In the moment it became clear that the most powerful office in the world was going to a man who knew and cared little about climate change, I left an election party that suddenly felt more like a wake. My impulse was to be alone, to look at the moon that seemed to glow especially brightly that night, and to think about the people and things I love.
In the month or so that has passed since then, many of us have felt, as the late night comedian Samantha Bee so aptly put it, like Rocky – not when he was triumphantly running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but when he was being brutally knocked about the ring. Every day’s news has seemed both awful and unreal.
To 99 percent of the world’s experts, the consensus is clear: We are at the eleventh hour in the climate crisis. (Tweet this) To avoid the most cataclysmic impacts for our children and children’s children, we must take urgent, collective, bold action to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels. And, in recent years, we have finally begun doing that. Globally, we have been waking up, coming together, showing ourselves willing to act.
How could America now elect a president who doesn’t get it? Worse, who has since named to his cabinet people who seem deliberately chosen to dismantle the needed climate protections:
- For Secretary of the EPA: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt who has spent much of his career fighting the EPA.
- For Secretary of the Department of Energy: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry who has said he would demolish it.
- For Secretary of the Department of Interior: U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke who has not only questioned the urgency of climate action but whether human behavior contributes to climate change.
- And as if to add the greatest insult to injury: For Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions in the world.
Beneath the Sleight of Hand
All of this would be comic, for its obvious power grab by a billionaire who claimed to speak for Americans desperate for decent-paying jobs — if it were not so serious. Yes, the new President-elect is brilliant with sleight-of-hand distractions: Ivanka’s alleged interest in climate change to meeting with Al Gore. But make no mistake: We are witnessing a brazen assault on the science and, more fundamentally, the reality of climate change.
This is happening despite the fact that most nations have committed to take climate action; most Americans want the government to take climate action; and hundreds of leading businesses (outside the fossil fuel industry) recognize climate action as necessary because the alternative comes with too heavy a price tag.
All of this, like the sudden broadside attacks on so many other fronts in our nation, has left me swimming in a turbulent sea of confusion, depression, fear, anger, and hope for a miracle, for a chance to wake from what seems like a very bad dream. In large part, it has felt paralyzing. Almost everyone I know has felt this way.
Beyond the Shock and Confusion
But it’s time for us to emerge from our shock and confusion. It is time, I believe, for the majority of Americans to now face and engage their anger. Not fear. Not hope. Not this time. But anger.
As someone who has spent much of my life in uncomfortable relationship to other people’s anger, I hasten to add: I do not advocate lashing out at the President-elect or his supporters. To feel angry is not to act in ways we abhor. There is, or should be, a pause between feeling angry and acting on the information it gives us.
And that critical pause has shown me that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the President-elect’s disregard for truth, public opinion, equality, civil society, and the moral imperative of climate action in America is dead wrong and must be resisted.
We must never forget: The majority of Americans did not vote for the President-elect. We are the dominant culture in this country. And, as parents, we must stand up for what is right as we never have before. For the natural world and the 7.4 billion humans who depend upon it, especially children. For racial, ethnic, gender, and economic justice. For Muslims, Mexicans, and good people being targeted by hatred and prejudice. For the America we know and love.
How we do this, as individuals and a society, may not yet be apparent. But it will become so — as long as we don’t disregard the truth of what we feel right now, and of what we truly believe in. Holding our breath, averting our eyes, distracting ourselves through one means or another would only surrender our children’s future, and the future of this planet, to the bullies of the world. And that, especially now, we cannot do.