By Jim Miller
In the lead up to Earth Day, Elizabeth Kolbert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction, accurately observed that this year there wasn’t much to celebrate. She’s right. An administration that can’t seem to stop stepping on its own feet in nearly every other area has been pretty darn good at gearing up to kill the planet. As Kolbert writes in the New Yorker:
A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”
Indeed, the Trump Administration has delayed new energy and fuel efficiency standards, signaled that it will revoke Obama’s Clean Power Plan, proposed a budget that guts the Environmental Protection Agency and threatens to upend the Paris Accord on climate. Perhaps just as bad as this shameful catalog of terrible policy is the rebirth of climate denial as a legitimate ideology amongst top federal officials, and the assault on scientific fact and honest research.
With the administration doing nearly everything it can to stop data collection and remove references to climate change from government websites, it is clear that Trump and his anointed wrecking crew of fossil fuel industry billionaires will not be denied this opportunity to attack not just sound environmental policy but also the very idea that such governmental intervention is even necessary.
It is here where the incoherence of Trump’s administration is washed away and all things are made crystal clear by the unrelenting, murderous power of pure greed. There is a lot of short-term money to be made so the foxes have been put in charge of guarding the henhouse, consequences be damned. Bill McKibben outlined those consequences succinctly in a recent New York Times piece, “The Planet Can’t Stand This Presidency”:
President Trump’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects. He has vowed to reopen coal mines and moved to keep the dirtiest power plants open for many years into the future. Dirty air, the kind you get around coal-fired power plants, kills people.
It’s much the same as his policies on health care or refugees: Real people (the poorest and most vulnerable people) will be hurt in real time.
It is a kind of madness really, not subject to scientific or moral reasoning—the product of American politics gone crazy. And, as the poet William Carlos Williams once wrote of another group of “rich men,” Trump and his allies are proceeding ruthlessly “as if the earth under our feet were the excrement of some sky.”
Their war on the climate and every other aspect of our environment is obviously part of a political and economic campaign against those who want a greener future but it is also, at its heart, ideological in nature. As Kolbert’s New Yorker piece outlines:
“Climate change denial is not incidental to a nationalist, populist agenda,” Erickson argues. “It’s central to it.” She quotes Andrew Norton, the director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, in London, who observes, “Climate change is a highly inconvenient truth for nationalism,” as it “requires collective action between states.” This argument can, and probably should, be taken one step further. The fundamental idea behind the environmental movement—the movement that gave us Earth Day in the first place—is that everything, and therefore everyone, is connected.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” John Muir famously put it. The toxic chemicals that Town A dumps into the river reappear downstream, in Town B’s tap water. The mercury from power plants in Ohio poisons fish on the New Jersey coast that then get shipped back to supermarkets in the Midwest. The CO2 spilling out of tailpipes in New York is helping to melt the ice sheets at both poles. The water running off these ice sheets is raising sea levels, and this, in turn, threatens coastal cities everywhere. Eventually, to bring things full circle, New York’s highways will either have to be elevated or turned into canals.
To acknowledge our interconnectedness is to acknowledge the need for caution, restraint, and, yes, rules. Almost a hundred days into Trump’s Presidency, it’s obvious that he has no agenda or coherent ideology. But two qualities that clearly have no place in his muddled, deconstructive Administration are caution and restraint. As a result, the planet, and everything on it, will suffer.
With no real power in Washington, the only way we can insist on our interconnectedness and fight the nihilist policies of this nightmare of a government is to take to the streets and continue to resist. Now is not the time to be patient; it’s time to be sand in the gears for the next four years. Everything we love depends upon it.
For more details on San Diego’s People’s Climate March this Saturday, April 29th at 10 AM at 1600 Pacific Highway go here: