The world is on fire. What can you do about it? It depends on how you view the problem.
Lately, nightmarish images of the West Coast have been circulating, from California to Oregon. In it, wildfires have spread so rapidly it looks like the entire world is on fire. The sky has a sickly orange hue. In a very real way, it looks like the end of the world.
Into this conversation stepped former President Barack Obama, with the following tweet.
As I mentioned recently, Obama is the ur-Technocrat. To him, you are what you vote for, and that is the best and biggest power that you have. Each of us, individually, must vote as if our individual lives depend on it. If we empower Democrats, the problem will be solved; if we do not, our problem will get worse.
Out of curiosity, let’s check in with the Democratic establishment’s thoughts on the Green New Deal as of 2019.
Pelosi said Wednesday, however, the panel would not be tasked with writing a specific bill, and brushed off the idea of the Green New Deal as a “suggestion.”
“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi said. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with Politico.
Ah, I hear you say, but that was 2019. That’s not fair.
True! Good eye! It’s important to pay attention to the currency of the media you consume. Peoples’ positions change with time and popular consensus. Pelosi is fairly conservative, sure, but she has a longstanding rule about supporting sitting Democrats even when their primary opponent is more progressive and more in line with the base, so she has probably chang–
So, Pelosi must be the wrong person, then? Surely, Obama has come out and endorsed her opponent, Shahid Buttar?
Then surely he used his eight years as the most powerful single human being on Earth to push back hard against fossil fuel usage himself?
So, what is going on here?
To me, this gets at the heart of the failure of the technocracy to solve the climate crisis (or, well, any crisis). In this conception, you are an individual. As an individual, there isn’t much you can do. You can go vegan, if it’s feasible for you, but that won’t have the scale. You can bike to work, if it’s possible and you can afford it and your office supports it, but again, that is a tiny change. The single biggest impact you can possibly have as an individual is, well, voting for another, more powerful individual. And if you only have bad options, well, the least bad option is necessarily the best, in this framework.
There’s some truth to that! Carbon emissions have gone up under Trump, albeit not by as much as you might think. And his administration is unquestionably doing irreparable damage to the EPA, and to public lands. Biden is bad about the climate — his plan is okay; his climate and energy advisors are nightmares — but he’s also undeniably better than his opponent. And, to a Technocrat, that means your only option is to vote for him and hope he isn’t lying like he is about banking reform.
Of course, that was our option in 2012, too. And in 2008. And in 1996. And in 1992. And if you think we didn’t know that this was coming back then…
Not only did we ignore warnings; we actively went in the opposite directions. And this, to me, is part of the problem with viewing the climate crisis through a technocratic lens. If the best option is still bad, things will still get worse. And if that’s the case, did your vote actually make a difference? Sure — but it doesn’t feel like it. And, “Yes we live in a nightmare world of fire, flood, and plague, but imagine how much worse it would be if McCain had beaten Obama!” It would be worse, sure, but it’s bad enough already.
And it would indeed be worse. If the Technocratic solution is “Vote and pray,” then the Right’s solution is firmly where we are right now: Those with the most money and power should dictate what happens, regardless of consequence. Because they have proven their worth in capitalism, it is correct that they reap the rewards. In this mindset, the way to fight climate change is for a company or person to find a way to make it more profitable to fix the problem than it is to not. Of course, it’s also right for the fossil fuel industry to stack the deck against such an innovation or realization. Let the market decide!
Or, worse yet, there is an Alt-Right solution, such as eco-fascism. By this belief, we must combat climate change in order to preserve the White race. You cannot have a White nation, after all, if the nation is destroyed by climate catastrophe. What does that look like? Eco-fascist death squads and eugenicist wars to curb and oppress ‘less desirable’ populations. It’s not that White Americans need to give anything up; it’s that fewer other people need to have anything to begin with.
We’ve covered three of the four quadrants now; what, then, is the Left’s solution?
Joining environmental groups is part of the push for collective action, certainly. But to be truly collective, the Left might argue, you need to reach beyond those groups. Do you go to religious services? You can start talking about God giving man stewardship of the Earth and how we are breaking that bargain by allowing these crises. Do you volunteer to walk dogs at a local shelter? A great chance to meet fellow dog lovers and talk about the changing weather and how it affects wildlife. Do you work with Food Not Bombs to prevent waste and feed your community? Climate change is having a massive impact on food and water security across the world, even right here in America. These are people who have shown that they are community-oriented and empathetic — and they may not know who to call or how to demonstrate or even how this issue effects their communities!
Traditionally, technocracy struggles to handle crises because when you foist your problems onto someone else’s shoulders and hope they handle it, you stop worrying about it — and when you stop worrying about it, you stop paying attention. You have to care, dammit, and not just once every few years.