The US shot itself in the foot
Will it become easier to get the public to follow expert advice before the next pandemic spreads out of control? Or will they become more likely to approve climate action against the five sustained surges in extreme weather that occurred about ten years ago?
Perhaps the public in some countries will, but recall that 70 million Americans still voted to re-elect a President who regularly ignored and belittled the experts in public, both for pandemic action and climate action. The cost of ignoring the pandemic for four months was quite visible throughout 2020 as we sheltered. Other countries were able to re-open, so successful were they in controlling virus spread within a month or two. The best were South Korea, China, and Taiwan — all trade competitors of ours who gain when America stumbles.
The US shot itself in the foot. And it wasn’t just Trump’s doing, though he remains a spectacular example of the underlying dark rot.
Many of those same Americans, who refused to wear a mask that protects others, were Trump voters, including a surprising number of GOP governors in the South and Midwest. They even adopted mask-free as a badge of tribal identity. They were not shunned, shamed, quarantined, or treated as aggressors as they would have been in many other countries. Reminding them that they were endangering their own relatives, as well as the public, had little effect; they seemed to have blinders on, restricting them to the mindset served up on FOX.
That shows us a problem that goes well beyond the US’s worst President or the violent right-wing mobs from America’s dark side, destruction-minded anarchists (“Bring on the Apocalypse!”) that are, surprisingly, defended by so-called conservatives. We now see that half of American voters may ignore the consequences or do not care much for their fellow Americans. I once suspected that 20 percent of Americans were like that and am shocked to find it is closer to 49 percent, a setup for another American Civil War. It is a puzzle that, for all of their talk about resenting government (or experts) telling them what to do, they are nonetheless friendly to authoritarian rule, so long as it beats up on the other guys.
Pandemic pushback shows us how big our problem is going to be, getting the US to take quick action on climate, as there has been a strong overlap between tolerating Trump and climate denial.
I worry that half of Americans may continue to be a hard sell, whatever the facts. Given that narrow margin in Congress, other countries are going to think that the US would not be a very reliable treaty partner, if they are not already thinking that from four years of Trump breaching international agreements and the Republican Senate letting him get away with it.
I am beginning to wonder if my US-focused efforts to promote a Manhattan Project for Climate ought to be directed at Europeans and Asians instead. Foot-dragging Americans are not a lost cause but time is of the essence when it comes to climate action. In that sense, I am beginning to doubt that the US is capable of leading the climate charge in time.
The time frame for completing effective climate action — the kind that can prevent the collapse of civilization — is the next 20 years, not the 79 years until the end of the century. And all we can seem to talk about, when we talk at all, are emission reductions that will be too little, too late. Effective climate action now takes a cleanup of the excess CO2 that is big, quick, and sure to work (no time for a second try). No one seems to acknowledge that the surges in extreme weather promise frequent economic collapses that could keep us from accomplishing a cleanup. We already have a climate emergency, and even the climate action groups avoid talking about the imminent threat of being stranded on a slippery slope that promises a big population crash.