I’m hardly going out on a limb with the prediction that the next few years will be tumultuous. A manifestly unqualified candidate who lagged the “loser” by nearly 3 million votes will occupy the Oval Office, and he has sent daily signals that he intends to dismantle important institutions of American government and pursue policies that most of us will bitterly oppose.
Our government hasn’t been working properly for some time; hopefully, once the fever breaks–assuming our utterly clueless “Commander in Chief” hasn’t destroyed us all in a nuclear war– this unfortunate election is likely to precipitate a crisis that will force us to make long-needed repairs to our civic infrastructure.
Of course, in the interim, if Trump and the Republican Congress follow through on their threats to shred the social safety net, a lot of people are likely to suffer and die before the damage can be undone.
The two biggest dangers we face under a mentally unstable President and a cabinet filled with know-nothings, however, will not be “fixable” at some saner future time. One is the prospect that Trump actually will use nuclear weapons in response to some provocation; the other is that his administration will set back efforts to abate climate change until it is too late to ameliorate much of the damage.
I understand climate change denial from people like the Koch brothers, whose economic interests are tied to fossil fuels. I’m at a loss to understand the success of their cynical disinformation campaign with people who should know better.
In a 1946 essay, George Orwell wrote that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” It’s not just that we’re easily misled. It’s that, by “impudently twisting the facts,” we can convince ourselves of “things which we know to be untrue.” A whole society, he wrote, can deceive itself “for an indefinite time,” and the only check on that mass delusion is that “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality.” Science is one source of that solid reality. The Trump Administration seems determined to keep it at bay, and the consequences for society and the environment will be profound.
Case in point: Myron Ebell–who heads the EPA transition team.
In the aughts, as a director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, he worked to kill a cap-and-trade bill proposed by Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman; in 2012, when the conservative American Enterprise Institute held a meeting about the economics of a possible carbon tax, he asked donors to defund it. It’s possible, of course, to oppose cap-and-trade or carbon taxes in good faith—and yet, in recent years, Ebell’s work has come to center on lies about science and scientists. Today, as the leader of the Cooler Heads Coalition, an anti-climate-science group, Ebell denies the veracity and methodology of science itself. He dismisses complex computer models that have been developed by hundreds of researchers by saying that they “don’t even pass the laugh test.” If Ebell’s methods seem similar to those used by the tobacco industry to deny the adverse health effects of smoking in the nineteen-nineties, that’s because he worked as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry.
When Ebell’s appointment was announced, Jeremy Symons, of the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “I got a sick feeling in my gut. . . . I can’t believe we got to the point when someone who is as unqualified and intellectually dishonest as Myron Ebell has been put in a position of trust for the future of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we are going to leave our kids.”
We can eventually fix the damage a Betsy DeVos will do to public education; we can (probably) repair the damage to civil rights likely to be done by Jeff Sessions, and the sorts of unfortunate measures likely to be taken by others in the cast of inexperienced and unqualified characters being nominated for cabinet positions.
But if major portions of the earth become uninhabitable–and millions of people die or are forced to migrate as a result–a return to sanity and respect for science and “solid reality” will come too late to repair the damage.
As someone once said, elections have consequences.
Tomorrow is Christmas; I’ll try to be more cheerful….