Imagine, if you will, a futuristic school history lesson that captures our historical moment tonight. Children are reading from interactive textbooks where a rising line graph of carbon dioxide parts per million is plotted against increasing temperature. As our own descendants’ eyes track along the graph, dynamic illustrations pop up from the industrial revolution, through to you wrestling control of the world’s thermostat this very evening and reneging on your country’s agreement to curb global warming to 1.5°C.
“What will happen,” the world weary teacher will then ask the class “if you alter the temperature in which plants, humans and ecosystems have evolved over millenia?”
“Change will happen?” some child will venture.
“Yes, please swipe to the next page to see how” and our children will gasp at your decision tonight, in the same way we did when we were children, and turned pages on Apartheid, the slave trade and the Roman Colosseum.
Now Mr Trump, forgive me if it seems I am catastrophizing. I wouldn’t want to alarm, or test your patience for too long. Allow me graciously if you will, to back up. To the history you and I already know.
In 1899, the commissioner of the US patent office, Charles H. Duell, famously declared, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” A childishly blunderous statement in hindsight, we can both agree. The unforeseen advances of private air travel and instant Tweets were not yet even the tropes of the most fantastical fiction.
And yet, and this is the real stinger Mr Trump, Duell really thought he knew what he was talking about. In the fifty years the commissioner had lived, he had already seen the invention of American football, the internal combustion engine and the solar cell. He had also seen the abolition of slavery: your country split into two as the people of the Confederate States fought for their right to keep three million Africans and their descendants in captivity. Wrongs had seemingly been righted. A steady way of life had seemingly been established. To paraphrase Duell, “everything that could be thought, had already been thought.”
Are you still there Mr Trump? I put it to you Mr President that in order we avoid the same fate as Duell, we surely must be open to the idea that societies exist in a state of constantly shifting status quo, where our present values may one day seem reprehensible. Where once the Romans sipped fermented grapes, watched gladiatorial flesh being torn in a ring and congratulated themselves on such wholesome good living; the new standard by which today’s society and world leaders will soon be judged is in their response to global climate change.
There’s an elephant in our atmosphere Mr Trump. Its silence is fed by ignorance, apathy and the sound bites of pay-rolled climate change deniers who compete to scream the loudest in your ear that nothing, in fact, is going on at all.
When however the ebbs and flows of ice ages fail to provide an answer Mr Trump; when the carbon that had always previously been stored underground has been released; when the damage is irrevocable and your reneging on the Paris Climate Agreement tonight has warmed our planet catastrophically by more than 2°C – the rent-a-quote pseudo scientists will have long since changed the signs on their door. And then Mr Trump you will be alone. Then the new history books will start to be written.
The entry you created tonight Mr Trump will come just after the abolition of bear baiting, emancipation and the triumph of gay marriage.
In class one day, in the not too distant future and I hope long before you are dead – this question will come Mr Trump.
“Miss – How did this man not realise he had got it so wrong?”
A teacher, an environmentalist, an aggrieved human being