What House of Cards can teach us about climate change

*Spoiler Alert*

I’m in the process of watching the third season of House of Cards. Now, I’m not done yet, so even as I write my spoilers, I must ask that no one reveal any spoilers to me.

I just finished the episode where Underwood uses FEMA to fund his jobs bill. By declaring a State of Emergency in D.C. based on the unemployment rate, he uses the government’s emergency funds to create jobs. Or at least that’s his idea, like I said I don’t know yet if it actually works. But it did get me thinking.

In the show, all the other government officials and some members of the press believe Underwood is twisting the law and pretending to care about people to meet his own selfish ends. And in the show, they are right. But I don’t think that means his actions are completely wrong either. As a species, we rank immediate threats much higher than long-term threats, no matter how likely they are. Which makes sense evolutionarily, heart disease isn’t really an issue if you starve to death before you’re thirty.

But our society has become so advanced that those immediate issues aren’t as big of a threat to us as the long-term ones. There are countless statistics and comparisons on deaths on terrorism: you’re more likely to be killed by your furniture or a toddler, and yet we spend over $16 billions dollars annually fighting it. Heart disease on the other hand, the number one killer of Americans, got about $1.6 billion from the government in 2014. Now, even without the money that comes from donations and other funds for funding heart disease research, it doesn’t take a

Time to start calling this cardiac terrorism, led by the saturated fat extremists

Time to start calling this cardiac terrorism, led by the saturated fat extremists

math genius to see the huge gap. And like I said, people have been shouting this from the roof tops about this for ages. But it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

That’s because, in the short-term, the idea of terrorism is more scary. But more than that, it is easier to fight. The same is true for natural disasters. Hurricane hits? Set up tents, give people food, help them wash their clothes. See, money well spent.

And I’m not saying this is a bad thing, BUT the number of people we save from natural disasters is tiny compared to the people we lose from heart disease, and the people we have already started losing from climate change. We don’t see these things as emergencies because they aren’t big, dramatic events effecting lots of people all at once, which is basically how we define an emergency. But our definition of emergency needs to change. You can be damn sure people would be funding the research then. Just look at Ebola, it barely even effected a few Americans and yet everyone was clamoring for a vaccine because it is immediate and scary.

But those people with heart disease are probably going to die whether it’s tomorrow or this December, because we aren’t doing everything we could to stop it because it has become mundane. I think Frank Underwood has the right idea.We don’t see these things as emergencies because they aren’t big, dramatic events effecting lots of people all at once, which is basically how we define an emergency. But our definition of emergency needs to change.

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About Hannah Rosen

I am a PhD candidate at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. I am currently conducting research on color change in squid skin, but my real passion is making science accessible to those outside of the field so that everyone can love it as much as I do! Science is not just for the professionals. It is fun and something that everyone can and should enjoy. Deep down we are all science nerds, you just may not know it yet!

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