October 10, 2018

PINERO | Liberals Want to Watch the World Burn

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This week, an alarming United Nations report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that by 2040, the world we know — with abundant food, relatively infrequent natural disasters, and, uh, Southeast Asia — will be but a fleeting memory.

The IPCC concluded that avoiding catastrophe will require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure… and industrial systems.” As one climate writer explains, these goals require an “immediate, coordinated crash program of re-industrialization, involving every major country in the world,” which is difficult to imagine considering “nothing even remotely similar has ever happened” in human history.

Reading the report, it’s clear we have two choices: either save the world, costing big corporations their money, or destroy it, costing millions of vulnerable people their lives.

On the heels of the UN report, CNN published some suggestions for concerned citizens seeking ways to take action. Paramount to averting the impending apocalypse is, it insists, that consumers “change their lifestyle and consumption patterns to more sustainable alternatives.” One example: “Using smart thermostats or more efficient air conditioners.”

Yikes. Seventy percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are produced by only 100 corporations. Just 25 of those companies account for more than 50 percent! Yet when the author of the aforementioned suggestions — considering how soon we might face a man-made doomsday scenario — racked her brain for ideas on how humanity could best mobilize against this leviathan threat, the best she could come up with was buying a fucking thermostat.

My quarrel is not with the author, who might very well be a brilliant, thoughtful person. I do, however, take issue with the notion that the best way for an individual to express political will is through his or her purchasing decisions. Moreover, I take issue with the existence of a powerful media apparatus that weaponizes content like this to push a dangerous agenda: hegemonic neoliberalism.

CNN here promoted a type of market behavior called “environmental consumerism,” which originally surfaced in the 1980s but has in the past decade exploded to near ubiquity. Consumers don’t just prefer organic food, sustainable clothing or upcycled furniture when they’re presented with regular alternatives — they actively seek these products out. Almost every major corporation regularly reports its sustainability achievements and future goals.

However, while investors are increasingly captivated by the “green marketing” movement as its capacity for revenue generation continues to defy expectations, research has shown that the mitigating effect environmental consumerism has on climate change is insignificant, if any exists at all. Why, then, is supposedly tree-hugging, lefty liberal CNN advertising futile market solutions when the fate of the human race is at stake?

Simply put, it’s all a charade. While Fox News’s climate change denial extinguishes its viewers’ desire to exercise their political agency, CNN’s climate change acknowledgment asserts that the only agency worth exercising is as an individual in the market. Though superficially contrasting, they’re both in the same racket: the profiteering of panic.

The virulent political partisanship that now poisons every facet of our American lives is manufactured for the benefit of the powers that be. Tribalism seeps into the cracks of our relationships with family and friends, dictates which news and entertainment media we consume and influences us to purchase more or different products.

We’ll watch anything that stokes our rage, buy anything that proclaims it and vote for anyone who expresses it. So successfully have they turned us against one another that we’ll do just about anything for a hit of sweet, sweet anger.

Luckily, the prolific bounty of content that technology provides renders us far too pacified and otherwise occupied to start a Second Civil War. Unluckily, however, we are so pacified and occupied that we won’t do what’s necessary — organizing, en masse, despite our differences, against the powerful — to forestall the inevitable environmental Armageddon.

It’s time we realize that those who encouraged us to build walls separating ourselves from one another did so not for our protection, but for their own. Only once we tear them down will we finally see that our enemies and our struggles are the same.

Resisting climate change is the most important fight we’ll have in our lives; it’s a good thing we already agree on that. But before we begin, we must first accomplish something far more difficult: the collective recognition of our shared humanity. And to build unity, you’ve gotta make friends.

As the last bastion of political resistance in our country — and the only broad coalition with proven organizing abilities (see: Women’s March, saving the Affordable Care Act) — it is the responsibility of the left to get the ball rolling. We are far from perfect, but we tend to be more inclined and better prepared for take-to-the-streets rebellion than are our conservative counterparts.

So, I implore you to peel the “Impeach 45” bumper sticker off your car, remove your pink PUSSYHAT™, get out of social media’s comforting “#ImWithHer” bubble, and engage with your neighbors, whatever their political affiliation may be.

Then, go into your community, find someone who’s making a difference, and offer your help. It’s time we channel our anger into productivity — every major social movement began in the streets. Revolution is most effective when it’s borne of love for our fellow human.

Make no mistake: this is not one of those calls to “hug a Trump supporter.” This is a call to arms. It’s not about proving your oppression to somebody or changing their strongly-held beliefs. It’s the recognition that through shared struggle, whether that’s climate change, automation or a diminishing social safety net, we can find common ground. Working together, communities can (and do!) enact change that improves lives when those in power will not.

The ruling class — Democratic and Republican alike — exist to serve their own interests. They’re more than happy to watch the world burn. Are you?

Jade Pinero is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Jaded and Confused runs every other Thursday this semester. She can be reached at jpinero@cornellsun.com