After a week of apocalyptic weather and dystopian laws, the internet has been ringing out with unusual amounts of praise for “alarmists”. “The alarmists were right, about pretty much everything,” tweeted NBC News reporter Ben Collins on 2 September, after the US supreme court voted not to interfere with Texas’s extreme abortion laws. “Since the so-called alarmists have been right about everything, can we concede that they weren’t, in fact, being alarmists?” tweeted Mary Trump (who has amassed more than 1 million Twitter followers by being rude about her uncle Donald Trump) on the same day.
But alas, it looks as if some people would rather revise history than concede they were wrong. Only hours after Texas’s new abortion policy became law, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter deleted a tweet from 2018 in which he had mocked the activist Amy Siskind for saying that the US under Trump was just “a few steps from The Handmaid’s Tale”. Not only was this comparison way off, Stelter opined, “this kind of fear-mongering” doesn’t help anyone.
Siskind is far from the only activist to have had valid concerns dismissed as “hysterical” by a Reasonable and Objective White Man (and the occasional Sensible Woman in Power). Reproductive rights activists in the US have been warning about the end of nationwide legal abortion for decades; during the Trump years, when the supreme court was ruthlessly pushed to the right, these warnings reached fever pitch. But the powers that be didn’t bother listening until it was too late. You can’t just blame the Texas abortion laws on rightwing scheming; they’re also a result of “moderate” complacency.
Alarmists haven’t just been vindicated when it comes to the erosion of reproductive rights. Warnings that Brexit would be disastrous, for example, were dismissed by many conservatives as “Project Fear”. Now that we’re seeing empty supermarket shelves, and there are constant threats of food shortages, it’s hard to argue that those fears were unwarranted. Brexit is obviously not the only reason for shortages – the entire world is grappling with pandemic-induced supply chain issues – but it certainly exacerbated them.
And then, of course, there’s the environment. It feels as if we turned a very scary corner with the climate crisis this year. After intense floods in western Europe and deadly heatwaves in North America, the wealthy world can no longer pretend that it’s immune to the climate crisis, nor can it possibly argue that any of the dire warnings about extreme weather were overstated. One in three Americans live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal disaster declarations. I’m a committed pessimist but, if you had told me a few weeks ago that New York City, where I live, would be getting a tornado warning at the same time as its first ever flash flood emergency warning, I would have wondered if you were exaggerating somewhat. If you had told me that entire families would drown in their basement apartments in one of the richest cities in the world, because of torrential rain, I might have had a hard time wrapping my head around it. After the horrors of the past week, however, I’m not sure anything will sound alarmist to me ever again.
So what’s the moral here? That we should all be in a constant state of worry, expecting the worst, all of the time? Not quite. It’s true to a certain extent that fear-mongering isn’t helpful. But while we need to keep calm, we can’t carry on with business as usual. Incremental solutions will not get us out of the apocalyptic challenges we face. You know what might? Listening. Every single crisis we are facing was foreseeable and foreseen – generally by the people most affected. The problem is that the people in charge, insulated from their own policies by wealth and privilege, chose not to listen.