“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel There are Very Fine People on Both Sides)”

Shad Clark
Oct 12, 2018 · 6 min read
Photo: John McColgan

Disaster has a way of uniting people, or at least it used to. Think back to the response in New York and across the United States–even around the world–in the aftermath of 911. Think of the ways communities come together to shelter and feed displaced people and animals as wildfires rage with increasing frequency and breadth. Think of the response to the onslaught of one devastating hurricane after another, especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which razed Puerto Rico. Even the very President of Puerto Rico pitched in by chucking paper towels at people who’d lost their homes and access to potable water. “Clean up in isle of Puerto Rico!”

Photo: Ricardo Arduengo

Except, not really. There was no federal clean up and those token paper towels were more short-sighted photo op than quicker picker upper. To add injury to insult, the President of Puerto Rico (see also: President of the divided United States) falsely claimed that the final death toll was exaggerated as part of some vast liberal conspiracy to make him look bad. Him, of course, being Donald J. Trump, the little-rich-boy-who-could, thanks to his father’s coffers and a distended ego that keeps him from ever taking “No” for an answer. He can do anything. Whatever he wants. “Grab ’em by the pussy.” “Stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and [not] lose any voters.” He is the world’s most arrogant man.

Despite that, half(?) the United States seems to like the cut of his jib, mistaking his confidence for candor. Sure, Trump may speak his mind, but he’s an unreliable narrator in a story he makes up as he goes along, a story informed not by facts but by what he thinks his audience wants to hear. Whatever he says, he’s playing the crowd. And he loves crowds, which is why he continues to hold campaign rallies after taking office.

Not long ago, Trump claimed–without any facts or evidence–that climate change was a Chinese hoax. This, after recklessly conflating weather with climate again and again, making absurd assertions like “It’s freezing and snowing in New York–we need global warming!” He delivered that punchline back in 2012. In 2017 and 2018, New York was hit with disastrous floods one year after another. If/when the ice caps finish melting, and it’s more of a when at this point (barring any drastic measures), New York is destined to be permanently flooded, like a larger and more populated Venice, only with collapsed transit and sewage systems. This is but part of the doomsday scenario climate scientists have been warning everyone about for years. And now, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released an even more urgent warning that the climate is changing exponentially faster than previously projected. In short, we have but a decade to avert global catastrophe.


Despite all his own hot air, the Trump administration reached the same conclusion. Only instead of sounding the alarm, Trump’s team buried their findings in a 500-page environmental impact statement released without any bells or whistles. Whereas the IPCC attempts to temper the extremely bad news with a rallying cry for the nations and peoples of the world to unite while everyone still has a fighting chance, the Trump administration stance is this: It’s probably too late to do anything now, so why bother with fuel efficiency standards? In their 500-page environmental impact statement, any impact to the environment is shrugged off in favor of easing regulations on some of the very industries pumping greenhouse gases into the air. In short, and true to form, the Trump administration is looking out for those who will be least impacted: the rich and powerful.

Less explicitly stated is the admission that Trump has been lying to you over and over and over again. He’s told you again and again that climate change isn’t real, that it’s a Chinese hoax, that there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, let’s move along. And then one day, under his breath, he goes cough-cough-*you’re fucked*-cough, then clears his throat and changes the subject. Nothing to see here. Let’s move along. MAGA!

If you happen to be one of his supporters, this would be a good time to take a step back from toeing the party line and ask yourself a simple question:

Why am I not outraged?

To be clear, this end of the world scenario isn’t setting the stage for a single devastating incident like a terrorist attack or “natural” disaster. It won’t be over in an instant or in a matter of days. What we’ll face, if we do nothing except stay the course, is an onslaught of exponentially worsening conditions that result in mass suffering and mass extinction.

Think of all the extreme weather and environmental disasters we’ve been experiencing in recent years–droughts, wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes, flooding–and now imagine them on steroids and speed.

All the while, as warming oceans spin off hurricane after hurricane, surging flood after flood, the waters grow increasingly toxic and acidic, thanks to increased risks of algal blooms and rising pH levels.

While deadly algae is already killing fish and marine life, it’s the rising pH levels that will start to collapse oceanic ecosystems. It starts with the coral reefs “bleaching” (read: dying). As the coral dies, so do the fish. Smaller fish, then bigger fish, then dolphins, sea lions, whales, sharks, and so on.

As the oceans continue to warm and ice caps melt, low-lying areas become permanently flooded, overflowing sewage systems and the waste lagoons of factory farms. Soon, there’s water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

With great swathes of land submerged, with resources contaminated and increasingly scarce, with island and coastal populations forced to flee inland, with imminent overcrowding and competition for resources, with receding lands further affected by heat waves and drought, and with wildfire seasons that never end, ask yourself:

How long do you think any semblance of infrastructure and civility will last?

If you have children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, if you care about polar bears or whales, if you were planning to retire somewhere tropical or have parents preparing to retire somewhere tropical, if you have a shred of self-respect, now is the time to be outraged.

If any other U.S. leader, Democrat or otherwise, quietly admitted to a series of lies–a conspiracy–with disastrous consequences for everyone you know and love, you would be right to be angry. I’d be angry, too. But, here and now, we’re not dealing with a hypothetical Democrat and a hypothetical lie. We’re dealing with President Trump, and he has been lying to you over and over about climate change. Despite his reputation for telling it like it is, we can all plainly see here and now that Donald Trump isn’t so much a great leader as he is a great misleader.

Just as 911, any other terrorist attack or any disaster isn’t a partisan issue, neither is climate change. The science is clear–to climate scientists and to the Trump administration. To unite a nation or a world, we should never have to wait for disaster to strike. Here and now, there are only two sides to take: urgency or complacency.

There are not very fine people on both sides.