Yes, body count is exactly what it takes to make some kinds of changes

As we think about taking-on inaction on larger topics, such as global warming, it is not only fair to ask “how many must die before we get serious” – it may be *the* essential question to ask. Creating a scoreboard based on the kind of studious documentation seen in substantiating the holocaust, could be the alarm bell to muster a maximal response.

I’ve been to my share of meetings about traffic management in Boston.  When discussion becomes heated, it is routine for someone to ask “does someone need to die to fix this?” This escalation has always felt a bit histrionic. But it can also be taken as a transactional inquiry – what does it take to make change?

No actual pedestrians were harmed to make this image.

As soon as someone dies, the crosswalk, traffic light or ‘slow the hell down’ sign goes right up.
Given enough time, routine problems may get fixed through normal channels. But a publicized death is like hitting an attention key.  My first job, assessing child reports made during times the state was closed, came from spate of child deaths. Suddenly providing 24×7 expertise in child protection was a fundable priority. Tragic deaths were exactly the focus needed to admit the current state was unacceptable, and to make change essential. Even today, other countries ask how many must die before improving their social services. At some point, we may again.

Governments count fatalities, they are the ultimate proof of harm. They make the moving of heaven and earth a priority, once its knows this is a ‘life and death issue’.

Perhaps the best example of this is Boston’s “safety shut down” for half of its subway system for around a month .  We’ve known Boston’s subway, the oldest in the US, was in dire need of repairs. A few years ago I noted the subhead of on of their annual reports: “The Situation is Dire”. The deficiencies both well known, and they were visible. The current governor began his first term dealing with a massive failure of subway and commuter rail systems. Some things arguably improved, but stairs, safety systems, and even unsafe tracks kept getting worse, and injuries and deaths started to pile up.

The prospect to turning off subways for a month….and not just any month, but the one in which 150,000 students return to our city during, became imaginable.

As we think about taking on inaction on larger topics, such as global warming, it is not only fair to ask “how many must die before we get serious” – it may be the essential question to ask. Climate change will conceivably increase deaths by famine, weather catastrophe, disease, or more generalized environmental stressors. Creating a scoreboard of that carnage, with the kind of studious documentation seen in substantiating the history of the holocaust, may be an essential mustering point to increase urgency until the call for alignment and action can’t be resisted by inertia.

How severe are the sacrifices stakeholders are willing to consider? Does it really take dying constituents to address this as an existential threat, “a war on” climate change? If that’s the case, who can provide the most credible accounting of global warmings toll?

Often the most important factor in surviving a crisis is recognizing it. The toll has started, and that may be the most plausible way to gain broad-based engagement in change.

 

 

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