Nothing Else Matters

There are two Nothing Else Matters-es. Both involve the whole world. The first is global climate change. The second involves inequality. Unless they are dealt with, nothing else matters. Nothing.

Everybody in the world except devout Republicans knows that climate change has already made huge changes in our world, and cannot fail to bring about enormous future changes that will cause unprecedented difficulties for us all.

In 2011 we had eleven climate-related disasters in the US
that cost more than a billion dollars each.

We can anticipate some of these problems, and in fact we are already experiencing some that were previously predicted. For example, in 2011 we had eleven climate-related disasters in the US that cost more than a billion dollars each, far more than any other year. But other difficulties are unknowns that depend on many factors, only a few of which might still be controlled. So, for example, we really don’t know how much more the oceans will rise. If we are really, really lucky it might be just a foot or two. But it also might be twenty feet or more. Either way, it will cause huge displacements of people. Already the displacements amount to perhaps two million people.

When the effects of climate change are full upon us, nothing else will matter. We will not care about the fine points of partisan politics, or whether the Dow is up, because we will be dealing with the ongoing emergencies that will require all our attention. Problems like widespread crop failure, significant loss of water supply, the drowning of coastal cities.

In light of these catastrophes bearing down on us like a runaway train, the social problems related to inequality seem almost minor. But of course they are not.

Inequality causes virtually all of the world’s societal problems. You name it—crime, obesity, short life span, school problems, incarceration rates, teen births, drug use, domestic violence—just about every social problem you can name is literally created by inequality. We know this because there have been instances where governments facing crises of legitimacy have taken deliberate steps to improve equality, and when they did, everything improved.

No Child Left Behind does not matter,
because inequality will prevent
any significant improvement in the schools.

And what causes inequality? It is not the fact that some people make a lot of money, although that may contribute to it. Inequality here at home is created when people are not paid what they are worth. When people work full time and don’t earn enough to pay for basic essentials, that is inequality. One fourth of our population fits that category. When large numbers can find no work of any kind, that is inequality. When we have great inequality, as we do now, government has failed, society has failed, and in the scope of national wellbeing, nothing else matters.

No Child Left Behind does not matter, because inequality will prevent any significant improvement in the schools. Our world-record rates of imprisonment do not matter, because they are caused by inequality, and will not improve until equality improves. Our lifespan, lower than all other advanced nations with greater equality, will not improve until equality does. Poverty will not improve. Drug use will not diminish. None of it will change significantly until equality improves.

Samuel Johnson said that nothing so marvelously focuses the mind as imminent death. Step back a bit, and look at our history from the long view. The very long view, so that the Stone Ages seems like not so long ago. When you do so, you can see that the catastrophe of global climate change is not some distance down the road. It is here, imminent, now.

Nothing else matters.


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