Facts We Hate

by on February 24, 2020 · 1 comment

in Environment, Under the Perfect Sun

In Our Moment of Profound Ecological Crisis and Historic Economic Inequality, Sanders is Our Best Hope for a Just and Sustainable Future

By Jim Miller

Last week in the midst of Trump’s revanchist frenzy and the “centrist” anxiety attack in progress that is the Democratic Presidential primary race, a small story in the Guardian noted the release of a statement by 23 former foreign ministers calling for urgent action on the climate crisis and the dramatic loss of biodiversity now in progress.

In advance of a meeting in Rome to begin negotiations on a Paris-style agreement on preserving the natural world, these international leaders starkly observed that, “Humanity sits on the precipice of irreversible loss of biodiversity and a climate crisis that imperils the future for our grandchildren and generations to come. The world must act boldly, and it must act now.”

Of course, what struck me most about this story is how the issuing of these kinds of warnings along with the subsequent lack of any significant response from what constitutes American leadership at present has become a numbingly regular ritual.  In fact, rather than addressing the ongoing climate catastrophe, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to speed the world towards untold suffering while the opposition party refuses to even hold a debate on the central question of our time.

Much of the Democratic Party establishment scurried away from the Green New Deal and the majority of the candidates running for President acknowledge the climate crisis but put forth plans that suggest they will ultimately address the issue decades after it will be too late to mitigate the worst effects of it.  The fact that physics doesn’t care about their political calculations simply doesn’t register and virtually no one in the mainstream media seems to want to press them on it.

Of the remaining crew of contenders, only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (who, as of this writing is quickly fading post-Nevada) have plans that acknowledge that we are in the midst of decade zero.  This ought to be a litmus test for voters who know what time it is, but, maddeningly, it only occupies the margins of the national political discussion.

A similar dynamic is at play when it comes to the question of economic inequality, its causes and solutions.  Rather than focusing the discussion around the fact that we are in an era of unprecedented economic inequality and that the Democrats’ historical identity as the party of the people would suggest that addressing this should be at the heart of their agenda, much of the debate inside the party is whether or not it is too extreme to tell the truth or too far left to criticize the billionaire class or suggest that big structural change is in order.

Instead, the hysterical rush to Michael Bloomberg by cable news pundits and fearful Democratic party leaders reveals a deep aversion to squarely facing the other great crisis of our era.  Indeed, the culture of fear in some circles is so intense that folks who like to think of themselves as progressives are happily counseling a pragmatic surrender to plutocracy as a last line of defense.

It’s pathetic.

In an alternative world, one might hope for better.  As William Davies points out in his review of Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital and Ideology, the greatest economic thinker of our time sees the question of inequality far more clearly:

His premise in Capital and Ideology is a moral one: inequality is illegitimate, and therefore requires ideologies in order to be justified and moderated. “All history shows that the search for a distribution of wealth acceptable to the majority of people is a recurrent theme in all periods and all cultures,” he reports boldly. As societies distribute income, wealth and education more widely, so they become more prosperous. The overturning of regressive ideologies is therefore the main condition of economic progress.

Piketty, Davies also suggests, sees that “given the climate crisis among other factors, current levels of inequality cannot long be maintained and new policies will be introduced: he prefers to take an optimistic position, based on the assumption that ‘inequality regimes’ never last forever.”

Reading about Piketty’s new work, it’s hard not to see lessons for our current political situation.  In the face of reactionary nationalism in the service of plutocracy, the wise course of action would seem to be to overturn rather than accommodate the very regressive ideology that afflicts us and threatens to do irreversible harm to our world and the future.

At present, Bernie Sanders’ bold challenge to the billionaire class represents perhaps the last chance we have to shatter the current hegemony and move toward the kind of necessary action it will take to avoid squandering the time we have left to salvage a just and sustainable world.

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Avatar Jason February 24, 2020 at 11:16 am

Hasn’t the USA reduced the amount of total carbon emissions more than any other country?

Does “ignoring physics” also include leaving nuclear energy out of the Green New Deal? I’m talking Gen IV reactors.

Why is trying to find the most disruptive solution to everything appeal to so many? Extremism on both sides prevents consensus. The first party to find a way to appeal to the middle will win in a manner that will get things done.

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