As I stand back, watching our financial house of cards crumble in on itself, and hearing the panic and outrage spill forth from the mealy mouths of pundits and politicians, as we teeter on the precipice of economic freefall, I find myself wondering what if this crisis and threat weren’t economic, but environmental? What if that cinder block wall we were about to meet head on weren’t made of bad investments, short selling, and unimaginable debt, held together by a thick mortar of greed and short-sightedness, but instead, what if it were that looming environmental catastrophe comprised of climate change, rising ocean waters, pollution on a massive scale, and an irreconcilable break between nature and humanity? Would our leaders and government rally, with late-night sessions of Congress and handshakes across the aisle, to rectify the harm and lessen the blow of environmental collapse?
For those of us that have been saddled with the environmental foresight and the unenviable Cassandra role, we know all too well that the answer is most likely no, as evidence of the relative inaction demonstrated by the powers that be. The mere fact that we, in a moment of widespread panic and haste, are expected to throw $700 billion at something that may or may not make the least bit of difference in our economy, but then the prospect of financial incentives for renewable energy (a program that is undoubtedly a positive force toward clean energy and environmental conservation) is something easily tossed to the curb and disregarded by Congress, should be something that sparks outrage and deep concern.
I have little doubt that the economic forecast is cloudy with a probability of fire and brimstone. People will unquestionably suffer, jobs will be lost, and restructuring and revitalization of our economic system will be crucial. But somehow, we will move through it, learn and adapt. I can’t say the same for the imminent environmental collapse, which unless we act with the same sense of urgency and vigilance that we are devoting to the current Wall Street crisis, will not leave us so intact.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.