Flavorwire is taking the final week of 2017 off, because God knows we need it. But all week, we’ll be reposting some of our favorite pieces from the year. Read them all here.
It gets harder and harder to keep track of every single piece of terrible news coming out of Washington these days, so much so that amongst the litany of despair from the last 36 hours or so — the prospective implementation of Donald Trump’s ban on the acceptance of refugees and on immigration from several Muslim countries, the possible death of net neutrality, the ridiculous ongoing smokescreen about “electoral fraud”, etc etc etc etc — it was easy to miss the news with perhaps the most dramatic ramifications for the future of this planet: the continuing efforts to silence the EPA and its employees.
Of the coverage that the issue did get, much focused on the laudable efforts of various federal employees to defy the ban and speak out. As our own Sarah Seltzer argued yesterday, the import of such efforts shouldn’t be underestimated. At the same time, though, the media should be focusing less on feel-good individual stories and more on the main issue here, which is this: the Trump administration is an existential threat to America and to the world as a whole.
That might sound overly dramatic, but it’s not. This government isn’t just ignoring climate change; it’s setting out to actively mislead the public. It’s trying to suppress discussion of, and efforts to ameliorate, the single biggest threat to our survival as a species. (Apart, perhaps, from the risk that our risible fuckwit of a President might start a nuclear war via Twitter because he’s bored.)
And make no mistake here: they know exactly what they’re doing. Sure, there’s a lunatic fringe in the Republican Party who actually believe that climate change is either not happening, or that it’s a conspiracy invented by China, or something, but the majority of conservatives — who are, notwithstanding their political opinions, people who are fully in control of their mental faculties — are just as aware as you and I that climate change is a real and measurable phenomenon. They just don’t care. Why should they? They will never feel its effects. As ever, it’s the poor who suffer.
One of the nightmare scenarios for looking to a climate change-affected future has always been the idea that, for all that our climate is a thing before which we are all equal — floods and storms, after all, don’t discriminate between the rich and the poor — some of us will remain more equal than others. Instead of accepting that climate change is a problem for everyone, it’s easy to imagine a scenario wherein the richest and most privileged members of our society just shut themselves away in high-walled communities, shielded by their money, while the rest of us squabble over ebbing resources and rising tides.
Still, such scenarios have always seemed extreme. And until now, they’ve always been abstract and theoretical — it’s not like there’s seaweed on our lawn just yet, and it’s always felt like that if that time came, our politicians would see sense and start taking climate change seriously. The idea that our fellow humans might just abandon us entirely felt like cynicism and pessimism.
Well, the Trump administration’s conduct provides an answer to the “Will the rich abandon us entirely?” question, and the answer, sadly, is a resounding “yes.” They will abandon us. They are abandoning us. And we shouldn’t be surprised, because over the course of the history of this country, and this planet, they have never done anything else.
To the Protestants who settled in America, the land has always been seen primarily as a resource to be used to generate revenue. There’s some fascinating stuff in Nancy Isenberg’s excellent book White Trash about how unimproved land was seen as “waste land,” in the most literal sense of the term, and about how the colonists sent to work it were “waste people.” This idea has never really changed, and you can see its legacy in the way America works today: a society built on the exploitation of labor, one in which the gap between rich and poor is an ever-widening chasm, and where the state makes no pretense of caring about its citizens. Every day, those on the other side of the chasm grow more removed from the rest of us, and the only way out with which we’re ever presented is trying to make the leap across. If we fail to do so, it’s our own fault. Even if we’re tied to a stake on the other side.
The whole point of being on the far side of the rich/poor divide, of being part of the 1%, is that you’re protected from the woes of being part of the 99%. Earn enough money, and you can isolate yourself from crime, from debt, from drudgery, from your fellow humans (who only exist to take what you have for themselves.) And, in this case, from global warming. What do you care if some unfortunate Pacific Islanders are drowning? Or the poor of New Orleans? Or even half of lower Manhattan? If you’re rich enough, when the sea comes to your doorstep, you move your house to the top of the hill.
To move your house, though — and to be able to keep moving it, or build dikes around it, or whatever else — you need money. As a social model, capitalism is uniquely unable to deal with long-term challenges, because its very nature encourages the pursuit of short-term profit, and those two objectives are often incompatible. In fact, they often come into direct conflict. It might well be not dealing with something that poses a threat to your fellow citizens that allows you to continue to profit. No doubt there are plenty of rapacious blood-suckers clever entrepreneurs out there thinking about how the effects of climate change might present a business opportunity.
Whether Donald Trump has any personal financial interest in climate change denial — and who’d be surprised if he did? — after this week, there can be no doubt as to what his administration is going to do about climate change: not just nothing, but worse than nothing.
Safe in the knowledge that he himself will never have to worry about his house being flooded, or his crops failing, or his livestock dying in the heat — he intends to actively undermine and damage attempts to mitigate or avoid the effects of climate change. The fact that scientists are backing up data because it might be destroyed under this administration — and the fact that such destruction is not without precedent — is both instinctively astonishing (who would do such a thing?!) and entirely unsurprising. Putting today’s GOP in charge of EPA data is like putting tobacco companies in charge of studies investigating the link between cigarettes and cancer.
And just like cancer, this government will kill us. Its refusal to take actions that could and should be taken now in order to do try to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the fact that it is actively trying to prevent such actions being carried out, means that it constitutes a threat to our own survival. They don’t care if we burn, or drown, or fall. They don’t care at all.