On American Philosophy, Climate Change and a Case for Optimism…
A nightmare awoke me this morning at 2:40 a.m. In the dream, I had to keep my family in the basement of our house, waiting as our overtaxed air conditioners worked in vain to cool the first floor. This was a new reality in climate change, a hopeless situation brought about by our overconsumption of fossil fuels and overindulgent lifestyles.
After awaking, I had trouble falling back to sleep. I kept wishing that I felt good about our trajectory about climate change, that we could change the course of the warming planet. My optimism for the technological ability to find a solution is continuously weighed down by my pessimism by our inability politically to do much of anything. There are still congressional representatives who deny that humans are doing anything warm the planet. Conveniently, they often come from oil-producing states.
There’s a lot of reason to be frightened and pessimistic, and a lot of reason to be hopeful. Impossible Whoppers are now across the country, and with any luck, the meat substitutes can replace one of the chief reasons for the deforestation in the Amazon, as well as a leading greenhouse gas emitter. The price for solar keeps dropping, as its adoption continues to rise. (And new technologies and techniques, like Perovskite solar will make the adoption even easier.) Finally, new processing for materials makes concrete not just carbon neutral, but actually carbon negative.
But these things didn’t get me back to my slumber. Rather, it was the idea that we may soon have the political will to fight climate change that brought my eyes closed. And it is an idea deeply rooted in America.
Scholars say that America’s only contribution to philosophy is pragmatism — the idea that knowledge arises from humans’ active adaptation to their environment. We’ve seen this play out time and again, from when Thomas Jefferson offered his famous quote that “every generation needs a new revolution,” to the continued reimaging of what it means to be an American — from skin color to gender to religious group. Our philosophy, very notion of being an American, is to be progressive. It is part of our DNA, to adapt, to find a way to succeed, to discard the superfluous components and come to the best possible answer. The political side looks dark right now, but it won’t always. And it’s not the first time that business, culture and more have raced forward while the country’s political class lingers behind.
In a practical example, look to the racial integration of major sports leagues. Baseball, in a well-chronicled example, had Jackie Robinson as a first African American player in 1947. In a rise that vastly outpaced integration across American society, African Americans composed 10 percent of MLB rosters in just 10 years. When MLK Jr. and the civil rights workers were walking for justice in Selma in 1965, 1 in 5 MLB players was African American. Today the number is roughly 1 in 3, and it’s common to have fans of all types root for African American players based on the quality of the play.
In fact, today it would be almost farcical to have race enter the equation when picking a player. If you’re a general manager and I came to you and said, “There’s a player who can hit you 80 home runs in a year, and he happens to be a lights-out pitcher with an ERA of 0.67,” I doubt very much your following question would be “what’s his ethnicity.” If that entered into your equations, then you likely wouldn’t be a general manager for long. There’s too much at stake, and far too many talented people are non-white. (In fact, statistically speaking, there are by far more talented non-white people than talented white people.)
What explains such an incredible rise in acceptance, even while the political and social circles fought against it? Simple, pure pragmatism. African Americans could win baseball games; many just plain played better than their white counterparts. They made the teams they were on better. When your goal is to win games, you need to find the best squad you can, and talent is colorblind. You must adapt to your environment, and Americans, by and large, will accept it.
I once heard that Washington D.C. was 90 square miles surrounded by common sense. While days that I read about nuking hurricanes (I wish this wasn’t a thing, but it is) can certainly reinforce a notion that Washington D.C. lacks any sense, I also had the opportunity to really dig into the Green New Deal. And, for a moment, I felt I saw a beautiful new vision of a fairer, more sustainable America.
It’s not in spite of America that I found a way to feel optimistic, it is because of America. It is because of what the Green New Deal represents — a fundamental pivot to a different kind of America, and it’s because I sense deep within myself that this is what my generation has been waiting for. We Millennials ache for our own moonshot, the call to unite around a cause that will bring us together and forge a new American identity. And, in 2020, Millennials and Gen Z will constitute 37 percent of the vote.
We are progressive; we’re heavily in debt; we are more educated and diverse than ever; and, at least what I can tell, we’re ready to speak our voices politically. The Baby Boomers first acted as kingmakers in the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter (the oldest boomer was then 32). And they have essentially chosen the president ever since: electing Ronald Reagan twice (when the oldest boomers were in their late 30s); ousting George H.W. Bush in support of the first Baby Boomer president, Bill Clinton (the oldest Baby Boomer was aged 48); to electing George W. Bush twice; and Barack Obama once. In fact, the first time since Jimmy Carter that Baby Boomers didn’t decide the election was in Barack Obama’s reelection, and they roared back to life in 2016, pushing Donald Trump into power.
But the thing about humans is… Demographics shift. For the first time this year, Millennials will outnumber Baby Boomers. And, perhaps more eyebrow-raising, Gen Z will outnumber the Silent generation.
The top issues among young voters include student loan debt, climate change and gun control. Exactly none of those should surprise anyone. What’s moderately surprising is how little one major political party in America seems to care about them.
All of this is perhaps painting a picture of a monolith for a generation. Of course, a group of millions is diverse. There are many conservative voters, and there’s a definite possibility that an underwhelming Democratic candidate could keep young people at home, once again turned off from the process by its sheer ugliness.
But the truth is, similar to Bob Dylan’s refrain, “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times, they are a-changin’.” And just the same as the Baby Boomers began their role to elect many leaders, and change the very face of America, young people today will get their shot. And it’s ideas like the pragmatic Green New Deal that lead me to believe the future is bright. And there is reason for hope in America.