Curtain Raiser

Twin Stealth Mass Killers, Colltalers

If a Jeopardy contestant would pick Law Enforcement for $100, and get, What kills as many people as car crashes, diabetes and AIDS combined every year?, the answer could be larceny, auto theft, or perhaps, robbery. But few would pick, What’s opioid prescriptions?
Similarly, to ask most people whether they know of any fatalities directly linked to climate change, is likely to draw a blank stare, an upfront denial that any has already occurred, or the admission that, if they did, they’d still be very few. But there’s been 4.6 million deaths each year.
There’s no shame in not knowing this sort of data, whether someone has chosen to follow only what’s covered by their favorite news outlet – even if they’re not on Facebook or a Fox News subscriber – or have decided to skip the (depressing) news altogether. It’s understandable.
Then again, not to sound grim (and depressing), but they may stand for a rude awakening when casualties start to creep up among family and friends. The jury may have gone out for a long time, as to whether is better to know or not, but all bets have been off for some time now. And many have simply lost the luxury of even having a choice. Knowledge may be a better medicine than to be left behind. Who likes surprises?
What triggered the opioid addiction epidemic in the U.S. was a lethal combo: pharma companies pushed painkillers like drug dealers, – you know, the first sample is free, but after that, we take your home in lieu of payment – as a cure-for-all solution, not as a last dangerous resource. And healthcare insurance became an enterprise to mostly enrich shareholders, not exactly to provide coverage at affordable rates.
Former insured but not yet cured, the afflicted with chronic or terminal pain diseases had no choice: hit the streets for alternatives. A black market for prescription pills developed and, when that also failed to meet the demand, a catastrophic revival of the ‘dark horse’ itself: heroine.
As for air pollution, it was one of the first signs that the Industrial Revolution, while radically changing for the best mankind’s quality of life, it also had a sinister side: it could sicken to death the very people to whom it was envisioned to be an agent of progress.

As cities became unbreathable, workers organized and helped society to put on pressure on polluters with regulation and laws setting emission code limits.
While you can’t blame poor nations for still relying upon coal, one of the biggest sources of air and water pollution, and some are really trying to phase it out, for the current U.S. administration to be pushing the same three-century-old technology it’s nothing but unconscionable.
That’s what happened last week, though, at the Bonn Climate Change Conference. While almost two hundred other countries, if not making much progress towards implementing ways to control emissions, are still at it, the U.S. sent a delegation of coal industry hacks to what can only be put as trolling the proceedings. Naturally, their attempt to make the case for a ridiculous return to coal was met by an empty room.
There are a few parallels between record deaths caused by opioid addiction and air pollution, even as the former is mostly happening in the U.S. They’re both man made, have pretty logical causes, and very visible, and devastating, impact on living creatures, and need urgent action.
None is forthcoming, it seems evident by the administration handling of both crisis so far. And neither have the industries profiting from them showed concerns about the unprecedented public health crisis, and lives lost, here and globally, that they’re indeed responsible for.
But we do have at least one way to address and, put your hands together, even be part of a solution to both of them. As a bonus, it is the kind of step that, unlike a lot of ongoing miseries whose control seem to elude private citizens, is actually within everyone’s reach: to vote.
Now, this is not to minimize the complexity and mind-numbing factors contributing to 2017 dramatic air pollution increases, or the tragedy of having a widespread segment of Americans, not known to use recreational drugs for, well, fun, to be overdosing in record numbers. But they’re two things where the power of representation does lead to change. And for way too long we’ve longed for better representatives.
We need to hold the gates against the assault on the undeniable accomplishments of the Obamacare legislation, have bills to improve its funding and fix its vulnerabilities, and, for a change, have Congress on our side to expand it. We must redouble efforts to push back big fossil fuel, so to rejoin and lead the world on the fight to reverse climate change. And we need a new elected freshman crop to run on this agenda.
In the meantime, there are some other battles brewing and coming to a boil in the next weeks. Nebraska regulators, for instance, may approve or deny today an in-state route for the Keystone XL pipeline, which is in itself baffling, considering the evidence: last week, another 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the same pipeline run by the same TransCanada, in South Dakota. It’s unsafe and should never be approved.
There’s also the fight over saving a democratic, open and free Internet, or the true meaning of Net Neutrality, a concept that media giants are trying to distort and do away with, counting with insider help from the FCC. We’re sadly losing that one but most definitely not out yet.
There’s the ongoing battle over sex abuse and, as new allegations continue to pour, let’s finally do right by the women hurt by this cultural scourge. First things first, though: let’s start at the top and use it as an example and principle the thorough investigation and, if it’s the case, appropriate punishment applied to the president himself; his 16 accusers, courageous enough to come forward, are expecting nothing less.
And many more, all worth our contribution, no matter how small they may seem. Do what you can to remain engaged, but coming Thursday, do not get drawn into fruitless fights. Thanksgiving is ripe for family confrontation and vicious splits, so here’s a word of advice: the 30% that still support the president won’t change their mind, not over dinner and not because of your well balanced, rational arguments. Forget it.
As seasoned warriors of that kind of blood strife have done since the Bush administration, list a few topics to exercise your persuasion gifts, without ruining the occasion for those wise enough to rather win everyone with their mean mashed potatoes. Even if Uncle Bob won’t shut up, save yourself the trouble; it’s not him but the other 70% you need at that voting booth coming next November. Happy Stuffings. WC


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