Notes From the Margins…

Drill Baby Drill: Donald Trump’s Sociopathic Gaze

  • February 07, 2019
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There are many reasons why the rise of populist ethnonationalism and authoritarianism is bad news.   But one reason which tends to receive little attention is the impact of this phenomenon on the environment.

For some time now, we have become accustomed – too accustomed – to a relentless stream of alarming reports on the future of the planet.   Sometimes it comes in little snapshots.   It might be melting glaciers or rises in Carbon Dioxide emissions, such as the 2.7 percent rise in 2018.  It might be fires in Australia or polar vortexes in the US.

In June last year a Royal Academician photographed the Alpine glaciers photographed by John Ruskin more than 160 years ago and found ‘ a dark moraine-covered floor, almost completely devoid of ice.’

In the same year scientists found that the Gulf Stream current was at its weakest point in the past 1,600 years – a development which many scientists believe has been instrumental in causing the ‘severe weather events’ that we have been experiencing in recent years

At other times the predictions are so devastating that they are difficult to take in.  This week a report by the Hindu Kush Himalayan Assessment predicted that a third of Himalayan glaciers will be gone by 2100, thereby threatening the water security of 240 million people – repeat 240 million people.  In 2017, German researchers found an incredible 76 percent decline in flying insects in German nature reserves between 1989 and 2016.

The loss of biodiversity, and the ongoing loss of birds, mammals and insects that make up the ‘sixth extinction’, has until recently been obscured by global warming as a threat to our common survival, but it’s no less serious.

If this extraordinary decline in bug biomass continues it means that we will not be able to pollinate plants, aerate the soil or create top soil.   As one American scientist notes ‘ The whole fabric of our planet is built on plants and insects and the relationship between the two.’

Though research into ‘Insectageddon’ is still ongoing, the scientific consensus is that, like global warming, it is largely caused by human activity.  In short, we have a problem, or rather a whole series of massive looming problems that place the future of our civilization, and our own survival as a species, in jeopardy.

These problems ought to be the fundamental concern of governments right now.  They require urgent short-term and long-term international solutions on a whole host of issues including emissions reductions, climate change action and mitigation, protection of natural habitats and other related matters.

They require intergovernmental and inter-agency cooperation and sharing of resources and good practice; a root and branch transformation in energy and transportation systems, in farming methods, the use of land and food production.

What they do not need is a retreat behind armed ethnonationalist borders governed by selfish plutocrats and oligarchies whose sole interest is maintaining and increasing their wealth and power.  In a politically healthy world, in which the concept of the common good or even common sense had any meaning, this would be obvious.

But right now this is not the world we have.  Instead we have a world in which rumours of calamity, catastrophe and the collapse of civilization merely take their place in a 24-hour news cycle alongside gossip about the Kardashians – and the latter often get more attention.

It’s a world in which the urgency and scientific rigour required to stave off the worst-case scenarios that now haunt the 21st century are muted or neutralised by paid-up ‘climate change sceptics’  like James Delingpole and Brendan O’Neill, who dismiss such scenarios as some kind of anti-capitalist plot or an  irrational rejection of ‘modernity.

We really don’t have time for such nonsense, and we really don’t need Donald Trump to be president of the most powerful democracy on earth.

Trump, as everyone knows, but not enough people seem to care, is not just a ‘climate change sceptic’ but an outright denier, who has consistently brought his own unique brand of wisdom to the subject. Trump has also put his garbled thoughts into practice.  He has rolled out the red carpet to the energy industry.  He has pulled out of the Paris climate accord.

No sooner was he inaugurated than he released an ‘America First Energy Plan’ based almost entirely on fossil fuels.

In January last year, the US Ministry of the Interior announced plans to massively increase drilling in US waters in what Scientific American called ‘ the single largest expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing ever proposed by the federal government.’

These include plans to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – a home to grizzly bears, wolves, musk oxen and the Porcupine Caribou herd, and many other species that was declared a protected area by Dwight Eisenhower in 1960.

All this is intended to bring about what Trump calls ‘energy dominance.’  Trump has also refused to ratify the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, whose signatories pledged to at least half the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing and expand nature reserves from 10 % to 17 % of the earth  by 2020.

In his state of the union address this week, Trump bragged ‘ We have unleashed a revolution in American Energy – the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.’

In short, this is a president who is looking down at the world through a distinctly sociopathic lens.

And we need to see the back of him – and also of the politics that he represents, with its selfish national insularity, its reckless and insane greed, its glorification of trashy, insubstantial leaders, and its shameful refusal to face up to the threats to our common home.

Because if we can’t achieve this, we are going to be going down a very dark road and we won’t be leaving much of a world for those who inherit it.  Many people in rich countries, or people who happen to be rich in poorer countries, may follow the lead of the most powerful man in the world and turn a blind eye, and insulate themselves in their Mar-a-Lagos of the mind.

The rest of us really shouldn’t.



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  1. mike speirs

    7th Feb 2019 - 6:47 pm

    Thanks Matt. For some proposals to deal with the environmental mess that the planet has gotten into check out the references I mention in my little piece on “dreaming sustainability”: And although they don’t have much force as yet, it is good to see that the “green new dealers” are beginning to wake up in Americay!

    • Matt

      9th Feb 2019 - 9:40 am

      Thanks for these Mike. Really interesting links.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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