The Sports Pages of DeathRoundup
tags: climate, COVID-19
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the website TomDispatch.com. He is also a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. A fellow of the Type Media Center, his sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War.
Here’s one of the things I now do every morning. I go to the online Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and check out the figures there — global coronavirus cases and deaths, U.S. coronavirus cases and deaths. And I do so the way that, not so long ago, I would have opened the sports pages and checked out the latest scores of whatever New York team I was rooting for.
Where it was once a matter of the Knicks winning 109-92 or the Mets losing 4-2, it’s now those other, always rising, ever grimmer figures — say, 29,607,486 and 538,087. Those are the ever-updated numbers of reported American cases and deaths in what, until the arrival of the Biden administration, was a pathetically chaotic, horrifically mismanaged, and politically depth-charged struggle with Covid-19. In certain Republican-run states now rushing to unmask and open anything and everything to the limit, in places where crowds gather as if nothing had truly happened in the past year (as at Florida beaches this spring), we may face yet another future “wave” of disease — the fourth wave, if it happens — in a country at least parts of which seem eternally eager to teeter at the edge of a health cliff. That it wouldn’t have had to be this way we know from the success of the city of Seattle, which faced the first major coronavirus outbreak in this country a year ago and now has, as the New York Times reports, “the lowest death rate of the 20 largest metropolitan regions in the country.”
Think of Covid-19-watching as the sport from hell. And when you look at those ever-changing figures — even knowing that vaccinations are now swiftly on the rise in this country (but not everywhere on this beleaguered planet of ours) — they should remind you daily that we live in a deeply wounded land on a deeply wounded planet and that, no matter the fate of Covid-19, it’s only likely to get worse.
Here, for instance, is another figure to attend to, even though there’s no equivalent to that Johns Hopkins page when it comes to this subject: 40%. That’s the percentage of the human population living in tropical lands where, as this planet continues to heat toward or even past the 1.5-degree Fahrenheit mark set by the Paris climate accord, temperatures are going to soar beyond the limits of what a body (not carefully ensconced in air-conditioned surroundings) can actually tolerate. Climate change will, in other words, prove to be another kind of pandemic, even if, unlike Covid-19, it’s not potentially traceable to bats or pangolins, but to us humans and specifically to the oil, gas, and coal companies that have over all these years powered what still passes for civilization.
In other words, just to take the American version of climate change, from raging wildfires to mega-droughts, increasing numbers of ever-more-powerful hurricanes to greater flooding, rising sea levels (and disappearing coastlines) to devastating heat waves (and even, as in Texas recently, climate-influenced freezes), not to speak of future migration surges guaranteed to make border crossing an even more fraught political issue, ahead lies a world that could someday make our present pandemic planet seem like a dreamscape. And here’s the problem: at least with Covid-19, in a miracle of modern scientific research, vaccines galore have been developed to deal with that devastating virus, but sadly there will be no vaccines for climate change.
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