Forget obstruction of justice issues, how about obstructing the crucible of life on our blue planet? President Trump’s recent withdrawing of the United States from the Paris Climate Treaty may lack the emotional punch of say Nazi panzer tanks rolling into Poland in 1939, but in terms of global impacts, they may be more closely linked than one would think.
After all, there were two existential threats to the world in the twentieth century; the global rise of Fascism and the nuclear balance of terror between the United States and the Soviet Union. The good news is we survived both.
However, today’s greatest global threats have transitioned from guns and bombs to cars, cows and carbon. In an increasingly populous and interdependent world, major threats are no longer limited to armed conflicts between nations but include a range of unknowable risks from stateless actors, industrial disasters, and unintended consequences of large interventions in markets and the natural world.
Despite the close calls of the past, it remains unclear whether or not our present state of civilization can endure the threat from fossil fuel driven climate disruption and its effects on the planet’s sixth extinction event now underway. The greatest impacts are being felt in our seas and along our coasts from melting ice to sea level rise, warming waters, coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Not to mention a warmer, more acidic ocean also holds less dissolved oxygen; another reason global dead zones are expanding both horizontally and vertically.
Unlike FDR who helped mobilize the United States to become the arsenal of democracy and win World War II, Trump is surrendering the United States leadership role in the only collective effort that might yet save millions of lives at risk from intensifying heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, shrinking shorelines and drought-fed famines. Even today the UN has identified 20 million people in Africa at immediate risk of dying from war, drought and disease, the most people at risk since World War II. And this in an area also identified as facing growing water scarcity due to climate change.
Following the three hottest years on record — 2014, 2015 and 2016— and with what now looks like close to half the Great Barrier Reef dead from bleaching, the time for action can no longer be deferred.
One example of the kind of rapid mobilization we need to respond to a global threat took place where I live in Richmond California. During World War II my small sailboat marina was the Kaiser Shipyard that produced 737 liberty ships in just four years, 1942 to 1945. Those ships were then loaded with 60,000 jeeps and tanks assembled in a converted Ford factory that is still here (however, now repurposed for local businesses including a solar panel company). Instead of the one million we annually produce today we could easily build and install 100 million solar panels in the next year or two if we had the political will to get off fossil fuels while expanding our economy.
When I wrote, ‘The War Against the Greens’ a quarter century ago about the environmental backlash of the late 1980s and ‘90s, it was largely confined to the West’s “Wise Use” movement, made up of violent front groups who sought access to federally subsidized public lands for mining, timber, and cattle grazing. It was only when the prime beneficiary of the backlash shifted from hard-rock mining to the fossil fuel industry during the oil-heavy Bush/Cheney administration and later when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling gave the petroleum slick Koch brothers an inordinate influence on Republican funding and primaries, did Wise Use’s anti-environmental rhetoric, including climate denial, go mainstream in the party. Trump’s quitting the Paris Accords is very much in keeping with this recent Republican orthodoxy.
However a crisis can also be an opportunity and our survival instinct as a species might yet win out. After all compared to the collective effort it took to defeat the Fascist Axis of Germany, Japan and Italy in World War II, defeating the policies of Donald Trump, the EPA’s Scott Pruitt and their Congressional backers in order to save our blue planet ought to be a pretty winnable battle.