Today, President Donald Trump announced that America would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. It is a decision with potentially catastrophic consequences for future generations. With America officially pulling out of the deal, other major polluters might decide there’s little reason to persist with the painful work of hitting their emissions targets, much less making those targets more ambitious.
The world is currently on track for catastrophic levels of global warming. Destroying one of our last best chances to set a different path might prove Trump’s most consequential, and disastrous, legacy.
If it does, historians living in the altered climate of 2050 will look back on the 2016 campaign in horror. As they read the coverage, they will find a polity that knew of the danger and importance of climate change, but preferred to talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails instead. Indeed, as Media Matters documents, there was less coverage of climate change in the 2016 election than in the 2014, 2012, or 2010 elections:
Trump's exit from Paris agreement underscores the media’s catastrophic 2016 climate change coverage failure https://t.co/TFuz6TwOaF pic.twitter.com/1LJ1ULZppG— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) June 1, 2017
Meanwhile, networks’ flagship news shows devoted more coverage to Clinton’s emails than to every policy issue combined:
This is one of those moments when you realize maybe we aren’t the heroes of the story. We often look back on past generations and wonder about their cruelty, their blithe dismissal of actions that seems to us, now, to be obviously moral, obviously right.
But imagine how future generations will look back on us. We knew all we needed to know about how climate change would likely affect our descendants, and we decided to let it happen anyway. And what will our excuse be? We were distracted? Doing enough would’ve been inconvenient? We decided to elect a president who thought climate change was a Chinese hoax because he seemed ready to “shake things up”?
“But what about her emails?” is a funny joke on Twitter, but it’s not going to be so funny as future generations realize it’s literally what happened. Our grandchildren will not judge us kindly.