Don’t Climate Change Deniers Love Their Children, Too?

Climate Rally, United States Supreme Court
Climate Rally, United States Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. (September 18, 2019)
Credit: Tom Hall

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg inspires youth-led global climate strike, warns United Nations Summit delegates if they fail to act “We will never forgive you!”

This past week, following the arrival of 16-year old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, it may be helpful to recall, with a slight paraphrase, the words of Sting’s prescient 1985 song about the Russians: “What might save us, me and you, is if the Climate-Deniers love their children too.”

It’s helpful because the answer is so obvious: Of course, they do.

And wherever Greta goes that truth is being put to the test. At the White House, at the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, in New York’s Battery Park, and Monday at the United Nations, this teenager—called by many a modern-day Joan of Arc—has elevated the irrational failure of the Trump Administration and its minions in Congress to respond to the central issue of our time. They have failed to acknowledge basic common sense, informed by an overwhelming scientific consensus, about the necessity of responding to the apocalyptic threat that climate change poses for life on Earth as we know it—about the need to act, if not for ourselves, then for the children we love and theirs.

Around the world, at Friday’s climate strike rallies inspired by Greta, children called their parents’ generation to account for inaction in the face of the accelerating juggernaut of increasingly intense storms, rising temperatures, sea level rise and ocean acidification, social and economic dislocation, and escalating health risks.

Climate Strike March, Downtown Los Angeles
Climate Strike March, Downtown Los Angeles (September 20, 2019)
Credit: Joel Reynolds

They have refused, in other words, to protect their own children—to protect them by acting to contain the use of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gasses that threaten a nightmarish future whose imminence seems only to grow closer and more urgent with every succeeding United Nations scientific report, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report—released just this morning—on the dire state of the planet’s oceans and ice.

The mystery is “why”—why is our Republican-led federal government relentlessly oblivious in the face of so much scientific evidence to the contrary? Why do 80 percent of Republicans, according to recent polls, still approve the performance of a notorious climate denier—a President that has prioritized as a central element of his anti-environmental agenda the withdrawal of the United States from the 2016 Paris climate accord, making this country a global minority of one?

It may be the same impulse of powerlessness that led my own father, when my five brothers and sisters and I were growing up in the smoggiest city in the country—Riverside, California—to dismiss the unhealthy air quality as “just a mixture of smoke and fog.” Perhaps the scope of the problem overwhelmed his characteristic good sense, but the truth is that he never doubted the need for the federal Clean Air Act to address the problem—and it has. Ironically, just last week, in its latest mindless anti-environmental attack, the Trump Administration announced its decision to deny California the very air pollution control authority that enabled that progress over the past 50 years.

Even if Trump’s failures can be fairly dismissed as the product of an emotionally disturbed and intellectually challenged misanthrope in the wrong job at the wrong time, it is undeniable that Republican leaders in Congress have been cowed, unresponsive, and steadfastly unwilling to fight the Trump Administration on its hostility to any mention of climate change—much less action to address it—with the future of their own children on the line. What will it take to bring them to their senses?

With yet another climate-related disaster playing out in Texas last week—the latest case of severe flooding, after the region and its residents saw a torrent of almost 4 feet of rainfall in one day—this mindlessly myopic denial of their own children’s best interests may ultimately be recorded as the greatest failure of a single generation in human history.

“Greta” poster, painted by Ellen Reynolds Hall
“Greta” poster, painted by Ellen Reynolds Hall
Credit: Joel Reynolds

Meanwhile, in the starkest of contrasts, young Greta Thunberg has sparked an awakening of young people all over the world demanding action.

At the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week in New York, Greta excoriated the international delegates, warning that “we will never forgive you” for failing to meet the challenge. With the glaring absence of the United States from this latest chapter in international response, history will once again record the moral bankruptcy of the Trump Administration and its cowardly band of collaborators in Congress, more concerned about maintaining the status quo of campaign contributions from corporate polluters than joining in the fight for the future of their own children.

Greta Thunberg and the children’s movement she has come to represent are right that the time is now for action—not for excuses, for platitudes, for promises, or for thanks. It is time for this Trump-led cabal of climate deniers to decide whether the love they unquestionably feel for their children truly is strong enough “to save us, me and you.”


Artist and Activist Ellen Reynolds Hall, Washington, D.C. (September 18, 2019)
Credit: Tom Hall

Special thanks to artist Ellen Reynolds Hall for her generosity and activism in permitting use here of her powerful poster painting “Greta,” prominently featured this past week around the globe in news reports by Agence France Presse, FOX News, The Guardian, CNN, and many others, from The Hindu Times to the Las Cruces Sun-News.