Tend to the Parts You Can Reach…
by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez
The political horse race in American politics has begun, with both major Presidential candidates running full-tilt but ponderously towards each other like armored knights on horseback, wielding the lances of millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads and backed up by slick, smart campaign pages.
Meanwhile, it continues to be hot, hotter and unbearably hot here in the Northeast. It was a blessing to wake up this morning to a brief soaking rain, breaking weeks of drought.
But there is no way to fool myself into hoping that things will go back to normal, weather-wise.
As many people have been saying lately, this is the new normal.
Just as we’ve gotten used to a political climate in which it’s normal for a Presidential candidate to hide his tax returns, refuse to comment on moving his millions into off-shore tax havens, and totally repudiate everything he once stood for in order to lick the shoes of his political bosses, we’re going to have to get used to a climate that lurches from one extreme to another — from blizzards to heat waves, from floods to droughts.
Those extremes also characterize the new economic normal. These days, I’m having trouble convincing myself that the global economy that has been built up over my lifetime, since the end of World War II, is ever going to be able to function in such a way as to provide security and prosperity for the majority of the world’s people.
Maybe it never did. There has always been a vast underclass of the disenfranchised, for whom globalization was just another name for displacement, oppression and exploitation.
The difference is that now we’re seeing a huge spike in the ranks of the poor right in the heart of what used to be called the First World—right in our backyards.
For a middle-class earner like me, it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet, and there are no substantial raises or bonuses in sight.
For the millions who are unemployed or under-employed or scraping by with under-the-table jobs in the informal economy, this new normal has got a distinctly Dust Bowl feel to it.
The Occupy encampments have faded away, victims perhaps of effective police surveillance, infiltration and undermining. The only Presidential candidate who has any new ideas to offer about improving the economy is the one we never see or hear on prime time, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, along with her running mate Cheri Honkala.
Most people aren’t saying much about the panic that runs like a live wire through their interior lives.
We are trying to enjoy this hot summer in the usual ways: going to the beach, having barbecues with friends and family, taking in a nice air-conditioned movie now and then.
But every once in a while a voice will break through our heat-addled stupor, crying to us to Wake up, wake up, before it’s too late!!
So, for example, we hear marine scientist Roger Bradbury shouting out from the opinion pages of the New York Times, telling us to pay attention now, in these crucial last years before the planet’s entire coral reef ecosystem collapses, setting off a chain reaction of events that may very well include the starvation of millions of people, particularly in the tropics, who depend on the ocean for food.
“Overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution are pushing coral reefs into oblivion,” Bradbury says. “What we will be left with is an algal-dominated hard ocean bottom, as the remains of the limestone reefs slowly break up, with lots of microbial life soaking up the sun’s energy by photosynthesis, few fish but lots of jellyfish grazing on the microbes. It will be slimy and look a lot like the ecosystems of the Precambrian era, which ended more than 500 million years ago and well before fish evolved.”
Bradbury advocates “an enormous reallocation of research, government and environmental effort” towards the “ecological engineering” necessary “to make the economic structural adjustment that communities and industries that depend on coral reefs urgently need.”
Even though Bradbury aims to be pragmatic and forward-thinking with his wake-up call, I still wonder if he’s living in a dream world.
Governments and the United Nations can’t even agree on basic protocols to begin to cut carbon emissions and pump up our renewable energy industries. They don’t appear to give a damn about the hundreds of millions of poor, hand-to-mouth folk who are already being hard hit by climate change pressures, and they are not even willing to act when it comes to trying to assure the safe passage of the elites into the Anthropocene, air conditioners and all.
What should we be doing in these end times? Where should we be putting our energies?
Not in the political side show of the Presidential race.
Not in the mindless distractions of our media-saturated cultural environment.
No, I believe we need to do two things above all as the world warms and our precious days of “normal” existence come to a close.
One: stay close to friends and family; strengthen the bonds of community. We will be needing each other more than ever in the times ahead.
Two: Try to stay in the present moment as much as possible. We humans are very good at casting our minds forward into the future, but in this case, the scenarios are only going to be pushing our panic buttons. It’s important to stay calm and focused.
Tend the parts of the earth you can reach. Keep your love flowing.
Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Ph.D., teaches comparative literature, media studies, and human rights with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and directs the annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the new Citizen Journalism Project at WBCR-LP. She is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision, and blogs at Transition Times.