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  • Writer's pictureAllan Dyen-Shapiro

Resisting the Urge to Get "Karbonned"

Karbon allows the user's body to function in autopilot mode, performing all the routine tasks expected of them while leaving the person inside the body in stasis. No memories persist from time spent karbonned. This street drug pervades the hellscape of near-future Cairo in Mohammed Rabie's novel Otared. (Click for my Goodreads review on this book.) Karbon surpasses heroin or meth as the drug of choice because it alone abolishes the prime force driving characters to fight against the oppressive status quo: hope. Indeed, the impossibility of hope is ontological to Rabie's dystopia.

I'm not judging you, dear reader, for an occasional night spent "karbonned." Whether by overeating comfort food (I'm looking at you, there, in the fridge, last night's leftover pizza), watching an episode of a favored silly TV show for the fourth time, or perusing every video of your friends' cats that hits your Facebook feed, we all escape. Occasional escape fuels a recharge of one's batteries. Escape only becomes problematic when it leads to neglect of important matters.

Right now, the climate crisis should be the central concern of every human being on this planet. If you checked American news this last month, you'd have seen the Lake Tahoe region on fire, flooding along the path of Hurricane Ida, and temperatures high enough to kill in the Pacific Northwest. The long-foretold catastrophe (I've been aware since James Hanson's papers in the late 1980s, but clear predictions trace back to at least the early 1960s) is here and getting worse. The planet needs to abandon fossil fuels. With the wealth tied up in petroleum-based infrastructure, that means a fight against capitalism (including state capitalism like we see in China). The key to my children's generation having any sort of livable future is not getting distracted from this pursuit.

And yet, something always manages to steal the spotlight. The 2018 murders at Parkland High School led to a broad-based, youth-led movement for gun control, which has since sputtered and resulted in nothing. Okay, nearly nothing. In Florida, we now have more cops in the schools. The Republican supermajority in the legislature was happy with that outcome. To be fair, where I live—in an ex-urban county where every high school has mandatory JROTC, leading a disproportionate number of poor people into the military—returning soldiers coming home with a mission to help kids not mess up, so they have choices in life, often take these jobs. The vast majority of the resource officers I've known are people of color and genuinely decent human beings. From what I've read, the cops-in-schools issue plays differently in big cities elsewhere in the country.

And there was a tiny amount of money spent on youth mental health—a drop in the bucket in comparison to what's needed. But you can still pick up an Ar-15 lickety-split and "defend yourself" with it should you feel threatened. And way too many Floridians feel threatened by anyone they catch walking while Black. Thanks to our governor's recent executive action, if any of those who seem threatening to you might be blocking a road in a political protest, you are now allowed to run them over with your car. You can then return to your gated community and shoot a few rounds up in the air in celebration.

Our kids could have been pushing for climate justice instead. But it wasn't for naught—the Parkland protests inspired a Swedish youth, Greta Thunberg, to go on her crusade for climate justice. Heard about her lately? Nope—the protests following George Floyd's murder knocked her out of the spotlight. And for this one, mea culpa, I did protest. It truly looked like the issue of racist police terrorizing and killing Black people, an issue of which I've been aware since my high school days (see this blog post), might finally be addressed. Much talk resulted. Of defunding the police in favor of allowing mental health workers to address domestic violence disputes and suicide threats. Of community-based law enforcement. And it energized the Democratic primaries until we ended up with Strom-Thurmond-was-a-close-friend/high-profile-opponent-of-bussing-for-school-desegregation as President and former-top-cop-known-for-putting-Black-people-in-jail for Vice President.

The result of all those protests thus far? Largely nothing.

Now, the major distraction from the climate crisis is the pandemic. Amazingly enough, our dysfunctional political institutions got the technical side of the response correct. Invest massively in vaccine development to make it happen fast. In this country, that meant using the Defense Production Act to procure necessary biochemical reagents. It meant handing out billions without any requirement for repayment so production could ramp up while the FDA was still analyzing safety and efficacy data. And a year after the first cases in Wuhan, the world had effective vaccines: three different ones produced in Western Europe/US, one in Russia, and a couple in China that weren't quite as effective but were still useful.

We got the economics wrong. I can accept vaccinating the rich countries first because their citizens travel more, and it was travel by rich people that made this a worldwide pandemic. Still, the delta variant, the current scourge, arose in India, where vaccination rates are negligible. A virus knows nothing of nationality. The Global South must be vaccinated to achieve health even in the Global North.

The exigencies of capitalism took over. Pfizer stock is way up; as you'd expect, they are prioritizing making money. Sure, they'll supply a few hundred million doses to the developing world if Biden will foot the bill, but billions of doses are needed. Biden was too timid with the Defense Production Act—the entire Pharma industry should have been effectively nationalized if saving lives and getting through the pandemic was the goal, rather than preserving control of the US economy by the ultra-wealthy.

I could have predicted this outcome. I could not have predicted the merger of the anti-vaccine, anti-mask, white supremacist, and Republican elements into a disinformation campaign that left much of America unvaccinated and the virus free to spread. As I write this, our local hospitals are full. They had prided themselves on getting treatment to any heart attack patient within ninety minutes. Now, some wait five days for a bed, according to a hospital official I heard interviewed on NPR. Don't plan on having a stroke in the next few weeks—you will likely die. And yet, it was a bruising fight to get mask mandates in the schools, and most districts in Florida still don't have them.

So, who does this distraction benefit? At one point, a month ago, the Gulf of Mexico was on fire from a pipeline leak. Were there protests against the oil companies? Not anything that hit the news cycle. The refineries are all down in Louisiana due to Hurricane Ida. You know there has to be petroleum leaking into the environment. Heard much about that? Nope.

When the news cycle is hijacked, the climate catastrophe and its necessitating a fight against capitalism falls off the front page. Yet, there is a huge story looming with more impact on the battle for climate justice than anything else in the world right now. The Biden administration's 3.5 trillion-dollar spending bill, for the first time, includes a sizable down payment on the cost of addressing climate change. It's way too small, several-fold less than what Bernie Sanders had proposed. However, as Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Sanders has rolled up his sleeves to fight for it.

And Joe Manchin is being a dick. His moment in the sun, his fifteen minutes of fame, his posing with his shotgun/phallic symbol came about because he is the fiftieth vote needed to pass this bill. It's not an exaggeration to say that by 2050, the number of extra deaths in the world if this bill doesn't pass will be in the tens of millions.

I'd watch the news cycle. The fossil fuels/banking/sovereign wealth funds/military-world complex needs this bill to be defeated. I think another distraction is coming. If it turns out to be the fight to preserve abortion rights, my blog post from March of this year will prove prophetic. And then your remaining energy left from surviving our capitalist hellscape will turn somewhere other than making sure your personal and political efforts are directed toward ameliorating rather than exacerbating the climate crisis.

The surest way to impede world decarbonization is world Karbonization. Watch for it.

But don't give up hope.

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