“An organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life.” Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees
How did we forget that the strength of any system or group is measured by the resilience and strength of its weakest link?
Prior to 1960 the US had a long history of investing long term at systems-scale, in life support, communication, education and health infrastructure. Not all was perfect, but the comparison of quality design and durability to our modern approach of the lowest first cost is stark. Our response to the 1918 Pandemic was a massive re-engineering and imagining of our urban infrastructure and public healthcare.
During 1930-1960, the US had the highest tax rates in its history, which enabled investment for our future, and the most distributed wealth creation in our history, creating the expansion of the middle class.
Since 1960, we have witnessed massive infrastructure decline and failure and a shift of public services to the private sector based on a theory that emphasizes maximizing efficiency and profit. This can be seen in the social metrics since 1960 that show increasing wealth disparity by decade, the horrifying US death rate of Covid and skyrocketing US health care costs compared to advanced countries across the globe.
The destructive trends outlined below are the result of a shift of emphasis from the health of the community to the wealth of the individual person or business enterprise.
We have been so focused on efficiency and short-term financial returns in our businesses, products and civic lives over the last 50 years that we have efficiently removed the value. We have prioritized national business platforms over regional and local business through tax benefit policies directed at large enterprises at the costs of losing local business, costing millions of jobs for our regional economies.
We have externalized mass levels of cost:
- waste from our manufacturing, construction, and building,
- depletion of our agricultural soils,
- pollution of our rivers and waters,
- a built environment that ignores, for speed and initial cost- reduction, long-term operating costs and climatic forces,
- forestry and agriculture transformed to monoculture environments resulting in weakened resilience,
- carbon burned at a rate that has collapsed the natural world’s ability to adjust while we are still present,
- disinvestment in public health clinics, education and hospital systems, all transferred to the private sector,
- location of key life support infrastructure in highly vulnerable locations,
- privatization of imprisonment resulting in increased incarceration with one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world,
- significantly reduced investment in repair and maintenance of our bridges, roads, and dams resulting in collapsing infrastructure systems across the US,
- increased wealth disparity and concentration of US wealth in the top 1%, reducing our middle class and increasing poverty to levels we have not seen since the Great Depression.
We have globalized and nationalized to such an extent that our communities have no control over their bioregion’s health and capital. For example, global supply chains for PPE and vaccine production are broken, causing massive delays in addressing the pandemic. Poorer countries have numerous pharmaceutical factories capable of making vaccines on every continent and yet 210 countries have seen no vaccine with only 10 getting these vaccines, all of which are wealthy countries.
“As climate change brings more frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme events, it is placing growing stress on the foundations of the country’s economy: Its network of roads and railways, drinking-water systems, power plants, electrical grids, industrial waste sites and even homes. Failures in just one sector can set off a domino effect of breakdowns in hard-to-predict ways.”
What has been the aftermath (so far)?
Flavelle, Plumer, and Tabuchi, “Texas Blackouts Point to Coast-to-Coast Crises Waiting to Happen” New York Times, February 20, 2021.
We are colliding with a future of extremes.
The failures we are currently experiencing were outlined in Storm Cunningham’s book The Restoration Economy published in 2002. Storm sighted the unique reality of three major global challenges intersecting at one time: Corrosion, Catastrophe, and Competition.
Neena Satija and Aaron Gregg, “Ten years ago, 241 Texas power plants couldn’t take the cold. Dozens of them failed again this year” Washington Post, March 6, 2021.
“That sense of mastery over nature has been so seriously challenged by this pandemic.”
Drew Gilpin Faust, Section A, Page 3 of the New York edition with the headline: “Quote of the Day,” New York Times, February 21, 2021.
“Bill Gates in November 2020 predicted that half of business travel and 30 percent of days in the office would go away forever.”
Heather Long, “Millions of jobs probably aren’t coming back, even after the pandemic ends” Washington Post, February 17, 2021.
In the Washington Post, on April 24, 2020, Ishaan Tharoor stated that the pandemic could be a call to action on climate change. Amid its horrors and tragedies, the coronavirus pandemic has driven home a startling reality. Travel bans and lockdowns have (temporarily) cleaned the globe, flushing the murk from Venice canals, clearing Delhi’s polluted smog, making distant snowy peaks visible for the first time in years from the shores of the Bosporus. With humans in retreat, nature reclaimed what was once its own in whimsical ways.
Physicist Mark Buchanan wrote “The coronavirus pandemic has delivered sharp and painful reminders of our collective vulnerability and the value of paying very close attention to reality”.
In April 2020 Michael Chertoff said on Washington Post Today’s World View “Whatever we may disagree about some things, we’re going to need to sit down with them and our like-minded allies and everybody else and figure out what can we do collectively to protect the global commons against either pandemic diseases or disastrous climate change.”
We must rebuild trust which requires looking at each problem from everyone’s perspective. This includes owning up to how distrust became our dominant reality.
A Flint, Michigan resident asked on the question of getting vaccinated;
“Why would I trust you this time?”