The devastating fires in Australia that have ravaged thousands of hectares, destroyed thousands of homes, and killed more than two dozen people are the latest global flashpoint for a species locked into its own decline, and scrambling to figure out what to do to get out. As with most events like this, the reaction to it suggests so much about the problems we face trying to achieve any collective action.
As with most tragedies of this sort, those watching on from nearby or afar often begin raising money to help pay for resources and help those who have lost as a result. Facebook campaigns have raised millions of dollars, celebrities have called for help during award speeches, and of course, the wealthiest amongst us weighed in to hysterically small effect. Jeff Bezos, managed to cobble together $690,000 (1 million Australian Dollars), to support victims of the wildfires. To begin with, there’s something so heinously banal about the number choice. To give one million dollars is solid proof that Bezos probably put no thought into the donation, no real thought into the crisis. Rather, it’s the round number that came make the rounds in the Australian press. Bezos donates 1 million. Moreover, to scale, the amount is an absolute embarrassment. As it has been reported, in 2018, Bezos made $690,000 every five minutes.
It is, of course, absurd on the face of it that Bezos would donate such an insulting amount, and also amazing to see it written up with something like praise in so many publications. But, it is a testament to the very real concentration of wealth, and the power afforded to those with stupid amounts of money. These philanthropic gifts in times of sweeping human tragedy are such profound illustrations of the scope of our issues, how deep they run, and how difficult it has become to collectively attend to any real problems whatever, when having to deal with the incredible concentration of wealth and holding of capital by the world’s wealthiest.
Of course, Bezos just doesn’t seem to worry all too much about this world. Instead, he’s got millions upon millions of dollars readily available for his own personal space company and his delusional fantasy of building new planets. So, he gets to take to the stage, spew this snake oil garbage and we sit and watch him play his little fantasy games. Then, when it comes to the actual planet he inhabits, he sends out a thoughtless donation that amounts to mere pennies of his vast, vast fortune.
As climate change intensifies over the years, scientists say that events like this will become more commonplace and more extreme. In a recent Democratic Party debate in America, candidates were asked a question about whether the government would subsidize the process of relocating people who are displaced by climate change. Some candidates wanted to provide reassurance, but you could sense that even conceiving of this sort of reality feels somewhat beyond most people, even presidential candidates. But, this is a very real likelihood, and one cannot feel confident about the structures in place to deal with this. Governments stretched increasingly thin, with tax bases too low, forced to take on more and more debt as these situations take place even more often.
This is the other side of our lack of preparedness. While we have spent years slow rolling action on climate change, watching as the studies worsen, the projections get more frightening, we also have not tried to correct the imbalances that will make life in a climate change-ridden world stratified beyond our conception. The concentration of resources, given our current trajectory, will likely not diffuse as those in need become larger in number, but rather will tighten, as those in the money do what they can to have what they hold.
However, set against that pessimism are the countless donations of those with less to give. The hard work of people all over the world, trying to contain this situation. These are the things that can give some hope about how humanity is going to react in the world as we begin to see widespread climate catastrophe. The worry is just that it will simply be too much to handle, and that sense of shared interests will disappear. V