The Universal Notebook: Trump and doom

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On good days I make myself believe that if there is an overwhelming rejection of President Donald Trump and his politics of hate and division on Nov. 3, we can still put the United States back on a course with a future.

Most days, however, I’m afraid it’s already too late.

The other night, we watched Richard Attenborough’s cautionary documentary “Life on Our Planet” and the 93-year-old elder of the tribe laid out in detail how we sorry humans have been destroying the planet just during his lifetime.

In 1937, when Attenborough was 11 years old, there were just 2.3 billion people on Earth and 66 percent of the world’s wilderness still remained. Today, there are 7.8 billion human beings and only 35 percent of the world’s wilderness remains. No wonder greenhouse gases have shot up, the ice caps are melting, the oceans are acidified, sea level is rising, biodiversity is being lost and we are on the verge of a massive extinction.

Let’s hope homo sapiens is not one of the species we lose. Or maybe we should hope it is.  

Whatever happened to Zero Population Growth? No one talks about overpopulation these days. Of course, that is the problem. But it’s hard to believe in overpopulation when you live in a heavily forested, sparsely populated place like Maine.

The ever-hopeful Attenborough tells us we can still save the planet by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as solar power and by preserving rainforests and marine ecosystems. I doubt it. For the past four years, we have been going in the exactly wrong direction.

The Trump administration’s environmental policies are a recipe for disaster. Old King Coal Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accords, turning America from an environmental leader into a backsliding loser. He has rolled back hundreds of environmental rules and regulations to make it easier for corporate polluters like oil, gas, and coal companies to rape the land and foul the air. He has gutted the Endangered Species Act and reversed limitations on commercial fishing in federal protected marine reserves.

I have seen short-sighted Maine fishermen praising Trump for opening marine preserves to fishing, but they will be the big losers in the long run when the species they fish disappear. No, strike that. We will all be the biggest losers.

I admit I have a tendency to blame Trump and his knuckle-dragging, flag-waving MAGA mobs for everything that is wrong in this country. They are the worst of America, but when I am brutally honest with myself I have to admit that all of us are to blame. We all live unsustainable lives.

We are all too dependent on fossil fuels, we own too many vehicles, we expect to eat fresh produce in the middle of winter, and we fly all over the skies unnecessarily.

I keep thinking the silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic may be airlines going out of business and the cruise ship industry collapsing. There are few things worse for the environment than air travel.

Trump’s greatest crime has been his refusal to take climate change seriously as the existential threat it is. The damage may already have been irreversible, but the Trump presidency destroyed any hope we might have had of turning things around. Like Nero, Trump fiddles while our country burns. 

Perhaps, as a buddy of mine insists, we got the president we deserved, a man who is the apotheosis of wretched excess, greed, and selfishness. But if we reelect him, we really are doomed.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix, where he also writes the monthly Art Seen feature.