Donald Trump — The Eco Villain We’ve All Been Waiting For?

09th February 2017

Credit - Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Donald Trump isn’t in touch with his inner earth goddess...

His team are already at work on the Environmental Protection Agency, removing website references to climate change deals.

Soon, he will make good on his campaign pledge and pull America out of the most significant deal of all — the Paris Climate Change agreement.

That’s just the start. During his presidency, Trump (and his climate change-denying team) will likely do everything they can to promote fossil fuels and promote the idea that environmentalists are damaging America’s economy.

Thanks to Trump, it sounds like the world no longer have a snowflake’s chance in hell of reaching CO2 emission targets. I’m not so sure.

America electing Donald Trump as president could be the best thing that has happened in the global fight against climate change.

No, I’ve not gone mad. At least, I hope not.

But before I get into what the Donald effect can do for the environment, let’s consider how we perceive climate change.

Understanding how humans, as a species, react to climate change is key to our ability to tackle this threat to all life on earth. Genetically, it seems, we aren’t hardwired to deal with this challenge.

In his book, ‘What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming’, Per Espen Stoknes looks at the underlying emotions associated with climate change. He views individual responses to climate change through the five stages of grief associated with, for instance, a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Stage 1 is Denial — it’s a hoax, it can’t be happening. Stage 2 is Anger — who is to blame? Those lying climate scientists? The lily-livered politicians who won’t drive the switch to renewables? Stage 3 is Bargaining — maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe we can keep polluting then geo-engineer our way out of this. Stage 4 is Depression and Despair — yes, it’s terrible. We’re going to kill the planet. Nothing I do can make a difference. Stage 5 is Acceptance — ok, it’s bad but we can’t turn back the clock to a pre-industrial world. We need to fight on, pragmatically.

The message here is that we react more emotionally than rationally to climate change. If we want to reach stage 5, we need to convey the climate change story in an emotional, empathetic way.

We need to win this fight with storytelling. But from a storyteller’s perspective, for years the environmental movement has been missing a key ingredient.

A villain.

There have been corporations such as Bayer with bee-killing neonicotinoids, oil companies such as BP whose Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated sea life in the Gulf of Mexico, pro-fossil fuel lobbyists, or climate change denying Australian former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with his nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, is arguably the number one eco enemy — although this aspect of his foreign policy isn’t really in the public consciousness. That’ll change soon.

No, the climate change camp has never really had a bona-fide world-ending villain. Until now.

Enter Donald Trump, encircling the world in his gold-plated plane, surrounded by oilmen and climate deniers. While some might see Trump’s election as a disaster for the environment, as a storyteller I’d suggest that it could be a defining moment for the environmental movement. Until now, we have battled shadowy foes. No more.

From a story-telling perspective Donald the eco villain offers four gifts to the environment.

First, he’s going to inspire an awful lot of storytellers. Even before the Meryl Streep incident, how many friends does Donald Trump have in Hollywood? And lets not forget the reach of movies and TV, which remain one of our most popular pastimes. If Hollywood plays its cards right and offers an inspiring vision of a green future, linked to technology and the pioneering spirit (witnessed in people like Elon Musk) then I believe a positive impact can be made in the minds of both left and right-leaning voters.

Second, social media has opened the door to an age of fake news, where even the most scientifically robust IPCC report can be rubbished in a single tweet. Storytelling deals in emotion, not fact. In the fake news environment, a concerted and positive storytelling approach is the best weapon we have to promote a green future.

Third, Trump’s presidency has already sparked mass protests worldwide. They seem set to continue. These marches are not just an opportunity to show discontent to Trump and similarly unenlightened leaders. They allow us to gather collectively and socially, to feel part of a greater community bound by a common cause.

Last, and far more important, is that Donald Trump could inspire us all to stop feeling guilty and vote green with our wallets.

How many of us care deeply about climate change and species decline but also drive polluting cars, heat our houses with gas or oil, fly on holiday, use non eco products, eat meat or other foodstuffs with high environmental impacts? Feel guilty reading this? I know I do. And guilt isn’t a good emotion when it comes to positive action. It puts us somewhere around stage 4 of Stoknes’s list, wallowing in despair.

I write for children and in the world of children’s fiction villains generally aren’t subtle. They are satisfyingly bad, not least in fairy tales, which psychologists see as important to child development. The argument being that a child can pour all of his or her anger towards parental authority onto the villain in the fairy tale while identifying with the hero’s ultimately successful struggle. The clear divide between good and evil is therefore comforting to children, as is the knowledge that the fairy tale will end ‘happily ever after’.

The great thing about a villain is that he or she is not us. They’re all the nasty bits of us made real.

For as much as we may worry over our personal carbon footprint, none of our minor indiscretions can surely compare to the climate change-denying billionaire who now occupies the White House.

Just as the fairy tale villain helps children, allowing them to externalise anger towards their own parents, so the Donald eco villain can help us stop feeling bad about ourselves.

Here is a man who can inspire us to positive, community action. Not all of us may be able to rally in the streets for a green future but we, the people, can all go to battle with our wallets.

Because at the end of the day it is we, as consumers, who can secure a green future through our daily choices.

One switch to a green energy supplier, one decision to invest in green companies, one less car journey, one less plane ride, one less steak at a time…

‘Snowflake’ is a derogatory term used by some Trump supporters for young liberals. As a wit recently wrote on Facebook — ‘Yes, we are snowflakes, but there are millions of us. And you know what that makes? A f$%$ing avalanche.’

Thanks to you, Mr President, it might just snow in hell.

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