09 June 2022

The important issues

For perspective, I think the most important issues in the world are:

  1. Ensuring the material sustainability of human civilization is more important than everything else put together. This includes not just climate change but also resource exhaustion, ecosystem breakdown, nuclear & biotech weapons, and so forth.
  2. Global poverty is more important than the sum of everything other than the the material sustainability of human civilization. About a billion human beings will go to bed hungry tonight. About another billion are poor enough that they do not have shoes. The next billion are not doing so great, either: they suffer with easily preventable diseases, backbreaking substistance labor, and other fundamental privations.

I cannot name the #3 problem in the world; the next tier has several problems which are tough to rank:

  • Millions live in slavery
  • We have ongoing slow genocides and outbreaks of acute genocide
  • Billions live under authoritarian states, and the liberal democracies all have authoritarian movements growing in strength
  • Preventable diseases — easily preventable, even trivially preventable — kill millions each year, and severely disable millions more
  • We have constant bloody wars

We should be working harder on the big problems.

My contribution is not necessarily special, but I really should be working harder on this stuff. Partly this is my own failure. Partly this results from living in a society in which one must kick & scratch hard to get to work on the big problems. Which is itself a big problem.

I was moved to post this because I was just asked, “Do you feel that you, your interests or your community are represented in the media? Why or why not? What do you wish people knew?” That is not quite the same question, but obviously it is related. My answer to that was:

  1. The climate crisis and general breakdown of the material sustainability of human civilization is not just the most important thing, it is more important than everything else put together. On the one hand, I am frustrated that this is not central to all news & political reporting; on the other hand, everything to say has been said. That this is barely reflected at all in news & political media is maddening.
  2. The threat of fascism and the broader far right as a driving force in US politics — both in our political culture and in its hold on political institutions — is not just the most important political story in the US, it is more important than every other political story put together. In this instance there is a lot left to say, including that every political story need to be informed by this ongoing issue.
  3. The US is in the grip of institutional breakdown across all institutions, public and private, with decades-deep taproots. Few Americans can name this pervasive problem, and many cannot even conceive of effective institutions. This underlying problem drives both our inability to address the climate crisis and also our susceptibility to the anti-politics transformative fantasies of the far right.
  4. The ongoing crises above produce and are supported by a failure of American political and policy imagination. Without the ability to imagine big changes to make things better, we cannot address their challenges. Political media — especially accessible progressive political media — need to put big ideas on the table as plausible to consider and to enact.
  5. All of these connect to the issue on which I am an obsessed crank: the built environment of American life created through decades of suburbanizing housing and transit policy making the material fundamentals of living resource-intensive, expensive, soul-deadening, and corrosive of social cohesion. Most Americans cannot imagine the world with less economic and logistical pressure and stronger communities which we could have that also dramatically reduces pressures on the climate and ecosystems.

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