By guest author Terra Walters.
The United States is – at best – behind the times on climate. We have passively accepted the status quo. We minimize, deny and procrastinate rather than take action to improve the climate. The recent W. Virginia v EPA decision by the Supreme Court, which sided with industry, will take a great toll on children’s health. Fortunately, we can make choices at home that will allow us to live comfortably and cleanly in 21st century communities designed with an eye toward the future.
U.S. political turmoil over Supreme Court decisions, the Jan. 6 hearings, and shaken trust in elections offers a compelling distraction from the climate, and those in power are happy to keep it that way. The United States has one of the biggest per capita carbon footprints on earth. We consume at record speed and generate waste just as fast.
Another likely factor in U.S. environmental foot-dragging is that consequences of American overconsumption largely have not been felt at home. Our consequences instead fall to millions of people, largely living in the Global South, who endure famine, unsafe drinking water, fallow fields and superstorms occurring in part due to unceasing U.S. carbon output.
It is perhaps unsurprising that more than 60 percent of Americans believe it’s time to take decisive action but feel pessimistic that government has the will to do anything. Currently, the U.S. government is locked into a free-falling neoliberal economy, a model designed to distribute wealth to the top of the food chain while it forces its required disenfranchised groups to grow their numbers and remain poor without a safety net.
Endless growth is a fiction. If allowed to continue, this economy will monetize every last speck of dirt until nothing is free, and then consume it until nothing is left. The waste generated by fossil fuel dependence, planned obsolescence, conspicuous consumption and mountains of cheap plastic crap will expand exponentially. It will remain long after man is extinct.
This illogical system also demands continuous population growth. According to Nobel laureate Steven Chu, the simple, low-cost solution to most climate and economic issues is to educate women and fairly distribute wealth. That approach would naturally shrink the global population – without laws or mandates – and heal the planet. He argues that the elite in government and industry know they are clinging to a top-heavy, dead-end system, but they refuse to talk about it or consider solutions.
The billionaires, oil tycoons and CEOs who fund the U.S. government could voluntarily reduce emissions. They could go a long way with reparations to affected populations through support of family reforms that focus on the health and success of mothers and children. Of course, polluters also could mitigate a great deal of suffering if they stop using fossil fuel today – which is a tall order. Summer heat in 2022 is breaking records worldwide, and people are dying.
Thankfully, there are ways to make a difference at home and in our communities. Right now, we can improve lives by forming neighborhood alliances and learning about positive change with a keen focus on the future. Soon, innovators in towns and cities will share their core values of family planning, reproductive rights, children’s rights and support of nonhuman and animal life.
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When communities adopt these values, conditions will immediately begin to improve. The focus on “endless growth” will shift toward ensuring quality of life for each citizen. Over time, green spaces that improve local air and water quality and welcome animals will reappear. A balanced local population will cease fighting over scarce jobs and resources. Local home health practitioners like doulas and midwives, will compassionately care for mothers and newborns at home, away from harshly lit hospital rooms.
The five-times peer reviewed and celebrated Fair Start model has laid the groundwork for such communities. With a few painless local changes, we can expand and cultivate natural space to give wildlife room to grow and flourish.
We can drastically cut water use by rethinking the typical American emerald green lawn and xeriscaping instead.
We can improve our own lives – especially with help from timely industry reparations – while we plan our families by guaranteeing a fair and healthy start for every baby.
We can realistically do all of it – if we choose.
Here we stand, at the edge of the precipice.
Times of great upheaval are also times of great opportunity. The current fossil-fuel-addicted, human-rights-revoking power structure is in no way carved in stone. We are not serving a sentence chained to an inevitable bleak, preordained fate.
Change is inevitable. Dreams of a bright, healthy, happy future are not unrealistic. Let’s imagine the possibilities. We can choose to live a life that nurtures us, with a government that puts our needs above everything else.
Humans are intelligent, evidenced by the stupendous progress we’ve made over 200,000 years. Humans are the ones who wrote and debated the philosophical principles upon which we base every style of governance. Devising a new one isn’t out of the question.
Humankind has done all of this, and we can do more.