What will you do about the hardest problems?

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 29, 2021, 9:54 PM | comments: 0

As terrible as the last year has been, I think we have seen a lot of examples of people at their absolute best. It's certainly disheartening that we've also seen the opposite, but overall it inspires me to see what people are capable of when they're seriously challenged. It makes me want to be a better person.

Indeed, we have many serious challenges ahead, and I don't think that solving them is optional. Again, it can be hard to see a world where we succeed, especially as we try to get beyond this pandemic. Science offered us some reasonable solutions to control the spread of Covid, even if they were a little awkward, and then it led to a long-term solution in the vaccines. I don't think the ask for masks and social distancing or vaccination were a very hard lift. The latter is probably the easiest thing I have ever done that would positively affect countless other people. But a significant portion of Americans failed to do that easy thing, and here in Florida, we're worse off than we were before.

I could be a real Debbie Downer about the whole thing, and reasonably so given the context. I can't remember seeing as much selfishness and willful ignorance at any other time in my life. How can we expect people to do the things that are actually hard? But underneath all of that nonsense, I see a quiet persistence by many people, a part of me hopes it's most people, to take on the hard problems. The question is, what role will we play?

Climate change

Climate change feels like the hardest thing to take on, in part because the effects of it vary in severity depending on where you are. They can also be seasonal. The math is not encouraging, as we keep breaking records for hottest year, and new regional daily temperature records at both extremes. Six of the top 10 years for named storms are in the last 20 years, with a clear trend line going up. The ocean is coming up through the ground in Miami. Even the US Department of Defense has named climate change a credible threat to world stability, as it forces migration and destabilizes economies. Oh, and air pollution kills more than 3 million people per year.

Trying to have an impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases isn't straight forward, because you can't entirely control where your energy is coming from. We're all in with solar on the roof, and we've been driving electric vehicles exclusively since 2015. However, solar is a somewhat large investment up front, and EV's aren't quite where they need to be in terms of price to increase the rate of adoption. The market itself though is starting to turn things at the utility scale in the right direction. The actual cost of renewables is now generally less than fossil fuels, so utilities will certainly start leaning in that direction.

The problems is that the US, EU and China all pour trillions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. In the US, much of this includes insane tax advantages that encourage capital investment in drilling and mining. As taxpayers, we can remind our elected officials that this is not sustainable, and encourage them to redirect these subsidies to renewables (or eliminate them entirely). We can not vote for those who are themselves propped up by these industries.

Racism

I think if the last year has taught us anything, it's that it isn't enough to not be racist, which is neutral, we all have to take a role in being anti-racist. That means that we don't simply sit on the sidelines, we have to get involved and speak out against things that are racist. That isn't some function of "wokeness" or whatever, it's accepting that racism is not simply white people acting out against people of color. Our societal systems have engrained racism in ways that we either overlook or simple forgot about. We have to understand our history, which doesn't mean taking responsibility for it, but rather to change its outcomes today. I wasn't there for redlining, but I know what it is. I wasn't there for Jim Crow, but I know what it is, and I see it happening again with voter suppression. I know what it means when people pass over the resumes of people with "not white sounding" names. There are so many subtle things. If we listen, and we learn about them, we can be anti-racist in our actions.

A huge portion of this is teaching your kids to be anti-racist. You must instill in them the courage to speak out against discriminatory acts. Teach them about our history, because I can promise you they'll never get to it in school. Be what you want them to be, because they're watching you.

Healthcare

I have arguably the best healthcare insurance. I don't have to pay for any of it, and then there's a reimbursement account to catch all of the deductibles and co-pays. Despite this, we routinely have to spend time on the phone resolving billing problems with insurance. Recently, we even had the insurance company deny an MRI ordered by Diana's neurologist, which means that the doctor is not in charge of her care, some arbitrary schmuck is. This is what the "best" looks like in America. Tell me more about the "freedom" this system gives you! Because without a job, you don't have insurance, and if you don't have insurance, you don't have healthcare.

We're in the best of circumstances, so it's safe to assume that the scene is significantly worse for everyone. Part-time or gig workers are lucky to have access to a plan at all, even through the feds, and you can be sure that the co-pays mean a choice between getting care and paying rent or buying food, so they go without the care. We've seen this play out in countless negative ways, especially for children. The entire system is immoral and unfair, despite having the science to preserve and improve life. It's also a thing that my friends in the UK and Norway say they have never had to worry about in their home countries.

I tend to be fairly practical in my politics, but this is one area where the idealist progressives are the only ones with the right idea. There should be a single-payer system. If you need healthcare, you get it, and that's the whole process. No more skipping because you can't afford it, or being denied for something by bureaucrats. Will it end the insurance industry and put people out of work? Yes, and I don't care. I spent a year in that machine, and that was too long. We're the last developed nation in the world to not adopt a system like this, and our outcomes, in life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and chronic illness rank at the bottom of the list. We have to do better.

Bonus hard thing: Less work to do

I'm not sure how to define this, let alone solve for it, but the reality that we've been kind of ignoring for decades is that as technology continues to evolve, there is less for humans to do. Yes, it's the Wall-E scenario, where everyone gets fat and floats around on hover chairs because there's nothing for them to do. I'm not sure it looks like a preachy Pixar movie, exactly, but we seem to be ignoring that it's already headed in that direction. It takes fewer humans than ever to make physical things. As I've been saying for years, jobs where a human has to drive a vehicle will completely go away when the trucks drive themselves.

The reason this is so hard to address is because the only thing we know is the myth of meritocracy, the idea that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything. We know that this is bullshit, because not all people are equal, but people still use this as the intellectual basis for the way we treat work and its place in our society. I know people who have killed themselves for work just to get by, and others who haven't done much of anything and thrived.

I don't know how we solve this one, on a planet where we already allow poverty to occur, but it's going to get slowly get worse. I mean, much of my career has been spent building things that optimize things that were once a manual human process. The good old days of landing at a company and working there for 40 years are long gone, and they're not coming back.

Scope

I've said this a lot the last few years, and I'll say it again: The scope of your involvement and contribution is not something to get hung up on. You can help solve these problems with the smallest of gestures and actions. You can also allow them to get worse by not acting at all. Please help. We should leave this joint in better shape than we found it.


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