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The World is on Fire & There's no Ferrari in the Garage

“Smoke on the water, fire in the sky” -Deep Purple, Smoke on the Water, 1972

In one of my previous jobs I was an administrator in higher education, with individuals whose personalities leaned heavily towards ‘alarmist’. To quell the dramatics, a co-worker used to say, “no buildings are on fire, no babies are dying”. When your biggest workplace hardships are differing personalities and continued attempts to rage against the use of machines/available software technologies—this phrase puts your molehill-scale problems into perspective. Essentially, it’s a more cutting version of “things could always be worse”, but with horrifying specifics.

It has been some time since I worked that job, longer still since I heard that co-worker use that phrase. But it’s been about 2 minutes since the last time I thought, “a lot of things are on fire, a lot of babies are dying”. It keeps running through my head like a macabre mantra, everything’s on fire, the babies are dying.

“Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage”
The Smashing Pumpkins, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1995

Children are dying in cages, put there by our government. Children at the border are separated from their parents, their mothers; breastfeeding mothers have been separated from their literal dependents. Children are denied basic hygiene and life-saving vaccines because their parents loved them and thought to seek asylum and a better life in America. Babies are scared, sick, and are being sexually assaulted in cages.

These babies are dying, but somehow, there’s no action from the alarmists. Maybe we are all so shocked that we’re numb? Or maybe it’s because we have always been willing to be complicit in the death of children for the sake of progress. What came first? The children or the canaries?

Babies have been dying at the hands of brute force, white supremacist capitalism since the falsely touted “discovery” of America. We first killed children and their parents with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. We brought violence and biological warfare to accomplish our desires, justifying the ends and means by the differences in our cultures and our skin color. It’s 2019 and while the world looks very different, our racism looks much the same. Children are still dying. Most have been dying outside of actual metal cages, but within the equally binding economic restraints of poverty and injustice our government has allowed to be constructed for them. You can’t see the bars with your own eyes, or touch the steel joints with your fingertips—but you can see significant increases in rates of asthma, premature deaths, absenteeism, cancers, etc. living near waste incinerators, chemical plants, hazardous waste facilities/landfills, playgrounds sprayed with toxic pesticides, pipelines, and so forth.

When I was in middle school, we were in the time period between “your Mama” jokes and “you might be a redneck if” jokes; we ushered in the classical period of the emo genre. And so, courtesy of our very own emo class clown, we had dead baby jokes.

Q: What’s the difference between a Ferrari and a dead baby?
A: There’s no Ferrari in my garage.

It wasn’t that anyone in middle school thought dead babies were actually funny—rather that the jokes were so hideous, so outrageously inappropriate and crude—they elicited shock and laughter in response. It’s so horrible, no one could possibly ever say that with actual conviction in their hearts. But now we know better—there are people who shout those things from their social media pulpits, scream those things in public; there are many more of those hateful people than we knew.

Now I wonder, if I was in middle school today, would that joke still be so shocking, so outrageously inappropriate as to elicit any kind of response other than an apathetic shrug? I wasn’t watching children be put in cages from my smart phone, tablet, laptop, and television; watching children screaming, crying, and begging for their parents on a minute by minute basis.

            Q: What’s the difference between a dead baby and fires?
            A: Nothing. Both are caused by capitalism. *Apathetic shrug*

“My world’s on fire, how ‘bout yours? That’s the way I like it and I never get bored”
Smash Mouth, All Star, 1999

Not only are babies dying, but a lot of things are also on fire. We have extended wildfire seasons in California and the western United States due to the effects of climate change, and the Arctic is on fire—we are in a climate emergency.

We’re also in an emergency due to capitalism. Capitalism has always been a driving force of environmental degradation, and there is no greater, more pertinent example than TODAY- the Amazon is on fire. A few things I remember learning before third grade are that 1. I will always be terrible at math and 2. the health of the Amazon is critical- It was to be protected at all costs. I remember thinking, as a third grader doing a diorama on tree frogs, that if we had ONE JOB, it was to make sure that the Amazon was doing okay. And here we are… the Amazon is ON FIRE and humans are to blame; humans looking to clear the land for agribusiness, acting on the prompts (and hateful rhetoric directed at the Indigenous population) from the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, are to blame. What it boils down to is that, once again, economic progress and racism are being weaponized and aimed to kill.

And still, I don’t see any action from the alarmists. Maybe they have less to give now that they have done their part to help the future of mankind by restoring Notre Dame? The lungs of the Earth are being burned, affecting every single living thing on our planet for the thrill of a temporary profit. The effects the Indigenous tribes face in Amazonia, we will also face. Their air is our air, their water is water we will drink. Their babies dying will be our babies dying.

Our toxic capitalism and racism will kill us and our planet. It’s past time to demand that our governments fulfill their responsibility to us. Government’s first responsibility is to THE PEOPLE, not to growing the economy. Without clean air to breathe, clean water to drink—we have nothing at all. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, the government has a fiduciary duty to protect the things we share; we need to demand that it upholds that duty. Our government needs to make the climate emergency a priority and acknowledge and dismantle the toxic capitalism we practice and endorse.

We also need to divest from large businesses who are funding projects that threaten our environment and the health of all living things—such as big banks that fund oil pipelines. In the case of the Amazon, the world’s largest investment firm, BlackRock, is a point of major concern. Shortly after the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was elected, the investment firm, key financier of the agribusiness behind the deforestation of the Amazon, announced their plans to expand into Brazil. Unsurprisingly, BlackRock is also reported to finance oil and mining companies that are implicated in the deforestation of the Amazon and violation of the rights of more than 400 Indigenous Tribes.

We have bought into the backwards and failing ideal that humans are subservient to the will of large organizations, financiers, and the government; when the opposite is actually true. Companies, organizations, investment firms, and the government all work for us, we the people. Without us, they have nothing. Without the earth, we don’t exist.

Q: What’s the difference between a government for the people
& a democratic economy vs. what we have now?
A: Living babies. Less things on fire.

Kayhla Cornell, 2019