Donald Trump has done a lot to amaze and disturb since becoming President of the United States. But abandoning the Paris Climate Accord struck a particularly depressing note.
As he made his defiant announcement in the Rose Garden, enabled by questionable statistics, a military band, and applauding minions, you could almost hear the flowers weep.
Since then, I’ve been trying to articulate, if only to myself, what was so upsetting about the spectacle, beyond the obvious.
I think I started to get at it last week as I was returning home on a beautiful spring evening from a fundraiser for Scenic Hudson, an environmental organization that serves as an eloquent rebuke to Trumpism. Their mission is to protect the planet for the current and future generations, at least the parts of it that radiate out from the Hudson River.
I’m fortunate to own a little of that land, most of it deeply wooded, on both sides of a country road. I was passing through it on the way back to our house from the party last Saturday.
The event was held at Art Omi, a sculpture field in Columbia County that looked especially handsome at sunset that early June night. And its glowing green fields were set off, as the party wound down, by an accommodating rainbow.
But “own” land is a rather bizarre concept when it comes to trees and streams and all the life forms that inhabit it. I don’t own them any more than they own me.
Due to a succession of evolutionary twists and turns, and the fact that my grandparents fell in love with the place seventy years ago, we just happen to be caretaking this infinitesimal patch of a particular planet in a suburban solar system for the wink of an eye. And paying the taxes.
Nobody owns anybody.
To think that the decisions of a single incurious individual have the power to abet its demise provokes a particular kind of indignation. If we’re going to die in an extinction event, at least let it be from natural causes, such as an asteroid.
It’s easy to see without looking too hard, to quote Bob Dylan, “that not much is really sacred.”
However, the Earth is.
Let’s take a moment to examine the evidence objectively – and I don’t mean the lavishly funded fake science.
I think we can all agree, whether we do on global warming or not, that we live on a planet that has its moments.
I still don’t really understand why our sky is such a becoming shade of blue when the rest of interstellar space is black, but I’m certainly happy about it. And God, or whatever title you choose for its animating force, couldn’t have nailed it any better than making the grass green; the trees, too.
And what about those sunsets, snow covered peaks, Beethoven’s Ninth, coral reefs, the fragrance of flowers, craft beer, bird song, clouds. The list goes on.
Take politics and the calculations of small, insecure men out of the equation and we live in a fairly promising, hospitable place.
Even more so from the perspective of outer space. I always thought it would be helpful to position a camera looking back at Earth from a suitable distance. We could consult it once or twice a day on our computers or mobile devices and appreciate how good we’ve got it.
It’s a fine looking place. Especially compared to everything else we’ve come across thus far. Jupiter and Saturn have their charms, but not as a place to own property. There’s that word “own” again.
And one can’t help but feel that in the mortal combat between chaos and order, between love and hate, between the indifference of the Universe and things like friendship, families and the warmth of the sun on your skin, Earth stands as a fairly eloquent argument for the comforts of home.
I remember standing amid the smoldering ruins at Ground Zero a week after 9/11. What impressed me most– and I don’t mean in a good way – was that this was destruction on the scale of nature. But it had been perpetrated by humans against one another.
It seemed at that moment that hate wasn’t the opposite of love. Anger was. Our future probably depends on getting it under control and rejecting those who exploit it.
A couple of other thoughts. Neither of them particularly original, or even my own.
I like to remind my children, not that they need reminding, that humanity is an experiment. There’s no guarantee it’s going to succeed. Our fate rests in our own hands. Fortunately, it turns on something we’re singularly equipped to do – peek into the future and predict the outcome of our decisions.
Peddling fake information and selfish math only makes the challenge greater.
Another idea I keep returning to comes from, I believe, astronomer Carl Sagan. Regarding the question of making contact with extra-terrestrials, he was of the opinion that any civilization advanced enough to return our messages would be taking a wait-and-see attitude; in other words, whether we were sufficiently grown-up as a species that we could be counted on not to wreck the cosmic furniture.
We currently seem to be at one of those tipping points. It’s been said that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris isn’t as dire as it seems. It won’t go into effect for another four years, by which time the White House may have been returned to a more far-sighted occupant. That renewable energy is an unstoppable train.
But the sin that’s already been committed doesn’t depend on whether things turn out for the best. It’s the sin of scorn, of contempt, of self-importance; the potential end of the world as we know it, not with a bang but a tweet storm. It’s certainly not the outcome the Earth deserves in return for everything it’s given us.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com