Ralph Gardner Jr: Crimes Against The Earth

Aug 31, 2019

I recently clicked on a CNN.com opinion piece by Jeffrey Sachs, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development. The title of the story was, “Trump’s Failure to Fight Climate Change is a Crime Against Humanity.”

I politely disagree. Not with the spirit of his argument but with its premise. I think we need to come up with a new crime category for those who knowingly, purposefully and in Trump’s case gleefully, soil our air and water and proudly preside over the decay of our planet.

His attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act – what’s a bald eagle ever done to him or his family’s bottom line? – is only the latest outrage and for all I know, by the time this commentary airs, eclipsed by an even more unforgiveable desecrations of the natural world.

What’s next – an executive order that school children are obligated to pick the wings off flies?

I goggled “Crimes Against Nature,” wondering whether such a designation already exists. It does but refers to, um, acts that were once considered unnatural.

So I suppose that designation is out.

“Crimes Against The Natural World” doesn’t have quite the same zing. So I’m nominating “Crimes Against the Earth.”

Because that’s what they are.

What frustrates and depresses me is that our so-called leaders are knowingly promulgating rules and regulations that threaten not just Americans’ health but also that of the full circle of life on the planet.

Grizzly bears, polar bears, bald eagles, even the woodchucks in my backyard with whom I have personal issues, and the dozens of species going extinct every day, are innocents. Collateral damage. They don’t even get to vote.

I wish they did.

The other reason these should be deemed Crimes Against the Earth is because it’s becoming more and more emphatically, empirically obvious with each passing day that pollution isn’t a local phenomenon. It’s got legs.

The soot from China’s coal plants or the fallout from Russia’s botched nuclear-powered missile experiments enter the jet stream, as does our toxic waste, and fouls our soil and air, too.

So what would be the punishments for Crimes Against the Planet and who would enforce them?

I suggest children because they will reap the poison harvest we’ve sown. If you don’t feel a connection to the spotted owl I get it. But what about to your own grandkids?

Public shaming – the awarding of the ecological equivalent of a scarlet letter, a Nobel Prize for Pollution – might do the trick.

If the likes of presidents – whether of the United States, Russia, or Exxon Mobil – know they’re guaranteed to go down in history as cads perhaps they’d modify their behavior.

I doubt it. So what then the punishments?

I can think of all sorts of sadistic and all-natural revenge involving things like honey and fire ants, Great white sharks, voracious Bengal tigers (their rising populations in India one of the few good news stories I’ve read recently) and perhaps rampaging bull elephants to attend to poachers feeding the illegal ivory trade.

But that probably wouldn’t be any more of a deterrent than the death penalty has proved and would simply, to paraphrase a Bob Dylan line, drag you down into the hole he’s in.

So my solution is to kill the crooks -- with kindness.

It’s the same strategy that worked on Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler person after he’s shown the evil of his ways by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Of course, this transformation first requires that Scrooge be scared witless by Marley’s ghost and then made to feel guilty, really guilty for the misery he’s visited on others, and worst of all to discover that he left the world unloved, his grave unvisited.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Donald Trump already has plans for a memorial to himself more impressive than Lincoln’s.

But imagine his shock and horror if he knew nobody would visit his grave. In essence that his ratings tanked after he died. Would that change his behavior? I have to believe it could.

Of course, this is mostly revenge fantasy. But the melting ice caps and warming oceans, the receding glaciers and dying species aren’t.

And the other thing that isn’t is the fact that this lovely planet doesn’t belong to us. We don’t own it. We don’t even rent it. There’s no doubt it will survive another few billion years and even eventually heal itself. The question is will we still be around to appreciate its grace, beauty and benevolence?

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.