Recently, the Tiber River in Italy reached an historically low water level. The level is historically low because it’s revealing bits of history. An ancient Roman bridge built by Nero rose out of the vanishing water. According to the historical record, Nero built the bridge on shaky foundation, and it was always doomed to collapse. But that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write about Nero himself. Well, kinda.
If you know anything about Nero, you know that he was supposedly fiddling while Rome was burning. The original story means fiddling as in literally playing a fiddle. Fiddles (violins) hadn’t been invented yet, but Nero was a lover of the lyre. So, he would more accurately have been lyring while Rome was burning. But, there’s another explanation. You see, some historians think that Nero was actually aware of the fire as it was occurring and he did nothing to stop it. Why? Because the fire was consuming the poor part of Rome. It was a cleansing fire of a sort; it was washing away the undesirable working class.
At the time, Rome had no centralized fire departments. Instead, wealthy people would have private fire crews. Men like Crassus who, by some accounts, was the richest man to ever live, would show up at burning homes in poor areas. He would offer the owners pennies on the dollar for the blazing house. Since they would never have the money to rebuild their houses anyway, they would take the measly money and try to rebuild their lives elsewhere. The wealthy dude would then have his private firefighters put out the blaze, and he’d own a piece of Rome real estate for way below market value. Rome was like New York City or Los Angeles at the time; it was the cultural and economic capital of the empire. It was the engine that moved half the world. Real estate there was incredibly expensive. So, letting a fire rampage through the poor district was a moneymaking opportunity for Nero, Crassus, and all of the wealthy elite of Rome. So, the fire raged and Nero watched. Or he fiddled.
There’s a fire burning now. There’s a literal fire savaging the American West. Historic floods murder Kentuckians by the dozens. And amidst this, Republicans are still hollering for more drilling. More pipelines. More fracking. More destruction. So, are they Neros or are they Crassuses?
A little from Column A and a little from Column B.
The Neros are the ones who simply don’t believe in climate change. They believe in Jewish space lasers, Q, and Italian satellites, but they don’t believe in mercury thermometers. Essentially, they’re fiddling. They’re dancing their little dancey-dance and the world is suffering.
I think these people are largely beyond our reach. As (maybe) Jonathan Swift said, you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. They decided that reading temperatures year after year is for wokety-woke godless libs, and they’ll never be convinced differently. These are the ones we have to outnumber, outvote, and outplan. There’s no fixing what ails them.
But then, there’s the Crassuses.
The Crassuses are the ones who believe in climate change; they know it’s happening, but they also know that extracting more oil from the earth allows them to extract more money and votes from the American public. These are the ones that we actually can negotiate with because they’re driven by something understandable. They’re driven by that most American of impulses: greed.
Greed we can work with. Greed for votes and greed for money. For example, in Alabama, Alabama Power charges $27.05 a month to every customer who has solar panels on their house. If that person actually contributes excess power to Alabama Power’s grid, the customer gets paid what it would have cost Alabama Power to produce those kilowatt-hours. They don’t get paid what Alabama Power would have charged them for the power they contributed; they get paid cost. Is there a single person outside of the Alabama Power executive board who gives a damn about Alabama Power’s profit margin? I mean literally one single person. Eliminating the solar panel penalty is a vote-getter. So, why are Republicans pretending to fiddle?
The other greed: greed for money. In a state like Alabama with no contribution limits for state-level races, a single check from an Alabama Power executive can bankroll your entire campaign, and campaigns aren’t cheap. Believe me, I know.
In Alabama, Alabama Power runs a nuclear energy company called Southern Nuclear Operating Company. Eliminating the solar panel penalty and subsidizing nuclear could encourage Alabama Power to focus more on nuclear power and also feed the greed that drives Alabama politicians. The same could be true for a tax on carbon emissions, subsidies for solar panels, incentivizing electric cars and charging stations, and so on. Greed, for lack of a better word, is pliable.