Trump, GOP Sacrifice Our Climate Future

Friday

With Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the international climate agreement, I’m reposting an essay I wrote on Russell Hoban’s brilliant dystopian work Riddley Walker when the talks were underway. I discussed then how the greed of the present generation threatens to condemn our descendants to climate hell. Thanks to Trump and the GOP—including those so-called moderates who aren’t willing to stand up to the rightwing fringe—the likelihood of a dismal future has just gone up.

At the end of the essay I provide an annotated list of all the essays I’ve posted about climate change and climate change denialism over the past eight years.

Climate Inaction Will Lead to Dystopia
Reprinted from December 2, 2015

Representatives from most of the world’s countries are currently meeting in Paris to face what they all acknowledge to be one of the greatest crises ever to confront humankind. The challenges of working together are daunting but at least everyone is admitting that climate change is a problem. Everyone, that is, except for the GOP.

Actually, according to conservative New York Times David Brooks, even many Republicans think that humans are causing the planet to warm up. But because the rightwing has hijacked their party, they feel they can’t admit it. As Brooks puts it,

[O]n this issue the G.O.P. has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship — a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.

I’ve written on climate change denialism a number of times (see the links at the end of this essay) because I find it appalling. How can anyone be willing to sacrifice our children and grandchildren on the altar of political expediency.

The U.S. military is among many declaring that, because of a warming earth, we face the prospect of a dystopian future, which makes Russell Hoban’s science fiction classic Riddley Walker a good work to turn to. To be sure, Hoban’s novel is about world that has been been devastated by nuclear war, not by climate change. The passage that catches my eye, however, is the story of a couple who sacrifice their child for their present convenience. This is what anyone who stands in the way of reducing carbon emissions is doing.

Riddley Walker is a challenging novel because it engages in language play similar to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange. With a little patience, however, one can understand what is being said with a little patience, and then the novel’s nightmare vision becomes clear.

The time is 2000 years into the future. Because of an atomic Armageddon, the world has descended into a new iron age. (Riddley Walker is like Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in this regard.) Riddley becomes a wanderer and seer (hence his name) who learns that the authorities are seeking to rediscover the secret of gun powder and the atom bomb. The passage I have in mind is one of the origin stories that has arisen in the centuries since the nuclear cataclysm. The fable, which seeks to explain why the world is as it is, demonstrates how selfishness led to disaster. It applies to our own circumstances only too well:

There come a man and a woman and a child out of a berning town they shelter in the woodlings and foraging the bes they cud. Starveling were what they were doing. Dint have no weapons nor dint know how to make a snare not nothing. Snow on the groun and a grey sky overing and the black trees rubbing ther branches in the wind. Crows calling 1 to a nother waiting for the 3 of them to drop…

The child said, “O Im so col Im afeart Im going to dy. If only we had a little fire to get warm at.”

The man dint have no way to making a fire he dint have no flint and steal nor nothing. Wood all roun them only there weren’t no way he knowit of getting warm from it.

The 3 of them ready for Aunty [Death] they wer ready to total and done when there come thru the woodlings a clever looking bloak and singing a little song to his self.

“Cleverness” is looked upon with suspicion in this world since it has led to the atom bomb. (The same suspicion exists in Canticle for Leibowitz and, for that matter, existed amongst Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, who executed people who wore glasses.) For our purposes, Clevver stands for the technological prowess that had led to climate change. He offers the family fire but demands something in return:

The clever looking bloak said, “That for you and what for me?”

The man and the woman said, “What do we have for whatfers?” They lookit 1 to the other and boath at the child.

The clever looking bloak said, “Iwl tel you what Iwl do Iwl share you my fire and my cook pot of youwl share me what to put in the pot.” He wer looking at the child.

The man and the woman thot: 2 out of 3 a live is bettern 3 dead. They said, ‘Done.’

They kilt the child and drunk its blood and cut up the meat for cooking.

The clever looking bloak said, “Iwl show you how to make fire plus Iwl give you flint and steal and makings nor you don’t have to share me nothing of the meat only the hart.

The clever man then predicts that, essentially, the old technology will one day return. The man and woman, meanwhile, pay a price for their decision:

The man and the woman then eating ther child it wer black nite all roun them they made ther fire bigger and bigger trying to keap the black from moving in on them. They fel a sleap by ther fire and the fire biggering on it et them up they bernt to death.

We’re not living in a post-apocalyptic world yet, but we’re on the way there. Are we willing to eat our children—or at least the resources they will need to live on—just so we can hold on to our accustomed life style? If we do so, the shadows of black night will move in on us and any number of people will be “bernt to death.”

 

Past posts on climate change and climate change denialism

In January 2016, I compiled a list of posts I’ve written over the years about literature that casts light upon issues raised by climate change. Here they are, along with a number of additions written since then:

Many of my posts have been about climate change denial. For instance:

Climate Change, Fairies Fighting  – Shakespeare saw England undergo an extreme weather event in the 1590s with the mini-ice age and in Midsummer Night’s Dream let’s us know what we can expect—which is to say, the extreme weather events that we are beginning to experience with increasing frequency.

Civil War Battle, Image of Climate Change Denial  – Ambrose Bierce’s haunting story “Chickamauga” works as a perfect parable for climate change denialism.

Climate Scientists, Our Cassandras  – Aeschylus and Robinson Jeffers, in their depictions of the prophetess Cassandra, help us understand why people aren’t willing to undertake measures to stave off future disasters.

Donne’s Warning about Climate Change – Donne mentions the movement of the spheres in his poem “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” but they are distant, and he makes the important point that we only see the effects of nature that occur right before our eyes, not the larger patterns. Think of Senator James Inhofe bringing a snowball to the Senate to disprove global warming.

Tolstoy and Climate Change Denial – We can see that climate change denialists follow in the footsteps of the Moscow aristocrats in War and Peace, who can’t believe that Napoleon will take the city.

Out of Denial and into Responsibility – Jack Burden in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men gives us a great description of the philosophy of denial, which he calls “idealism.” By the end of the novel, fortunately, he decides to face up to reality.

Obama: A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall – Poet Henry Vaughan decries fools who “prefer dark night before true light,” and Alexander Pope in The Dunciad goes after the dunces who turn their backs on science, intelligence, and logic.

GOP Denies a Giant Problem – For another instance of denial, it is hard to top Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputians, who refuse to believe that other men like Gulliver could exist. Their philosophers conclude that he must have dropped from the moon.

Haiyan, Climate Change, and King Lear – King Lear also closes his eyes to the family and political storms  that he has triggered. His most trustworthy counselor advises him to “See better, Lear,” thereby earning banishment.

When American Fantasies Are Dangerous – In American Gods, Neil Gaiman gives us a great example of denial: southern slave owners refuse to acknowledge that there has been a successful slave rebellion in Haiti.

Melville and Climate Change Denial – Another instance of slave society denial occurs with Captain Delano in Melville’s fine novella Benito Cereno refusing to see the rebellion going on right before his eyes..

Some write about the grim future ahead:

Atwood vs. Unregulated Capitalism – in MaddAam, the third novel of her dystopian trilogy, Margaret Atwood shows us the dangers of unregulated capitalism.

Atwood Predicts the Fire Next Time – In her short story “Torch the Dusties,” Margaret Awood predicts generational anger against those currently squandering our resources.

Our Children Will Reproach Us  – T.S. Eliot and Lucille Clifton imagine how the future will blame us for inaction.

Climate Action Will Lead to Dystopia – Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker is about nuclear holocaust, not climate change, but it captures the same disregard and contempt for future generations that climate denialists are exhibiting.

Hydrocarbons Unleash an Angry God – Euripides’s The Bacchae shows how nature responds when we try to impose our will upon it. The control freak King Pentheus is torn apart at the order of Dionysus.

This Is the Way the World Ends – Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” sounds as though it was written for climate change. Will the world end in fire or ice? How about both?

Will Californians Become the New Okies? – The droughts that climate change is visiting upon California (not to mention other parts of the world) bring to mind the ecological nightmare described by John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath.

 The Mariner’s Advice to College Students – Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner can be read as an ecological parable—the arrogance that the mariner exhibits by shooting the albatross unleashes “life in death” upon the world.

The GOP Descend into Poe’s Maelstrom – The GOP these days is taking us into a version of Poe’s nightmarish whirlpool.

Some authors provide useful advice for climate activists:

Calling Out Trump’s Assault on Nature – Few works of literature are more relevant to climate activists than Euripides’s The Bacchae. We are reminded that, when we respect Nature, Nature responds in kind.

Despite Trump, “The Land Holds Us Still” – Terry Tempest Williams and Zadie Smith remind us of the spiritual resources we have to battle Trumpism.

“Enemy of the People,” Badge of Honor – Ibsen’s principled doctor is a model for those resisting Trump’s and the GOP’s determination to trash the planet.

How the Future Will Judge Us for Trump – A Jane Hirshfield poem calls us to resist.

To Save the Planet, Scientists Must Protest – This essay on Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, the second of two, looks at what keeps scientists from getting politically involved. Kingsolver makes it clear that they no longer have that luxury.

 Neil Gaiman and the Pipeline Protests – Gaiman’s American Gods show us that our spiritual heritage lies with the Native Americans and shows the protagonist tapping into their gods to defeat the forces of modernity.

Kingsolver Tries to Save the Planet – Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior directly takes on the issue of climate change as it shows disruptions in the migratory patterns of monarch butterflies. Most usefully, Kingsolver shows various constituencies that must learn to talk to each other if we are to address the issues.

Being Right on the Climate Is Not Enough – Along these lines, Ibsen’s Enemy of the People has important lessons for climate activists: if you want to change people’s minds, avoid self-righteousness.

Climate Change: Signs of Witchery – Leslie Marmon Silko, a Laguna Pueblo writer, vividly captures environmental devastation in her novel Ceremony but also has her protagonist discover a healthier way of living in the world.

Climate Hope Shines in Dark Times – Madeleine L’Engel has a wonderful Advent poem that I shared after the world gathered in Paris this past December to combat climate change. Despite the grim forecasts, we experienced a glimmer of hope.

And finally, if you are in the mood for light verse about the environment, here are a number of poems by my father, a deep lover of nature:

An ABC of Our Attack on the Earth

The River’s Blood Turned to Stone

The Animals Are Trying to Warn Us

The Koch Brothers: Oligarchs of Oil and Ordure 

An ABC of Our Attack on the Earth

The California Drought: The Rivers of Blood Turned to Stone

The Animals Are Trying to Warn Us

The Koch Brothers: Oligarchs of Order and Ordure

Letters from Mrs. Santa Claus

Everyperson’s Environmental E-Car

An Environmentalist’s Revenge Fantasy

Mama Grizzly (Sarah Palin) vs. the Real Grizzlies

 

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