Watching the scramble for vaccines, I can’t rid my mind of the 1957 film “Abandon Ship.”
I’m 68, in solid physical health because I bicycle for transportation, haven’t ever smoked or gotten fat. I’m retired, reasonably well-off but not filthy rich. With a family history of long life and a good health insurance policy, if I avoid the coronavirus and always mask up and social distance -- conceivably I might make 90, maybe even a century.
“Abandon Ship,” sometimes titled “Seven Waves Away,” is the story of 27 people in a lifeboat built for a dozen following the sudden sinking of their luxury liner. With 10 or so people in the ocean, hanging onto the gunnels, the lifeboat is barely floating. The nearest land is 1,500 miles away, the ship failed to broadcast a distress signal and there’s a hurricane on the horizon.
Throughout my adulthood, I’ve always been a recycler, minimized my carbon emissions, saved, lived within my means and tried to “do unto others.” I don’t do anything to excess.
Various people in the film’s lifeboat are old and most have lived luxuriant, useless lives. Many are weak or injured, including the ship’s engineer, a realist who points out that several, like himself, can no longer pay the rent and should be evicted.
I don’t know what category I’m in. I know I’m in Virginia’s “1B” – the next group awaiting vaccine. Should I, and others like me, be the ones over the side instead of the next in line?
I don’t claim piousness but if there is a God, he, she or it must be angry at how we, particularly we older white Americans, have so destroyed his creation without remorse. He first sent his disciples, called scientists, 50 years ago to point out that our consumption was affecting the climate, catching a Cleveland river on fire in 1969 to drive the point home. With disciples reiterating and magnifying ever since, still a large percentage of us refuse to listen. Most nonbelievers are old, heavily male and willing to look the other way when four Category 5 hurricanes occur in the Atlantic in the same year, or the biggest wildfires ever happen in California -- or a polar vortex crashes into Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, leaving millions in the dark and without safe water.
Today the average American burns six times the carbon that the average Chinese person burns and twice the average European, predominately because we older Americans have built a transportation system in which the default position is key in the ignition.
Other of God’s or Mother Nature’s disciples, called economists, have been telling us for almost as long that American expenditures on health care – by far the highest in the world – are too heavily skewed towards the elderly who use five times the health care dollars than America’s children, two-thirds paid by taxpayers. Although we’re about 1 in every 7 citizens today, those of us over 65 total more than a third of all American health care expenses.
Conceivably, I could be one of 84 million elderly Americans in 2050.
Like the ship’s engineer, a few lifeboat survivors recognize reality and throw themselves over the side. Most however – those with the least ability to row 1,500 miles – whimper to hang on, trying everything from bribery to attempted murder.
Reading about politicians like Marco Rubio, who argued against mask requirements yet jumped in front of the vaccine line, or the moneyed classes who rush into low-income clinics and confound vaccine distribution, or the young gaming billionaires who flew to an indigenous Canadian village and conned their way into a vaccine, I’m bothered but not surprised.
Even if Americans reverse our carbon emissions and the elderly refuse extensive medical care, the data indicates this planet already holds too many two-legged mammals. It took humans until 1800 – some 6 million years – to reach 1 billion souls, but in the last 200 years we’ve grown almost 800% to 7.85 billion. Humanity adds 81 million new two-legged consumers annually.
If the world did everything right environmentally, the huge, and ever-growing number of people dooms civilization as we know it because the planet is running out of farmland, clean water and natural resources.
In short, our lifeboat is overloaded with the least capable people demanding the most care. While I haven’t demanded much yet, not even filing for Social Security, I’m in the category who soon will need, on average, $25,000 annually in medical expenses, not to mention eating from diminishing farmland and consuming products – whether medical or not – mostly produced overseas.
My wife put me on Virginia’s vaccination waiting list and daily urges me to prowl a local clinic in hope of leftover doses. I don’t, arguing that all health care workers, all first responders, all teachers, all grocery and food producers, and maybe even all kids, should get both doses before I get the first.
But, primarily, I hesitate because I’m haunted by “Abandon Ship.” Should I be one of the evicted instead of the next in line?”
Randy Salzman is a retired communications professor, board member of Bike Virginia, and author of “Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector.”
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