Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fuck the Starving Kids in Africa

There's an important meeting in my neighborhood every Saturday morning at 8:00. All the local 3 year-old boys gather in front of the fire station on Centre St. to watch the weekly testing of the fire truck equipment. The firemen raise and lower the ladders, rev the engines, test the hydraulics, sound the sirens. About as good entertainment as exists for a little kid. When I passed by this morning and saw all the action, I though, wow, all that stuff must be expensive. It is. And we're all happy to foot the bill for it. Because when an alarm is real and someone is trapped in a burning building, all that expensive equipment and all those well-trained firemen could save a human life. And a human life is priceless. Or at least the life of a human we can relate to.

This summer, 11 million people in Africa are at risk of starvation, due to some of the worst droughts in recent history. This fact has been covered in a few news one-liners, but has basically not caused so much as a blip in the collective US consciousness. But more on that later. First, let’s talk about global warming, in particular global warming caused by humans. There’s a big debate in the US about whether humans are actually causing global warming. For the most part, there’s nothing scientific about the debate. It’s all just good political theater – a fun and effective little way to get people on all ends of the political spectrum hot and bothered and rallying behind their respective leaders. Easy fuel for the culture wars, inciting the self righteous on both sides of the “debate” to solidify their positions on whether or not to use energy-efficient light bulbs.

But while reasonable people can disagree about which politicians’ narratives resonate more, reasonable scientists cannot, and do not, disagree about whether human activities are causing global warming. They are. There is a legitimate, fact-based scientific dialog going on about just how many additional carbon parts per million will cause an increase of one degree over however many years, but the notion that humans are changing the climate has been established as a fact. The rest of the industrialized world is baffled by the weird alignment of this scientific issue with the particular US roster of political hot button items, and amused and outraged by the willful ignorance it promotes. Professionals in the insurance industry – the ones with skin in the game, the ones who have to directly pay to fix shit when the shit hits the fan – have known for years that climate change is progressing much faster than geological business as usual. They adjusted flood insurance premiums long ago to reflect the fact that things are speedily changing. Like at any casino, the house never loses. The fact that flood insurance in some places is now exponentially more expensive than ever before, or not available at all, is as objective an indicator as exists that people who care only about cold, hard statistical probabilities think that the climate is changing fast.

The people advocating the position that humans have nothing to do with climate change are fake scientists and propagandists enlisted by industries with massive vested interests in the status quo, religious extremists who write off summarily any scientific fact that contradicts what their holy literature has to say, and people who just generally don’t have the time, energy or inclination to pay attention to the issue. This last group is the largest and scariest. If you don’t dig below the surface, any politician or pundit who dresses up like an expert and says that the whole issue is a sham sounds just as credible as any non-photogenic scientist who’s devoted a lifetime to studying the boring details that comprise the factual heart of the issue.

If our own lives, or the lives of our friends and neighbors and college roommate’s kid who’s blossomed into a really fine young man, were at stake, things would be different. Media serves up the news that we are almost biologically inclined to want to know about. The stories we want, the stories that sell, are about weird, shocking and, most of all, local events. Things that are intimate and familiar are just much easier to process. News that makes us think, “oh my god, that could have been me” engages us. The September 11 attack was in the epicenter of our national front yard. Just about everyone in the country has two degrees of separation from one of the 3,000 people who was killed in the attack. Nothing could be more familiar than an office building where average Americans were just about to get their workaday mornings started. Same with hurricane Katrina. 1,900 regular folks were killed. Wrong place at the wrong time. Could have been anyone we knew. The baby that Casey Anthony killed could have lived on any residential block in the country.

But the potentially starving kids in Africa are too far away. They don’t look like people we know, and 11 million is too big a number to comprehend. Global warming is too abstract. People who are supposed to sort out the facts for us say it might not be true anyway. Fixing it might not work at all and, in any case, could make gas six cents a gallon more expensive. No price could ever be affixed to a human life. No expense can be spared when trying to save a human life. That seems to be true after September 11. We’ve all agreed to a blank check to foot the bill, and even make some meaningful changes in our daily lives, to help assure that the murder of another 3,000 people like us never happens again. But 11 million people is 3,667 September 11s. It’s 5,789 hurricane Katrinas. It’s 11 million Casey Anthony baby murders. And although any politician, pundit or preacher who said out loud that we should value the life of an African child at about the cost of a tall latte would be decimated by the public, that is nonetheless exactly what we have decided as a country.

Each of us has earned our place in the world hierarchy. If we want to drive heavy cars and live in big houses and gunk up the atmosphere with carbon and ignore all the consequences of doing so, that’s our prerogative. And if kids in Africa want to complain about how hot it’s getting and how all their drinking water is disappearing, well they should get a paper route and save up for a plane ticket and move to Finland. If their lives aren’t important enough to make it onto the evening news, why should we care at all? Starving kids in Africa? Fuck ‘em.


David said...

True, and eloquent.

BigO said...

I agree, but...
The major problem in Africa is over-population. I blame the Catholic church for this. Rather than hand out contraceptives, the church preaches abstention from sex or the rythm method. Abstention takes away the only entertainment they have and the rythm method simply does not work. Look at all the very large Catholic families in the US. Another terrible consequence is the rapid spread of AIDs & other sexually transmitted diseases in Africa and southeast Asia.
Overpopulation leads to deforestation, loss of water retention and thus starvation.
I have an old friend who advocates mandatory sterilization for all but the very wealthy. There is something to be said for this: in another 30 years or so, only the wealthy will be able to afford/educate children,
Food will become scarce for everyone. Many species of fish are on the verge of extiction today.
I feel sorry all the starving people all over the world. I am proud that I am not catholic

veryfrank said...

I agree that the catholic Church bears some responsibility - but it's really about economics. The wealthy thrive at the expense of the poor - always was, always will be. Occasionally, enough poor people rise up, take over, get in power - only to repeat the same cycle. Problem now is, we are close to the endgame(although people have also been saying this for a long time).
What will it take for us to finally pay heed? I wish I had a crystal ball - who the hell knows!

mediaslinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mediaslinger said...

I have a suggestion. While debating the political and socioeconomic implications of blah blah blah we all should take a moment to do something. No, we're not going to solve the problem. Big fuckin deal. Maybe one kid won't die tomorrow if we all give a little something to a reputable organization. When we're talking about a human life, maybe is worth a few bucks.

Here's a link to an article with a number of options:

Unknown said...

Just back from my second trip to East Africa in the past couple of years. Global Climate Change(our politically correct title for what's happening) is affecting us, and climatologists that I met this past winter in Winter Park, CO are still a bit divided on this issue, yet agree that we are negatively affecting climate due to our various noxious emissions (including by climatologists themselves). The East African drought from 2008-9 killed somewhere around 85%+ of livestock and the drought in Tanzania are seriously impacting farmers this year and the local population with a serious lack of supply, farmers are also unable to repay their loans for heavy equipment they rent to plow and harvest, it's a mess I heard on the plane ride back from a business man in the region. In some places like Karatu, Tanzania for instance, it's not a lack of water but rather a lack of infrastructure in order to deliver that water to the people who need it most. In Kenya, Shompole group ranch some 157,000+ acres, the water is being piped from over 50 kilometers away and maintained by a guy in a truck that needs the right tools, team, and necessary funds to keep their Maasai community hydrated. In northern Kenya, refugees are competing with the local populations there for their limited resources. In short it's a multi-tiered issue that the world community should value as much as themselves, ah but wait, then there really wouldn't be any war happening if we did that in our world. All I can and will do, is to do my best to make a direct contribution towards water relief in these affected nations and hope that everyone I know, contributes towards this cause and shares organizations that they believe are making positive waves in this direction. Thank you Dan for the wake up call to your community, I hear you and I hope others do too, I have a feeling they do!

Anonymous said...

I agree - fuck 'em. Alternatively, you might just be a mug.