Where Are We Headed? Our Summer of Beauty and Dread

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Where Are We Headed? Our Summer of Beauty and Dread

WAXWORD

I fear that we are in a moment of interregnum, not a reset after our brush with Trumpian catastrophe

This weekend I ate the most incredible tomato. It was crimson red, grown in California soil and picked at the peak of summer. The flavor was so full, so rich, almost phantasmagoric – heightened by a sprinkle of chunky sea salt, fresh chopped basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. You took one bite and an involuntary gasp of pleasure escaped your mouth. It was heaven. 

I share this because the delights of summer 2021 – the sun-kissed Santa Monica mountains, the beaches full of frolicking children, the churning blue ocean, the ripened melons and peaches and corn and tomatoes  – come with a decided sense of unease. It has become impossible to look around with awe at the gifts of Nature and not wonder how much longer they will be here. It has come to this, as we brace for what looks like a fourth Covid-19 spike.

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I can’t eat a heavenly tomato without wondering how many more such seasons there will be of them. Will my children be able to swim in the ocean when they are my age? Will the summers in a decade or two become a litany of fires, water rationing, rolling blackouts to save electricity? Will the rising oceans swamp Venice and swallow Malibu? Will pandemics become a regular occurrence? Will homelessness just continue to get worse? Will our civil society hold up against these challenges that we are so late to address?  

I am an optimist, I swear. And yet everything seems upside down. We spend our time distracted by politics while the planet burns. Literally. And drowns. 

Every day of this glorious summer I wonder – how many more years do we have left of shimmering sunshine and bountiful produce and pristine days at the beach? 

While the warning signs pour in from all corners of the planet, it feels like the final days of mankind’s pleasure. All the simple things we enjoy – swimming in the ocean, hiking under the canopy of trees-  do they feel numbered? Or is it just me? 

I can’t shake this feeling that we are at the end of a halcyon period that will lead to progressive decline in the things we take for granted, and to a very different kind of life in the years just around the corner from now. The news everywhere seems to signal an unravelling of the world we know, and the start of a very different reality. This weekend we saw hard-to-believe footage of floods coursing through German towns, killing 170 people. Death Valley broke the all-time world heat record for the second year in a row. It was 130 degrees at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center on Friday, July 9, Earth’s highest reliably-measured temperature. Masks are back (at least in most parts of California) because we have been unable to convince enough people to get the vaccine and reach herd immunity. If that persists, then so will pandemics. 

And we must process things we have never seen before. The collapse of an apartment building in Florida, out of nowhere, a sign of our crumbling infrastructure. The instability of the entire city of Chicago. Flooding in the overstretched New York subway.

I don’t think anyone paying the slightest bit of attention could miss these warnings signs.  And yet that is a big part of the problem. Our attention is focused elsewhere. I am probably guilty of this too – we are consumed with things like debating the minutiae of identity and identity politics, with Britney Spears and whether she gets to run her affairs. And in the world of Fox News it’s of course worse: fake ballot audits and vaccine misinformation, debate over canceling Dr. Seuss and the “Communist Craze” brought on by Nikole Hannah Jones. There is no end to the hours we may fill on Twitter with all this. 

I fear where this takes us. I fear we are losing the thread at a time when our democracy remains in great peril. In ridding our government of Donald Trump we pulled the country back from the cliff edge of disaster. But as we can clearly see we are not out of the woods, we are not out of danger. There are forces at play that continue to peddle lies about our electoral process, to attempt to roll back voting rights and drag the country back toward the abyss of ignorance, misinformation and corruption. We cannot take for granted that the people who run our country will care to address the looming crisis. I fear – among other fears – that we are in a moment of interregnum, not a reset after our brush with Trumpian catastrophe. 

We will not have a second chance to right our focus and to choose the correct priorities. I pray that we will as individuals and as a society of shared values make the right choices. And commit to the path that ensures the summers of the future.