We can’t shrug this one off

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Her­ald Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

What if the end of the world came and no­body no­ticed? It’s not quite an idle ques­tion.

You see, some­thing re­mark­able hap­pened last week. The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, a group of sci­en­tists work­ing un­der the aegis of the United Na­tions, is­sued a re­port on our planet’s health. Turns out it’s worse than we thought. Bar­ring prompt — and po­lit­i­cally un­likely — mea­sures to dras­ti­cally cut car­bon out­put within the next decade, they say we’ll be­gin to see wors­en­ing droughts, wild­fires, coral reef dec­i­ma­tion, coastal flood­ing, food short­ages and poverty be­gin­ning as soon as 2040.

You can ex­pect mass evac­u­a­tions from the most heav­ily im­pacted ar­eas. As one of the re­port’s au­thors, Aro­mar Revi, di­rec­tor of the In­dian In­sti­tute for Hu­man Set­tle­ments, told The New York Times, “In some parts of the world, na­tional bor­ders will be­come ir­rel­e­vant. You can set up a wall to try to con­tain 10,000 and 20,000 and 1 mil­lion peo­ple, but not 10 mil­lion.”

And we haven’t even got­ten to the re­mark­able part yet. That has to do with our col­lec­tive re­sponse to this dooms­day prog­no­sis. In a word, Amer­ica shrugged.

That’s a nec­es­sar­ily sub­jec­tive anal­y­sis, but I’ll stand by it. Yes, news me­dia du­ti­fully re­ported the story and pun­dits du­ti­fully sounded the alarm. But none of it seemed to quite reg­is­ter. Two days later, the story was pretty much over, our at­ten­tion hav­ing al­ready moved on.

You might cor­rectly say this is to be ex­pected, given the lack of en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­er­ship from a White House that wants to bring back coal. But there’s also a sub­tler force at work.

Largely be­cause of Don­ald Trump, you see, we live in a starkly dif­fer­ent world than we did just three years ago. The un­prece­dented has be­come the or­di­nary, the emer­gency the ev­ery­day. Chil­dren in cages #MeToo Robert Mueller Stormy Daniels Brett Ka­vanaugh Jeff Ses­sions North Korean nukes elec­tion hack­ing anony­mous op-ed ad­min­is­tra­tive coup EPA cor­rup­tion emol­u­ments clause NFL at­tacks col­lu­sion con­fu­sion and lies, oh my.

It has be­come im­pos­si­ble to care about all you should care about, keep up with all you should keep up with. The hu­man mind doesn’t have the band­width for it. Every day, you feel like you’re run­ning up­hill on an ever-ac­cel­er­at­ing tread­mill with no stop but­ton.

So then you read where the planet is melt­ing, dire re­sults ex­pected soon, and you just shrug and file it away with all the other ter­ri­ble things you’ll worry about when you get a chance. That’s un­der­stand­able. But it pre­sumes a lux­ury we don’t have — time. Again, this re­port says the world has 10 years in which to save it­self — and we’ll spend at least two of those un­der Trump.

Al­ways be­fore, the hinge points of Amer­i­can his­tory have some­how man­aged to find the peo­ple the times de­manded: ci­ti­zen soldiers at the found­ing, Union pa­tri­ots at the un­rav­el­ing, tough­minded strivers dur­ing de­pres­sion and global war, Amer­i­can dream­ers in the free­dom years. But sel­dom be­fore has the na­tion seemed as ex­hausted and frac­tured as it does now.

So the ques­tion of the mo­ment is: What will this new hinge point bring out of us? The an­swer will come at the bal­lot box over the next two years. And the whole world waits with us to find out what we are. Are we truly the ig­no­rance, in­co­her­ence and chaos of the mo­ment, or are we the sense of pur­pose and can-do that have al­ways be­fore de­fined Amer­ica at its cross­roads?

If we say it’s the lat­ter, then we should feel ashamed, chas­tised by our his­tory. Be­cause if that his­tory tells us any­thing, it tells us this:

Amer­ica doesn’t shrug.

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