Robbing Peter to pay Paul

So, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is willing to accept relief for the destruction inflicted on Oklahoma City, but only if someone else suffers. This may be political theater today, but given the ever increasing ferocity of storms and other destructive, climate-related events, expect more of this kind of thinking in the future.

As I have said before, we are entering the opening rounds of climate change where the continuous destruction of infrastructure is going to eclipse our ability to replace it. And this is going to lead to some difficult choices, as not everything is going to be rebuilt, and the mass migration of climate refugees will place ever more of a strain on what remains. But, I think one of the most difficult choices that lies before us is the place that government will have on helping to triage the massive stresses this will inflict on our society.

Senator Coburn may rightly be castigated for his opinion, but he unfortunately represents an ever-increasing percentage of our population who no longer believes in its collective welfare. But this increasing go-it-alone-ism is destroying the collaborative nature of our society at exactly the time when it is needed the most. Global climate change by definition, after all, means that there is no place to hide; thus we really are all in this together.

But, even more than extreme individualism, what Coburn represents is the fundamental loss of faith in our democracy to continue to fulfill the needs of modern society. Some of this is the self-inflicted outcome of “starve the beast” policies pursued by those who never had faith in democracy to begin with; some of this was seeded by the original sins of slavery and exploitation of the poor from which our particular flavor of capitalism was birthed; but the end result is a continuous attack on the belief that the government will be there when we most need it.

For I believe this will be the ultimate causality of climate change: not the stuff that will be destroyed and not replaced, but the idea that we can work collectively to solve our problems. Yes, there will be some small communities that manage to persist and enhance this belief, but when the lights go out and stay out, I suspect that anarchy and totalitarianism will be what’s left.

So, when climate change ramps up, and the Senator Coburns start to dismantle our democracy with increasing fervor because we can no longer afford it, then we need to be prepared to fight back with all our power. Because we can do without cell phones and Netflix; what we can’t do without are the basic, democratic governmental structures that facilitate the collaboration and sense of shared community we will need to survive the existential crisis of our time. Lose that, and we’ve lost everything.

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