What would happen if a mammoth muddy bog was poised on a mountain above us and, according to weather and slope-stability experts, it could soon become a life-threatening mudslide? Would we listen to those who were suggesting a possible doomsday, or would we choose to deny the danger and continue living our lives in splendid, comfortable ignorance?
To take the first track would mean expensive changes to the community infrastructure, and some difficult personal life style alterations for all of us. To take the latter track is a dangerous gamble. Odds are that an inevitable tipping-point rainstorm would eventually hit the morass of muck and send it sliding down to smother life out of everything we have always known.
The United States and all of the world’s nations are today confronted by the global equivalent of this more-than theoretical question. The morass on my imaginary mountain of global threats is made up of multiple urgent, colossal, and complex issues. The dozens of challenges facing us are so inextricably intertwined that setting priorities and dealing with them in an orderly progression is not possible. Instead, multiple fronts must be simultaneously engaged, with each action producing multifarious reactions.
To illustrate the interconnectivity of the various challenges before us, let’s pick one issue, climate change, and follow it through the process of morphing into a dangerous amalgamation. The changing climate has an ever-increasing effect on the world economy. How we structure that economy and allocate resources affects our approach to the warming globe. If we fail to aggressively and successfully attack it, landscapes and seascapes worldwide will be forever altered, which in turn, will impact everything from our food supply to the use of natural resources. It will have a universally negative effect on all life, with particularly disastrous consequences for poor and vulnerable people.
Without immediate and aggressive action, the warming seas will continue to melt glaciers and induce droughts. Rising sea levels and violent storms will destroy homes and cities. Broiling temperatures will threaten our health and welfare. Havoc will be wreaked on communities, and in some cases on entire nations. Farmers will have to change what they grow, and crop seasons will follow different planting and sowing calendars. Today’s infrastructure is not, in many cases, built to fend off the impact of a fast-warming climate.
An aggressive response will require altered economies. Public and personal budgets will have changed priorities. Investments will move away from 20th-century industrial policies into 21st– century innovations. This will affect how we structure and administer both school buildings and curriculums.
The Courage to Listen
Do the political leaders of today have the courage and the willingness to listen, to open their ears and hear what our scientific experts are telling us; to open their eyes and see the effects of a changing climate; to open their hearts to those who are already being displaced and economically destroyed by the elimination of their habitats?
Do we as citizens continue to listen to the people who proclaim it is all a hoax? Do we accept the smirking rejection of science from the same people who spent a year explaining that Covid-19 was a ruse propagated by China and the political left; that we shouldn’t wear masks; that despite a wild-fire like growth in Covid cases we should gather together for Easter services in 2020. Do we shun science and embrace the same people whose policies of ignorance and neglect cost hundreds of thousands of lives in our country and beyond?
I do believe that the there is a potential deadly mudslide in the toxic combination of issues confronting today’s America: the warming climate combined with a fragile economy at home and abroad; an inadequate and unequal preschool-through-high school education system; a healthcare labyrinth that does not serve all Americans equitably and is unavailable to millions; a level of child poverty that stunts the growth of a younger generation that we elders should instead be investing in; a failing infrastructure; wages that are below living standards, particularly for young people; and affordable housing in safe neighborhoods. This mudslide of issues will not wait for a bipartisan compromise before raging down to engulf us. Comprehensive action is needed now. Right now!
All of these issues are, as I suggested in the beginning of this post, inextricably intertwined. To successfully engage them as a whole requires the involvement of committed, bright and brave people from all aspects of our society: scientists, politicians, engineers, communicators, hands-on workers, advocates, educators. It will require brave leaders who refuse to listen to nonsense, and who speak the truth to their constituents––no more “big lies,” no more “hoaxes,” no more partisan jockeying–– just give us the facts. And, of utmost importance, it will require a citizenry willing to make hard choices benefit their posterity and the globe.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.