I post something to this site roughly once a month, and for the most part I try to keep those posts light, you know, something sexy and hilarious, just like me. Sometimes however, I feel compelled to drop some real talk instead. This is one of those times.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy, France by allied forces in WWII. This is a day remembered for the bravery and sacrifice of American and Allied soldiers, who stormed the beaches of Normandy against a fortified German army. Their attack is remembered, not just because it was a dramatic and bold large scale assault against an entrenched foe, but because it was also a message. It was a message sent around the world that we and our allies would no longer stand idly by in the face of fascism, tyranny, and oppression. This assault, not through luck, but through grit, determination, and the mutual support of the USA and her allies working together toward a common cause was a turning point in the War, and the beginning of the end for the obscenely inhumane Third Reich. It was also the point where the United States really began asserting themselves as a Super Power, one ostensibly dedicated to being the “good guys.”
D-Day is always extra poignant for me because it is also the anniversary of my father’s much more recent passing, so around this time of year I often find myself introspectively contemplating mortality and death.
Now, being exposed to death at a young age, both from my father’s passing as well as from an inordinate amount of friends who have also died far too young in far too undignified manners, I have long since come to terms with it emotionally, but still wrestle with its implications philosophically.
My father was, by all accounts a brilliant, hilarious, larger than life individual, but he was killed when I was so young that he’s never been more than a shadow to me. My memories of him are so limited that he was never a real presence in my life. His influence for me was really only noted as an absence in the lives of those around me whom he used to touch. Tragically, as the years go by, that sphere of influence inevitably shrinks. People forget him, people die, his footprint in the world fades. His legacy lives on, in an ephemeral manner, in those who knew him and were influenced by him, in my mother, who handled her heartbreak by devoting herself fully to her children, at the cost of losing a bit of who she was as an individual, and who, based on her cautious and cool relationships with men since then, appears unable or unwilling to open herself up to that level of vulnerability again. So my father, like every other person who has ever passed away, enjoys a sort of limited immortality while his memory lives on in those he left behind, but eventually they too shall pass, and everything he was, everything he did, everything he dreamed, everything he hoped to be, will be well and truly gone.
This is in part what drives me to write, not just because I like being creative, and not because I think I have any extraordinary ability to do so, but because of my hope that my words can live on after I am gone, and like a stone dropped in a pond, cause ripples long after I myself have faded from sight. I don’t dare hope to reach the level of immortality enjoyed by the greats like Shakespeare, or Tolkien, or Nietzsche, or the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, author of the dreaded Necronomicon. Mine is a more humble desire, that maybe some day, some nerdy kid with glasses and an unfortunate bowl cut will come across a scuffed up, dog-eared copy of one of my books on the shelf of some second-hand bookstore that smells of dust and cat-pee, and will take it home and read it by flashlight under their covers until long after bedtime, and will go to school the next morning red-eyed and tired, but in some way affected by my words and ideas. That’s the best kind of immortality I could hope for. (Of course this won’t be possible if all of our publications transition to digital copy, and then civilization crumbles and the internet fails and electronics become useless, and we all slip into a new dark age because all of our accumulated digital knowledge is lost forever, but that’s a discussion for another post altogether.)
My understanding and acceptance of the slight, transitory, fleeting nature of our lives also shapes my feelings regarding our place on the planet. This is why I am so wounded by our current president’s decision to remove us from the Paris Climate Agreement. Now, admittedly, the Paris Climate Agreement was burdensome for the United States, much more so than for most of the other Countries involved, but those were burdens we placed on ourselves, and I believe they were not so onerous that it was worth withdrawing from the Agreement.
The countries involved in the Agreement set their own goals, many which were much less ambitious or costly than the goals committed to by the USA, but in a fight like this, every little bit helps, and it behooves us to continue our efforts even if those efforts are not immediately met by everyone else. From a certain point of view, Trump’s action can be seen as a savvy move meant to extricate the United States from an unfair and biased initiative. The problem is, we helped create that initiative.
From a practical standpoint regarding the actual net impact on climate change over time, it is not that important that we have left the Agreement IF we continue our own efforts to combat climate change. It is still very important however because of what it says to the rest of the world. Appearances are very important, and it appears to our allies and rivals and everyone else that we cannot be trusted to honor our obligations or commitments, which is especially damning because we set those obligations and commitments for ourselves. The world is now wondering how selfish the United States could be, that they have reneged on their own promises to do something which benefits literally the entire world in the long term for the express purpose of saving money today. It is saying that our ideals of life, liberty, and happiness for all, which a healthy and vibrant world are necessary to achieve, are actually less important than our ability to make sure American businesses make the most money possible as quickly as possible, right now, today, consequences be damned. It is saying that all the goodwill and trust our soldiers bought with their lives that June 6th in 1944 amongst our allies was a waste, because going forward we may not maintain those relationships or honor our commitments to each other for the greater good.
If the price of remaining in the Paris Accord is some of my tax money going to fight climate change, whether domestically, or abroad in developing nations, I’m okay with that price. There is no ultimate downside to fighting for cleaner air, and water, and land. Cleaner air, and water, and land, is GOOD. We all share one Earth, and the repercussions of climate change will not politely respect our national borders to go bother other people, no matter how big of a wall we build.
Mr. Trump ran on a populous platform fueled by promises to bring coal mining jobs back to coal country, which honestly seems like a pretty crappy promise. Why specify that they be coal jobs? Coal mining is a tough, dangerous, unhealthy, unpleasant, outdated industry. Our nation’s coal miners don’t really want to go back underground. They just want jobs so that they can support their families. If we invested instead in healthy, modern, high tech alternatives like the burgeoning green energy sectors, instead of relying on dwindling fossil fuels, we would both create enduring jobs in wind, solar, water, and other renewable power systems, and we would also make great strides in reducing our carbon footprint and combating climate change. The long term benefits and reduced costs are undeniable, and if a former miner were able to choose between earning a living wage breathing more coal dust underground, or working in the clean air and sunshine erecting a windmill or solar farm, I think we all know what they would likely pick.
Here’s my philosophy. We are stewards of this world. We are not its conquerors, we are its caretakers. We are here for a short time only. Our lives, as previously discussed are short. Fleeting. Insignificant. We don’t really own this world. We don’t even rent it. We’re more like hotel guests. If the entire history of Earth was condensed to a single day, humans have been around for two minutes. We’ve barely had time to check in, and we’ve already pretty much wrecked our hotel room. I don’t know what kind of person you are, but I don’t want to be the type of dick who wrecks his hotel room.
Especially since I won’t even have immigrant cleaners available to pick up after me because Trump wants to deport them all.
Soon me, and everybody I’ve ever known will be dead. That’s unavoidable. We don’t have to take the world with us. If my legacy is a few remembered lines of prose and a healthier planet, I’ll consider it a life well lived.