Time-traveling fifty years into the future, I wonder how my children and grand-children will look back upon what transpired on November 9, 2016 – the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States. At this moment, my friends and I are caught up in daily outrage. But perhaps something is needed that might be reflected upon, as if from an over-arching perspective of history. What will future generations make of this? Long after Donald Trump (and I) have left this earthly plain, what will this president’s legacy be? Who will remain accountable for what was foisted upon our young people and the yet-unborn?
I can envision many future scenarios, none of them pleasant. In my mind’s eye, sometimes in my dream-life, I see fires blazing and floods raging….coastal cities inundated by sea-level rise and populations fleeing for high ground….millennial-frozen tundra oozing methane into an unthinkably unpredictable atmosphere….oceans so acidified that sea life cannot sustain itself….temperatures so hot in many places rendered uninhabitable for human and beast….temperatures so cold in other places, that one longs for the Arctic of the not-so-long-ago before the ice melted and the polar bears vanished.
Shortly before the fateful election of 2016, I finished writing a book titled Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Its sub-title: The Men Who Are Destroying Life on Earth – And How They Explain Themselves. I wanted the book to be an exposé, but did not expect it to be prophetic. Suddenly, however, each cabinet appointment by the incoming Trump administration mirrored the titans of energy profiled in the book. Suddenly, these men had actually reached the pinnacle of power. The original four horsemen were often categorized as representing war, famine, pestilence and death. Those metaphors no longer seemed biblically distant. They had been “born again.”
It was then I decided to start writing this blog, to document what the Trump administration is doing to our planet. A daily chronicle that might be read fifty years from now, as a study in how civilization reached a tipping point, one that might have been averted had not self-interest, greed, and denial been given free rein. A daily chronicle, too, that tells the stories of those who came together to fight for life, rather than give in to the dark forces that would inundate us all. For there are many, in these times that try men’s souls.
As a journalist who began writing about the changing climate and other environmental issues more than three decades ago, I’ve borne witness to the good, the bad and the ugly. There have been remarkable success stories in which I’ve participated as both writer and activist – the Atlantic striped bass coming back from the brink of extinction, the nursery habitat of the California gray whales preserved from an industrial salt factory, the stopping of a nuclear waste dump in rural Kansas and of a massive coastal development in Baja Mexico. Each of these was the result of people power, of a grassroots upwelling where the spirit of place and the beauty of another species overcame the avarice that otherwise would predominate.
And there have been many more inspiring moments, the latest of which was the remarkable coming-together at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Thousands of people from all across the country, and all walks of life, arrived in the bone-chilling early winter to stand against a billion-dollar oil pipeline. On the Sunday when 4,000 veterans of America’s wars showed up to form a human chain against the water cannons of the governmental authorities, the Army Corps of Engineers declared a halt to the project pending an assessment of the potential environmental damage.
It was a desperate act by the defenders at Standing Rock, summoned out of what was otherwise despair. Can it continue to happen? Or will the horsemen lead us down the path into oblivion?
History will not absolve us. That much I know, though the chronicle remains to unfold.