Image from National Geographic.
I have a quick news flash for everybody. The world is going to hell in a hand basket, and soon enough the whole ship is going to come crashing down. Also, people with disabilities are extra-screwed as the boat goes under (I mean hey, are life rafts even accessible? Because my wheelchair would sink like a rock).
The collapse is already happening: Miami is getting regular floods during high tide and the city is raising its sidewalks … and hopefully the curb cuts along with them. Stronger winter storms are hitting the Midwest and Northeast … and don’t even get me started on wheelchairs in snowdrifts. It’s only going to get worse, too, so it’s time to start getting ready (hell, we should have started yesterday).
Call me masochistic, but I think about the coming collapse every day. And when I say “collapse,” I’m not talking about my building’s foundation when the long-overdue Bay Area earthquake hits, or the next big recession after another financial crisis, or political bickering leading to a government in gridlock. No, I’m talking about sea level rise flooding countries, and expanding drought leading to famine, and all the plastic in the Pacific Ocean killing off every last fish, and us finally running out of the oil that powers society, and the global war when we all start fighting over what’s left, and … well, the list goes on. I think about this every day, and it just spins in circles in my head, making me go, “aw hell, we’re pretty darned screwed.” I guess that’s what happens when you spend too much of your time studying climate change and fragile government benefits. Or just reading about the economy, or the environment, or politics, or war, or … well, the list goes on.
Then, when I look in the mirror and see that I have a disability, I think “damn, when that doo-doo hits the fan, I’m the first to get splattered.” Splattered into oblivion, that is. I rely on wheelchair parts that are built overseas and pass through soon-to-be-flooded ports. The vital health care and attendant services I receive need a stable government to keep working. And if some global war happens, well, peace out world. Internet friends, I’ll be real here for a second: if I were nondisabled, I might just buy a cabin deep in the woods somewhere and turn into a nature man. Load up on vital supplies and a rifle, then learn how to hunt and scavenge and survive on my own (maybe build a bomb shelter in the meantime). But that’s not possible: a cabin in the woods won’t have electricity for my power wheelchair, or meds to control my spasms, or reliable personal attendant care, or … well, the list goes on.
So when all’s said and done, I’ve just had to acknowledge that I’m an extra-vulnerable person with a disability, in a collapsing world, right next to a fast-spinning fan. (Sorry to bring up that visual again). And you know what? Recently, I’ve accepted it full-on. I’ve come to peace with the fact that some scary things are barreling toward us and can’t be stopped. I’ve let go of the fear and instead decided to prepare, with my life’s logistics and my soul’s balance. Because as a wise man once said, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the Dark Side.”
But an inevitable collapse brings up a moral dilemma — not just for me, but for all of us, and especially for the disability community. If we are all going to die in this growing catastrophe, what do we do with our lives? In my opinion, it’s two things. First, we should take care of ourselves: time is short and soon to get nastier, so we should make sure we enjoy it as much as possible, and get ready so that we can do so as long as possible. Second, we should help others — and especially other vulnerable people around us — do the same. That means everything from equipping storm shelters with medical support, to strengthening government services for mass upheaval, to helping people find accessible housing when they escape flooding shorelines, to … well, the list goes on.
Of course, you might ask: “why do all that work?” Well, because it’s the right thing to do. My philosophy is that every extra minute of one extra person having one extra bit of happiness is amazingly valuable — or worth about $79, according to this survey (Avoiding fear is just above $83, by the way). So is one extra bit of safety, and health, and community, and security. With that in mind, we should work towards helping our community just for the value of those extra pieces of positivity. And if you’re the kind of person who feels good when you’re doing good, then helping out others is just killing two birds with one stone. So what I say to my brethren with disabilities is this: go on out and kill some birds (figuratively… Because hey, the real ones are all going to die soon anyways).
Alex Ghenis is a regular contributor to New Mobility magazine. He writes on climate change, independent living, and more. He can be found on Twitter as @aghenis.