Back in May 2013, a word came to mind that I wanted to see in all our vocabularies. It wasn’t the ever-present “terrorist” but “terrarist” and I meant it to describe people intent on destroying the planetary environment that had welcomed and nurtured so many species, including our own, for so long; in other words, human beings willing to commit “terracide.” I had in mind the CEOs of the biggest energy companies, the ones whose scientists understood global warming perfectly well decades ago and who still were ready to put their corporate money into supporting climate denialism. At the time I wrote:
“If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is? And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term? To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?”
Of course, that was in the good old days before Donald Trump and his cronies filled a whole administration to the tipping point with so-called climate skeptics and outright climate-change denialists. And this continues to happen, even as one report or study after another confirms that humanity and its fossil fuels are heating the planet at a remarkable rate and filling its atmosphere with carbon dioxide at a record pace. In the end, Trump and his crew may prove to be the biggest collection of criminals — in terms of harm to this world — ever. And it should be considered a historical irony (of sorts) that, on this issue, the Republicans, once the American party of the environment, are with them all the way.
If you want an example of what this means in practice, take Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior, former Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke. In June, he addressed the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors at Washington’s Trump International Hotel (on the very day his department announced plans to get rid of an Obama era regulation on payments for drilling and mining on federal land) and he also chartered a plane owned by oil and gas execs at a cost of $12,000 to American taxpayers for a domestic trip that would have cost $300 commercially; meanwhile, he’s been doing everything in his power to open up America’s protected areas to energy exploitation, shrink the boundaries of such areas, slash the Park Service budget meant to protect them, and even make them more expensive for ordinary Americans to visit. And if you think that’s a mouthful of a run-on sentence, it only begins to hint at where this administration is heading with its energy fantasies about how this planet should operate. As TomDispatch regular Subhankar Banerjee, an expert on Alaska’s Arctic lands and seas, points out today, no previously protected spot is likely to be spared such attention. In this context, think of the Trump White House as the Exxon Valdez of administrations and a group of terrarists all rolled into one.