There’s a so-called “Haunted House Problem” that plagues many horror movies. When it’s clear something is awry, why don’t the inhabitants of the spirit-riddled dwelling just leave? Why won’t they take heed of all the signs we see and are screaming at the screen to them about? Why are they blithely preparing pot roast? The films that work best are the ones where they know but can’t escape, because they’re in the wilderness, night has fallen, and the car won’t start, or they’re trapped on a spaceship with a captive alien with acid for blood that manages to get loose.
I feel a bit like I’m trapped on a spaceship, and I’ve become the prey of a rampaging alien that had no business being there in the first place. Someone else’s hubris cornered me here with something that’s trying to kill me.
Only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of the greenhouse emissions that are driving global climate change. 100. That isn’t a very large number. You’d think that with the climatic conditions required for our species to survive hanging in the balance, dealing with these 100 culprits would be the top priority of the governments they should answer to. That’s not the case though — their money funds too many political campaigns. Somehow, the responsibility to alleviate the effects of climate change has been shifted to us individuals. When 100 corporate entities account for 71% of the problem, admonishing us all to take public transportation more and use less hot water when we shower isn’t a sensible solution.
The way we live our lives, and, more importantly, the way we aspire to live our lives is going to have change drastically over a relatively short period of time. Scientists estimate that we have only until 2030 to limit the future rise in temperature by 1.5 degrees, after which point, it will be nearly impossible to stop climate change. 1.5. Another small number that dwarfs everything else. Superstorms, extended droughts, raging wildfires, catastrophic flooding. Conditions that seem apocalyptic are already becoming relatively common place. Things will get worse.
In 2016, when Hurricane Matthew strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it bore down towards Jamaica, I watched in horror and hoped with all my might that it would turn away from my island. It did. The storm moved east. I hoped it would split the difference between Jamaica and Haiti. It didn’t, and the already battered nation of Haiti took a direct hit. In 2017, when I saw Maria dwarf Puerto Rico as the storm devoured the island, I felt sick. Before the pictures and news began to circulate, I knew it had been utterly catastrophic, and I expected a bungling Katrina-reminiscent response. The cruelty of the neglect didn’t surprise me, but it disgusted me. That’s going to happen more often as these events multiply: the victims who have lost everything will be left to their own devices. The multitude, not the 100, is being asked to bear the cost of climate change.
We were warned. That’s what’s so infuriating about all this. Recalcitrant selfishness is why we’re here. A handful of people have made themselves fabulously wealthy, and keeping the money flowing is more important to them than all of our lives. They’re willing to destroy the entire planet to line their pockets. They knew. They knew what the consequences would be, and they did it anyway. For money.
I took a science policy class in graduate school, and I remember clearly the class where one of my classmates piped up to argue when the professor said the science on climate change was settled. A silent, cringing groan rippled through the class as we realized, “Oh, no. He’s one of them…” It’s nearly always the same kind of person: Usually a White guy. Conservative. Overestimates his intelligence by quite a wide margin. Arrogant. Uncreative. Thinks contrariness is a replacement for a personality. Believes being beholden to corporations as opposed to a representative government is freedom. These traits make them quite easy to dupe if you know how to massage their egos and appeal to their genteel White supremacy while you frame your evidence-free arguments. The fossil fuel industry has their number, and they’ve bought the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. The result: They’re arguing vociferously to create conditions that will lead to a mass extinction event to own the libs.
The corruption of the 100 reaches even further, though. Plenty of liberal politicians are taking their money too. As a result, it’s been virtually impossible to gather the political will required to tackle climate change in a genuinely meaningful manner. What is an international emergency has been debated and downplayed and denied so much that it’s no wonder that people who don’t pay too much attention to the news don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Those of us who know what’s happening are trapped in this horror movie with housemates who are actively limiting our ability to fight the monster that is picking us off. We’re approaching the point of no return, and we have to answer the question: What are we prepared to do to survive?