations, even if ours must bear the brunt of the costs.

The first step is to stop the grey bankers that flood the halls of corporate offices, the World Bank and the Federal Reserve from focusing solely, and soullessly, on GDP aka Gross Domestic Product – how gross it is – as the be-all and end-all measurement of a healthy humanity.

We must reform key metrics to focus on quality of life and community well-being. For all of humanity.

How about a social movement building on the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life assessments based on individuals' perception of their life in the context of their culture and value systems, and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns?

Also on the World Happiness Report which uses global survey data in more than 150 countries worldwide to assess how people evaluate their own lives?

Commenting on the devastating heat waves in South Asia in recent months, Amnesty International points out that, while India and Pakistan are on the front lines of the climate crisis, “The consequences of climate injustice are starkly visible, with marginalized people facing disproportionately severe consequences that are often life-threatening... India should step up climate action but wealthier countries must make no mistake about the important role they play."

This underlines the fact that the United States is not alone on this planet and what we, and our corporations, do in California affects the lives of millions of people across our country and around the world.

In a country, in a world, where millions are starving, that the average U.S. household throws out nearly a third of the food it buys, further feeding climate change as it decomposes to methane in landfills, is an appalling statistic.

American oil and gas companies, subsidized by trillions of our tax dollars, are still expanding fossil fuel production and continuing to prioritize short-term profits over our lives.

We need to curb our voracious appetites for things, and stop dumping no-longer-wanted items from foodstuff to phones in landfills.

In other words, degrowth, an equitable downsizing. Not so as to precipitate a recession but a wise and proactive decision to limit growth – economically, environmentally, population and waste-wise – to within what can be maintained in a just and ecological balance.

If the world fails to mitigate the climate crisis, the United Nations warns that excessive heat is projected to kill as many people by the end of the century than all cancers and all infectious diseases combined.

The only reason for excessive production and consumption is to increase the profits of those who claim to have inherited the mantle of the robber barons of the Gilded Age. Men, mostly, who put profit for the individual above responsibility for the public good. Whose abuses have been reined in by multiple presidents only to have these oligarchs buy back our government and rescind such controls.

Removing fossil fuels and cutting incomes of their purveyors so the rest of us can live is an existential obligation in the same way we try to stop individuals from murdering each other.

If the human race, if Planet Earth is to survive, we must look to the future’s ancestors, we must look to ourselves to form a more perfect union against the powers of self-interested selfishness. We must find common ground with every group, from Greta Thunberg’s followers to conservative conservationists, who share one wish, a world for our children. And take aggressive action.

It’s trite but true – there is no Planet B.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)