“Getting Back To Normal” Is The Last Thing Governments Should Be Doing

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As the United States slowly atrophies under the guidance of the current administration, people in Washington DC are running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying everything they can think of to put things back the way they were before the COVID-19 pandemic came along and ruined the Republican party. A return to normal is desperately being sought, but that is precisely the opposite of what America (and the world) needs most.

Think about it. Normal is when people like Tom Cotton from Arkansas can stand up in the Senate and say with a straight face that slavery was a necessary evil and a prerequisite to building a new nation. Imagine the absurdity of someone named Cotton saying the descendants of African slaves should be proud of the contribution their ancestors made to a great nation, despite being excluded from virtually all the economic benefits that accrued to white Americans. because of their efforts.

Annual years of life lost from air pollution
Annual years of life lost from air pollution, image credit: European Society of Cardiologists

Normal is a society in which 99% of the wealth is owned by 1% of the people. Normal is atmospheric pollution that kills more Americans each year than the COVID-19 virus and damages the health of millions of Americans, the majority of them people of color who live downwind of the country’s oil, gas, and plastics facilities. Normal is a Senate that proposes to include hundreds of millions for a fighter plane while slashing funds for real people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Normal is elections tainted by the fascist tendencies of people like Mark Zuckerburg while the putative president appoints his personal stooge to disrupt mail delivery ahead of the upcoming election.

The truth is, America may not be able to survive any more business as usual normalcy. George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian recently that the last thing the UK needs is a return to so-called normalcy.

“Of course, we would all like to leave the pandemic behind, with its devastating impacts on physical and mental health, its exacerbation of loneliness, the lack of schooling and the collapse in employment. But this doesn’t mean that we want to return to the bizarre and frightening world the government defines as normal.

“Ours was no land of lost content, but a place in which lethal crises were gathering long before the pandemic struck. Alongside our many political and economic dysfunctions, normality meant accelerating the strangest and deepest predicament humankind has ever confronted — the collapse of our life support systems.

“Last month, confined to our homes, we watched columns of smoke rising from the Arctic, where temperatures reached a highly abnormal 38C. Such apocalyptic imagery is becoming the backdrop to our lives. We scroll past images of fire consuming Australia, California, Brazil, Indonesia, inadvertently normalising them. In a brilliant essay at the beginning of this year, the author Mark O’Connell described this process as ‘the slow atrophying of our moral imaginations’. We are acclimatizing ourselves to our existential crisis.”

Monbiot suggests what we all know deep in our hearts. The economic doctrines preached by the oracles at the Chicago School of Economics claim unlimited growth is the key to prosperity. In reality the world’s finite resources makes that theory little more than a Ponzi scheme where a fortunate few become fabulously wealthy while the majority are left holding a bag of empty promises.

“The living world, and the people it supports, cannot sustain this level of consumption, but normal life depends on it. The compound, cascading effects of dysbiosis push us towards what some scientists warn could be global systemic collapse.” Monbiot writes.

He goes on to cite survey after survey showing the people want no part of a return to normalcy. By a decisive margin, they want a new normal, one that honors the notion that Earth justice = social justice = racial justice. A recent poll of Americans by Pew Research found the majority of Americans agree that the US government should do more to reduce the impacts of climate change. And here’s the kicker — the vast majority of Democrats say that’s what they want, but over half of Republicans say that’s what they want too.

So while Trump and his cadre of fossil fuel apologists are gutting vehicle emission standards and loosening a flood of environment regulations meant to prevent industries from pillaging the Earth while sticking society with the clean up bill, the voters actually want something quite different. They want a new normal that reinvigorates the American dream of a just and equitable society, one that honors all its citizens, not just a tiny percentage of them. Is that too much to ask?

If the coronoavirus is an indication of how the world will react to the challenges of a warming planet, we are all now on notice that the response will be too little too late. Instead of throwing billions upon billions away on weapons systems that don’t work, we should be taking bold action to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels and protect the only home we will ever have from the ravages of global heating. The means to do this are available, but the will to implement them is lacking

As Robert Kennedy said 50 years ago, “Some [people] see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” It’s time to dream of things that never were — while we still can.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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