In Washington the storm of impeachment is strengthening. In London the boisterous thunderhead of Brexit is looming. And in New York’s City the world’s leaders are gathering to discuss the steadily-warming climate behind the rising seas and burning forests and expanding deserts and dying reefs.
They were addressed on Monday by Greta Thunberg, our generation’s bravest and most passionate advocate for a global response to climate change. Her voice dripped with emotion and it seemed that her eyes were not far behind. She lamented what our forebears have done to our planet even as she called for change.
That change came from the most unlikely of places — President Donald Trump. The president of the United States of America, a 73-year-old man who escaped the Vietnam War by the good graces of “bone spurs,” made fun of a 16-year-old girl who overcame Asperger’s and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to speak before the leaders of the world.
She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see! https://t.co/1tQG6QcVKO
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
In his infantile tweet Trump elevated the standard operating procedure of politics — divert from the matter at hand — many, many notches. He listened to Greta’s words, which were more eloquent and passionate by far than anything he has uttered to date, only to turn them around entirely in the most demeaning way possible. She is not a “very happy young girl.” She is an activist in the mold of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, notably spearheading last week’s nonviolent climate strike that drew four million protesters.
But the president has never been particularly good at facts, logic, or respect for other human beings; he leeches off the genuine pain of others for his own personal gain. So it is no real surprise that he ignored Monday’s UNDP report projecting a full three degrees of warming by the end of the century — twice the threshold set by the 2015 Paris Agreement — in favor of picking on a teenager like a neighborhood bully. Rather, it is damning evidence for the failure of the American Dream; instead of building a better future for posterity, President Trump and other leaders alternate between mocking and ignoring us.
On their watch the dream of a better tomorrow has faded across the board. Democracy is retreating across the globe. War without end ravages the Middle East. The fisheries are collapsing, the forests are vanishing. 90 percent of large fish stocks have been stolen from the sea, less than half of the jungles remain. Iran and Saudi Arabia beat the drums of war. Freedom House has chronicled 12 consecutive years of declining global freedom — including in the United States. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Yet this is no prelude to the Second Coming. No one is coming to dig us out of the hole humanity has dug; we’re all stuck on this planet together.
It is a beautiful world, this Earth of ours. I have hiked the trails of Glacier National Park and the arid Southwest, traversed the trackless lakes and portages of the Boundary Waters, witnessed the rosy sunset on the Tetons and the ruddy dawn on the Sangre de Cristos, been blinded by the brilliant glaciers of Greenland, fished Alaska’s icy streams and lakes, laid eyes on New Zealand’s foggy fjords. I have been egregiously lucky, treated to miracles for no greatness of my own.
Yet there is so much more to see! The roaring might of the Colorado crashing down through the rainbow-painted walls of the Grand Canyon, the sunless splendor of the uttermost oceanic abyss, the iceclad Himalyan roof of the world, the searing sands of the Sahara, the shadowed eaves of the Amazon — Earth, whose very name means “dirt,” is more beautiful than any Starry Night, more musical than any Ode to Joy, and more magical than any Harry Potter.
But you, O venerable ancestors whose wisdom we must honor and whose bills we must one day pay, you are destroying all of it. The Great Barrier Reef is best described as dead. Southern California is even less fit for human habitation than it was initially. The Amazon is still aflame. Entire countries will be underwater before the end of the century.
How dare you! How dare you rape the mother of us all and talk of “family values”! How dare you defile and destroy that which belongs neither to you nor to us nor to our children nor to our children’s children but to all humankind! How dare you give in like gluttonous pigs to your every base desire and accuse our spokesperson of being childish and overly emotional! How dare you!
Greta speaks for all of us. Her every word and turn of phrase rings true in our hearts like a billion resounding bells, save one — “we will never forgive you.” There I disagree; I say that we shall. If we somehow survive this mess we will forgive you for it all. We all obey the Christ you say you worship, we all follow the Allah you say is great, we all tread the Eightfold Path you say you walk. We do not judge; though oppressed, denied, abandoned, we will bear it all. “I repent” and “sorry” only ever helped the truly regretful anyway.
But if you find the will to right the wrongs you’ve wrought to make us better off — odd, how much that reads like the American Dream — then we have this to say:
We the children of the planet Earth believe that this species should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the next decade is out, of reducing emissions to zero and creating a free and fair society for all human beings — everywhere in the world.
She speaks for all of us. You would do well to listen.