In Indian movies back in the day, the villain was always this rich man with all the connections with the powerful people, who typically in many scenes enjoyed eating grapes while his myriad girl workers overlooked smilingly. This villain was usually Amresh Puri. The hero, on the other hand, would always be this poor guy who would have a pious character, who had no greed and always helped the weak. Usually, it was Amitabh Bachchan. Our sympathies were always with Amitabh and we hated and wanted Amresh Puri to lose. After about 3 hours, we always got what we wished for, except in Sholay and Deewar.
The story of climate change is not much different. There are heroes and there are villains. And very similar to the Indian movies, the villains have been winning materially. Historically, the scientists who blew the whistle over carbon emissions and those who tried to raise awareness about how combustion engines are killing the planet have faced relentless and the most vicious attacks over their work and even their personal lives. They have remained unknown to the world despite their great work, which was for the sake of saving humanity.
Perhaps, it is true across the board. Edward Snowden blew the whistle over the kind of surveillance that would make Stalin and Hitler fringe languishes in exile in Russia and getting lost into oblivion. And the men who ordered, executed and continued those deep surveillance of the communications of the Americans enjoy luxurious lifestyles and are getting book contracts where they would write nothing but lies justified with a nice sounding cause such as the American security. And the worst part is that the people for whom one man sacrificed his entire career and family are going about their business as usual.
I live in Houston, the large and thriving city in the American state of Texas. It is home to the oil business. A humongous amount of people work in the oil and gas sector in this city. I see the oil executives driving the most expensive cars there are and living in the most expensive and the second most expensive housing societies in the entire city. Those places are called Memorial Drive and The Woodlands respectively. Their spoiled brats drive Porsche, Lamborghini and Masseratti. The lower level workers also live in posh neighborhoods and send their children to great schools.
Remember these are the people who are in the business of selling oil, the biggest reason behind climate change. It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that these people have their fingerprints over wildfires, droughts, planetary warming, dwindling biodiversity, heatwaves, super floods, excessive rains, civil wars, migration, regions becoming uninhabitable, and so forth. These are the villains and they have great lives.
Now let us look at the other people, the heroes, who literally put out fires caused by the villains mentioned above. Many of the firefighters in the US who played a direct role in putting out some of the recent wildfires such as the one in Colorado and California, cannot afford to buy a decent house with their income. Forget a decent house, many of them who risked their lives cannot afford to buy any house. They live out of their vehicles and away from their families so that they can earn the income putting out the fires caused by the sale and consumption of oil. They may be saving humanity but they cannot send their children to college. Those who cause the fire by the sale of oil sleep in their beautiful mansions while the firefighters sleep in their trucks waiting to be called for the next deadly emergency.
That is the system that we have created. And let me break it to you; this is not going to work for long. If we incentivise immorality and crime and punish the do gooders with low income, nobody would aspire to do the right thing. Would you?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2022.
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