World Gone Mad

The world converges from Ferguson, to polar bears, to the SoCal drought | Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr/Creative Commons

Lately it feels like the world is truly at a convergence, and not a good one. We're all waiting with bated breath for the grand jury findings in Ferguson, Missouri, where things have escalated to such a pitch -- they've been escalating there since August -- that the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan is reporting a healthy month of recruiting. The Klan assures us that it's not in the white supremacy game anymore, simply in the business of protecting lawful citizens of all creeds and colors from the wrath of terrorists who threaten violence to the community. This is how it describes the protesters who have been in the streets carrying out the movement that I call Occupy Ferguson. Of course, the head of this Klan chapter has almost gleefully called the whole anti-police brutality mood in Ferguson the "best recruiting tool since Obama." A post-racial KKK? Not quite.

Besides the countdown in Ferguson, there's the bloody brinksmanship of the Islamic State, the violent, tragic fanaticism of Boko Haram in Nigeria that the government is evidently powerless to stop, the looming crisis of retirement in America -- a student in my senior current events class brought to our attention last week a statistic that knocked her out: about 75 percent of people moving toward retirement age have saved $30,000 or less. She was clearly shaken. How did we get here, she asked? Or more accurately, how did we so badly miss the mark?

The short answer, at least to the retirement question, is that we missed the mark on purpose. We did it with our eyes open. No wonder that we all want to close our eyes to the damning implications of that fact and cleanse our news palate -- scrub it clean, really -- by submerging ourselves in utterly manufactured stories about Kim Kardashian's butt or features about the latest up-and-coming young designer who truly captures the tenor of our times (guilty as charged -- when the Sunday Times comes, I hunt first for the Image section, telling myself that I need it in order to face the news in the rest of the paper. A good rationale, but increasingly I don't get to the rest of the paper).

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And then this week, quite by accident, I read a story that puts all the bad news in the largest and most ominous terms possible, a convergence to literally end all convergences. It's not a new story, just a terrible one unfolding in real time that we've been watching for way too long, one whose victims have raised not a word in protest because they can't. It was a story about the polar bears. According to a recent study, their numbers in eastern Alaska and western Canada have dropped 40 percent since 2004, from 1600 to about 900. In terms of the species-killing effects of climate change, polar bears are the canaries in the coal mine, as Al Gore told us long ago in his PowerPoint. They will go first. They are going first. Acts of violence like what we've seen everywhere from Ferguson to Syria to Nigeria are deplorable, but the violence of inaction is almost immeasurable. Almost.

The saving grace is that I now feel very connected to that violence. Global tragedy has officially become local. The drought here, though it has meant many more beautiful and sunny days that will always look normal in SoCal, is also evidence of ominously skewed weather patterns that are warming oceans and disappearing an entire geography of ice. Movements for justice cannot help but be diminished by diminishing life forms, which include but are not limited to polar bears. I also can't help but think that if we had done better with these movements -- if, say, the civil rights movement had not been stunted in the '60s, resulting in more lasting racial equity and fewer Michael Brown incidents today -- the whole matter of climate change and planet-saving would be at a different, more enlightened point.

But here we are. Unsure of what else to do, I cut the polar bear report out of the paper and taped it on a kitchen wall. The next time I settle down with the Image section, it'll be in front of that story. Talk about convergence.

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