The other morning as I left my house, the temperature was zero degrees Fahrenheit. This was a relief. It meant it had warmed up 22 degrees since the previous day! The Polar Vortex, a spinning mass of frigid air that resides above the north pole has fractured, prodded by fingers of warm air poking into an increasingly unstable upper atmosphere, one part of it spinning out over the North American plains. These events will likely become more frequent. Global warming’s surprise gift to Minnesota: -30 degree temps! The next day temperature would soar to 40 above.
This is the face climate inequality. Extremes of wet and dry, hot and cold, winds rushing from high to low pressure zones, bringing rain clouds, top soil and sand, insects, seeds, triggering the movement of animal populations into new territories. Deep-ocean crabs crawl into warming antarctic waters, migratory birds extend their range toward the poles, insects spread out from their tropics habitats, forest trees spread toward the poles in the wake of a receding tundra. Life doesn’t agonize about change – it responds.
So do people. The warming of the economic climate eerily mirrors the geophysical one. Wealth flows from deepening pockets of poverty toward rising pinnacles of concentrated wealth. Human populations follow. Just as birds shift their hunting grounds to keep up with the territorial drift of their food sources, so do humans in their millions uproot from communities depleted by drought, colonialism and resource extraction and follow the trail of their plundered wealth, streaming toward the centers of gluttony only to be greeted with barbed wire, towering walls and militarized borders. The wealth can pass through, the people must stay out.
This week the two major political parties are straining to reach agreement on how to keep the poor from coming in search of the wealth stolen from their homelands. The CEO of the government is demanding a useless wall to shore up the illusion of white victimhood. His liberal opponents insist that there are smarter ways to keep out the system’s victims. Their counter-offer includes $22 billion for a thousand new ICE agents and more drones, boats, planes and electronic sensors. (In their compassion they throw in funds for “humanitarian concerns,” mixing a little kindness with the cruelty.)
This is what political debate in Washington is usually like: disputes over how to achieve “our shared goals.” The current crop of neoliberal presidential candidates fit within that consensus. Breaking the consensus, however, is our mission. Only movements grounded in a profoundly different vision of human possibility and of our place in nature can extract us from the downward spiral of ecological and social decline.
Today’s struggles for housing, nutrition, land restoration, public health, peace, non-toxic gender and sexual culture, community safety and all the other flash-points of daily life contain the puzzle pieces of a truly alternative peoples program. What remains is to put them together.
Self-medicating with the charisma of politician-celebrities – of whatever stripe – can lull us into a sedated, reassuring trance. But it suppresses the ability to dream.