The best advice for fools is, if you're trapped deep in a hole, stop digging. Of course, that line of action depends totally on recognizing a hole when you're in one. This pandemic is most definitely a hole, and we're in over our heads. Similarly, for four years an orange bulldozer dug us deeper into an existing environmental chasm by uprooting decades of ecological protections.
Joe Biden has now handed John Kerry a choice between a ladder and a shovel, and environmentalists will continue to hold their breath to see which Kerry picks to use. In his role as Biden's "presidential climate envoy," Kerry will get to bring climate change to the grown-ups' table at long last. You know things are getting serious in our nation, at least politically, when someone finally gets to shoulder up next to the big boys (and even a few girls) on the Cabinet. Kerry will also be the first official addressing climate to sit on the National Security Council, and will oversee the nation re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement that President Trump withdrew from in 2017.
Legitimizing the climate issue puts a ladder in the hole. Climbing up the rungs will be the hard part, not so much from a lack of answers, but from the constant compromising, finger pointing, and crawling along the way. We've dawdled and dithered around with knowledge of our warming planet for over 50 years, and have used up all the compromises we can make with Mother Nature. And we are still blithely projecting our noble goals out to 2030 and 2050, which, frankly, is shovel thinking. We've blown through the luxury of incremental change. Folks are being devastated by gigantic storms ... now; people are ankle, knee and hip deep in rising sea levels on some coastlines and islands ... now; crops and seed production are being impacted ... now; forests are burning ... now; drought is pushing millions of refugees off their lands ... now; the melting at the poles is increasing ... now. And the list goes on and on.
We will not climb out of a climate hole, which has been decades in the making, nor get out of this current virus hole, by repeating our failures. Mr. Kerry's dilemma will be trying to serve or choose between two masters. On the one hand he knows what we have to do to wean the country off a fossil fuel burning addiction, while on the other hand, he knows the oil/gas/coal industries pretty much run the world politically. The two masters Dr. Anthony Fauci has had to deal with have been knowing that adherence to disciplined and isolating precautions is required to cut the virus off at the pass, while on the other hand, realizing that childish multitudes are refusing to put up even the simplest defenses to slow or stop the virus. Prolonging the pandemic has perpetuated the downward spiraling economy and killed over a quarter of a million people in this country alone.
The push and pull in both sets of these warring predicaments need King Solomon's wisdom. He managed a dispute between two mothers claiming the same baby by making them show their priorities. He said he'd cut the baby in half, which was fine with the false mother, while the real mother relinquished her claim so the child would live. It was then that the king could see which woman wanted to win an argument and which wanted the child safe no matter the loss to herself.
Leaders have to make choices clear to their followers, must make them pick what are the most important consequences and paths, and must be smart enough to identify the deepest values in the populace they lead.
Just as the nation needs a nationally coordinated pandemic plan, there also needs to be a national environmental plan that guides actions in a cohesive, interconnected and consistent way toward a goal. A web of integrated actions woven by numerous experts in their fields, not just one envoy at Cabinet meetings, is the only way up ladder rungs.
In that planning, we certainly need to get past corporate power and control determining what the rest of us get to sacrifice so they can privately claw every last resource out of the planet. That struggle may be Biden's toughest environmental hurdle. We can only pray he doesn't owe those titans of industry too much. His desired return to normalcy must not allow us to fall into complacency. Only if and when the people lead will the leaders follow.
Fran Alexander is a Fayetteville resident with a longstanding interest in the environment and an opinion on almost anything else. Email her at [email protected]