By Kevin Hall
Parents worldwide are faced with far greater fears and challenges today than at any time in history. They have the enormous responsibility for children’s lives, people they have chosen to bring into a world with a rapidly destabilizing climate. It’s a shared responsibility, of course, because at this point anyone under the age of 50 cannot count on having a stable climate in their old age.
Nearly 20 million people were climate refugees in 2018, according to UN estimates. Internally dislocated people, from hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to the firestorm victims in Paradise and Magalia, already are straining governmental relief systems in the United States. Externally dislocated climate refugees, who must seek safety outside their own countries, are dying at the hands of uncaring brutes everywhere from the California-Mexico border to the Mediterranean.
In this century, an estimated 200 million–300 million people will be forced from the planet’s equatorial regions and will mostly have to flee to the northern continents’ greater land masses. The crises we already are witnessing are a mere flicker of what lies ahead.
But, to paraphrase a French saying, we have to save pessimism for better times. Optimism and determination are called for. As is action on the local level, which means that here in the San Joaquin Valley we have an enormous amount of work to do, because if we hope to address climate change, we must first address our political climate.
Stunningly, climate change deniers hold elected office and wield disproportionate amounts of power throughout our region, and they are not all old, White, male Republicans. There are some young ones, too, and some women. That party ran away from all action on climate change immediately after the 2010 Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court; the dark money unleashed on our political system demands it of them.
Democrats are not much better. That party lost its progressive populist soul beginning in the 1970s when the wave of young “Watergate Democrats” swept into office and cinched the deal with the ruling elite under Bill Clinton and the New Democrats. Remember, Richard Nixon was working with Congress on a universal basic income in the early 1970s. That’s where the center once was.
So, like their Republican counterparts who refuse to accept the science of climate change, Democrats refuse to accept the urgent need to break with the financial sector and the billionaires who lead it. From former California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to COP24 in Poland, every major effort at tackling the problem centers on a key factor: continued profit and economic expansion. As a result, the need to finance the decarbonization of our world is controlled by the private sector. For now, that is.
At some point in the very near future, all of the “solutions” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will shift suddenly and dramatically away from the “market-based systems” of cap-and-trade to high taxes and centralized systems of governance. Today’s incentive programs are tomorrow’s emergency mandates.
Which means we are going need people in office of the highest moral fiber. Selfless, caring, smart individuals who love to work hard and collaborate well. Above all else, they’ll need to have an amazing capacity for stress.
In Fresno, we don’t have any such people on our City Council or the Fresno County Board of Supervisors or representing us in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Let’s just give up on Republicans. They’re in the minority here and under Trump are melting down completely. As for the Democrats, two examples of all that’s wrong with that party were in the news recently: Joaquin Arambula and Miguel Arias.
Regardless of whether the local district attorney decides to prosecute Arambula for striking his 7-year-old daughter so hard it left a mark worthy of his arrest, the public has learned about the man. First, he resorted to violence against a child. Second, immediately after his arrest, before giving a statement to the police, Arambula had a media day of damage control in which he blamed his daughter and gave a description of her spanking that, according to Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, didn’t match the evidence.
Dyer’s untrustworthiness aside, the incident and how he handled it reveals Arambula as ill-suited just for the challenges of today, not to mention the incredible demands ahead. And his friend Arias’s instant support warrants a reminder of his character, too, because he is an ambitious, morally stunted political operator who is equally unqualified to help save the planet.
According to a Dec. 12 Fresno Bee article by reporter Rory Appleton: “Miguel Arias, an incoming Fresno City councilman and friend of Arambula, said he was confident Arambula would be cleared of any wrongdoing. ‘My kids and his kids have grown up together,’” Arias said. “‘My family knows him for what he is: a caring and loving family man. I trust the process will show him for what he is.’”
That final sentence might prove accurate in ways Arias didn’t intend. A divorced father of two, he has a history of abusive behavior in his workplace—the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD). According to author and former reporter Mark Arax, Arias worked as the “fixer” for the 73,000-student school system’s disgraced former superintendent Michael Hanson.
Arax’s 2015 deep dig into Arias’s shameful behavior can be read online at the Arax File (www.mark-arax.com/thearaxfile.htm). In it, he describes a tawdry culture in the Hanson administration and how the former superintendent’s reliance on his fixer led him to overlook significant problems:
“[Arias’s] promotion earlier this month to communications chief came in the wake of formal complaints of hostile work environment filed against Arias while he directed Parent University. The internal complaints by two female supervisors, one an African American and the other Hmong, date back to 2013–2014 and include intimidation, angry verbal outbursts, inappropriate language and work assignments that demeaned the two women.”
That’s Arambula’s biggest defender. If the two men are as close as Arias told the Fresno Bee, they apparently must get along so well because they have shared values. Besides abusive behavior to those they perceive as beneath them, the two share an ambition to wield power over others through elected office.
We need much, much better people in office. Newly seated FUSD board member Veva Islas is one such person. The rest of the political dance card is blank.
Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of each month on KFCF 88.1 FM. He is on Twitter at @sjvalleyclimate and @airfrezno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.