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The Danger of Climate Change Normalization

The Danger of Climate Change Normalization

As some (hopefully none of you) were riveted (oops) by the lost tube of rich people in the Atlantic, more important stories have been given short shrift. Chief among them was an almost simultaneous disaster in the Mediterranean, in which over 300 Pakistani migrants were killed when their boat to Greece capsized. Pakistan, of late, has suffered immensely under inflation and food scarcity, in no small part driven by the war in Ukraine. Last summer, Pakistan was hit with a record-breaking monsoon season that flooded much of the country. Scientists have linked that flooding to climate change.

This is a common enough phenomenon, unfortunately: the exploits of the rich and/or white frequently overshadow the experiences of the poor/People of Color in the media. Think of the expanse of TV coverage of kidnapped white girls on vacation versus the time dedicated to the continued disappearances of Indigenous women from or around reservation land.  Both are tragedies, but one is part of systemic subjugation that it behooves the media to largely ignore.

Climate change in popular discourse has gone from the spread of awareness in the late 90s and early 00s to denial spread by Big Oil and Republicans up until around 2016 (see Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and his infamous snowball), to the present, where the strategy has shifted from denial–which failed–to greenwashing and delay. Oil companies now are focused on shifting the conversation from ignoring climate change to the pittances they dedicate to green technologies, from algae to carbon sequestration. My worry is that we're entering a phase in which a certain threshold of notoriety must be met for a climate disaster to be covered in the media at all. The victims have to be white enough, or the disaster large enough, to capture attention. This is, in effect, the normalization of climate change. But climate change is not normal.

An Abundance of Heatwaves and Heat Events

So far this season, we've seen at least six heatwaves or related high heat events around the world. And I may be undercounting depending on your definition. There is the ongoing and extremely disconcerting heat recorded in the world's oceans–record highs since April and still rising; Mexico and Texas are currently suffering under a record-breaking heat dome; 96 people died in two districts in India from heat-aggravated causes, though some were quick to point to other districts suffering far fewer casualties as indicative that these were not heat-deaths. Simultaneously, other parts of India are underwater. It should also go without saying that Pakistan, suffering enough, is also struggling under the same heat facing India; and the Pacific Northwest all collectively sweated from worry and heat just a month ago; Northern Argentina and Paraguay–this is during winter, mind you, are experiencing record-breaking heat. China, coming off the world's worst-ever heatwave last year, is enduring yet another heatwave, breaking some records of its own.

Something that has gotten attention is a Texas bill recently signed into law by Governor Abbott: HB 2127 supersedes local regulations in favor of state-mandated ones, often peeling back protections like water breaks. This news–how much so because it's in the state of Texas?–comes just days before a USPS worker died in Dallas from the excess heat. We've talked about the dangers of heat exposure to the body, even when they aren't lethal. As heat waves increase in frequency and ferocity, lack of legal protection for simple things like water breaks should make it even clearer to you that we're just a means for the machine to draw value.

What all these heatwaves mean (less the ocean) is not so important. People will die in them, but they'll pass. They're weather events exacerbated–or perhaps outright caused by–climate change. But weather passes. And that's the problem. As climate change continues to twist the dial on heatwaves and droughts, floods and hurricanes, even as they continue to worsen, to some extent they may become just weather. We've always had weather. Hiding in this noise is the possibility for delay.

How They Win

It might sound silly, and worse, lib, for me to say that awareness of climate change is necessary for us to fight against it, but it's true. We may acknowledge the threat of climate change, the majority of us, but there is a certain amount of acceptance that comes with living on this planet–acceptance of almost any condition provided it worsens slowly, or if we are given sufficient bread and circuses.

Take COVID, for example. Do you know the latest variant? Do you know the rate of spread in the United States? We're so far up in variants at this point that it sounds like Elon Musk named it: the current dominant strain is XBB 1.5. And spread is still considered "uncontrolled." Despite that, I'll be honest, I don't always mask up when I should. Despite the remonstrations of fellow leftists, I don't. How few months ago would I have pointed out that was ill-advised? And the threat hasn't really changed. I haven't had the vaccine in over six months, so I'm not especially protected. If I, the guy with the cardboard sign screaming on the exit ramp about the apocalypse, am not being careful about it, what does that say about your average leftist? What does that say about the broader populace?

Here is the opportunity for delay. All a given population needs to do is forget, be distracted, become convinced that work is being done and that there is a way forward that cleaves to the lives we're used to. Electric cars. An indefatigable electric grid run on clean energy–eventually, but soon enough. The powers that be aren't interested in tapping every last drop of oil–this isn't some completionist goal. They don't need to destroy the earth to feel they've won. It's nothing so malicious as that. It's simple greed, and destruction is its byproduct. All they want is time to make more money off a thing they know makes money. They won't stop doing so until the thing stops making money. And that, unfortunately, doesn't happen just because we're uncomfortable and die sometimes.

To be clear, on the clock of the industrial age fueled by oil, we are in the eleventh hour. It is less and less profitable for companies to exploit these resources. Contrariwise, oil companies just posted record profits. I should link to a source on that but I won't, because it is infuriating. Nevertheless, the basic process of extracting fossil fuels is becoming less profitable as more and more resources have to be spent in order to get said fuels–basic return on investment stuff. That's the nature of finite resources being demanded for infinite growth. There will come an end to this. The question is whether or not we will let that end consume the planet, or whether it will only consume capitalism.