Anecdotal Evidence .

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Is Global Warming Trump's Vietnam War?

The selection of Scott Pruitt, reportedly an outspoken climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, could become for Donald Trump what the Vietnam War became for Lyndon Johnson. I expect the current generation of teens and twenties will eventually respond to the increasing threat to the planet they live on that is posed by global warming, and to Pruitt’s apparent sense that nothing needs to be done about it, in the same way and with the same enthusiasm, even ferocity, as the sixties generation responded to the Vietnam War. Here’s why I think so:
       I was a graduate student at Columbia University in the mid-sixties, and evidence of opposition to the war in Vietnam was everywhere on campus and beyond, and it was heated: posters, speeches, meetings, sit-ins, marches. At the invasion of Iraq and in the years following, I lived in Orono, Maine, a couple of blocks from the University of Maine campus. I never saw or heard any evidence whatsoever of opposition to the invasion or to the war. (That's not quite true: There was one home on Main Street whose lawn evolved into a war memorial with crosses marking those killed in action, sadly updated regularly.)
        Why the difference? In a word, the draft.
       In retrospect, it is apparent to me that the sixties’ chant “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today?” was, to be sure, partly about Vietnamese babies, but mostly it was about ourselves. What was really driving my generation was fear for our own lives, and so what we really meant was, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many of us have you killed today?” The war in Vietnam was personal because we were subject to the draft, subject to becoming one of the 58,220 being killed in action. And we knew it. On the other hand, the war in Iraq was not, is not, personal (except to those who choose to serve). Surely just as many babies died from “Shock and Awe” and are dying in its continuing, endless aftermath, but no one chants about them, no teens and twenties are marching in the streets. Because there is no draft.
        What has that to do with Scott Pruitt and the EPA? Global climate change is an existential threat to the planet, the planet today's teens and twenties live on, and expect to live on for the rest of their lives. That means it is an existential threat to them, just as the draft was to us. It is real. It will not go away by itself; left alone, Global warming! it will only get worse. There are no student deferments this time, and there are no other planets to move to. Everyone is at risk, everyone everywhere in every country. We are all 1-A. When today’s teens and twenties become truly aware of the enormity of the threat, and of the inevitable and inescapable impact on the planet and on their lives of Scott Pruitt’s denial of the threat, a latter day SDS or SNCC will appear, a movement will evolve, and the rest will follow. I expect protests to spring up on campuses and spill over into streets across the nation, eventually with the same enthusiasm and ferocity as the anti-war protests of the sixties.
        Lest skeptics take comfort in Occupy Wall Street’s failure to take root, I suggest this movement will be different, more tenacious than the Occupy movement, precisely because this issue will have what Occupy lacked, an appeal that is directly and personally and immediately relevant to every protester, even to everyone on the planet: survival. This issue is as personal, as visceral, and as potentially powerful – indeed, perhaps even more so, as the sixties draft.
       So, over time, just as Lyndon Johnson became the personification of the war in Vietnam and its victim, Donald Trump could become the personification and the victim of climate change denial.
        “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today?” could reincarnate as “Hey, hey, Donald J., how much warmer is the world today!”

Thanks to for the flames and to NASA for the globe.