Long ago, in this column, I wrote about the corporate men-in-suits whom democracies have elected ad nauseam in my lifetime. I called such a man Captain Denial, because so much of the political strongman’s job is to deny problems (thus quieting fears and bestowing false comfort). I depicted other politicians, the ones trying to alert people to coming danger, as Chicken Little (the plural of which must be Chickens Little). Part of Captain Denial’s rejection of danger is to depict Chickens Little as comical fools who, having been struck by some little piece of debris, run around claiming the sky is falling, that the world is ending. Ha ha. Dunces.
Climate change and the scientific consensus that we are running out of time to prevent world-scale catastrophe is quite the sky-falling scenario. Massive, irreversible and coming soon to a biome near you. But is it unique? I confess it is not. In the 1980s Reagan era, the sky-falling scenario was that the Soviet Union and US were as close to waging all-out nuclear war as they had been in 1962’s white-knuckle Cuban Missile Crisis. Part of every baby boomer’s education was learning how many times over the world could be destroyed if all the warheads in the US and Russia were launched—also that there was a big red button in Russia and another in the US that could bring about the apocalypse quick as a flash.
What gives Captains Denial such a big edge is that, each time humanity has faced a threat of destruction, each time the sky looked certain to fall, it didn’t. Khrushchev withdrew his missiles in 1962. The Soviet Union imploded in 1991. Captain Denial’s score as he-who-was-right-about-the-sky went up. The public belief in denial soared. Again and again, we faced probable destruction. Each time, we denied it—and the world went on as before.
So where does that leave us in 2019? In proper Chicken Little fashion, I say it leaves us in the worst possible position. Not only are we facing imminent calamitous global warming, but we are doing so when the Americans have chosen for their leader a man who thinks global warming is a hoax. During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump dragged fears of nuclear war back to centre stage by suggesting there was no sense making nuclear weapons unless you were willing to use them. Later, he would threaten North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Later he declared himself “in love” with North Korean leader. This is an all-new, self-sufficient Captain Denial. Create fear one day; deny it the next.
Donald Trump says he is a great leader, the greatest, and one of his proofs is that he has greatly broadened the landscape of things that can be denied.
When Trump does not like something, he denies it. Supreme Court nominee might have a history of sexual assault? “No way!” His affair with a porn star? “Didn’t happen.” That he owes his presidency to Russian mass-hacking of social media? “Fake news.” That he himself knew in advance and organized with America’s traditional enemy to have it happen? “Nonsense.” Even the infamous “you can grab ’em” Access Hollywood video is somehow a fake.
As for nukes, they aren’t a problem either, because in Donald’s seven-plus decades of life, he hasn’t once burned to death in a nuclear holocaust. And every cold day in the northern US disproves climate warming.
As of this moment, we Albertans are rolling into a double election year, federal and provincial. Will denial figure in the results? Chicken Little that I am, I’m sure of it. Trump, after all, did win an election and has avoided impeachment. Most powerful politician in the world, right? So why wouldn’t every amoral, grasping Canadian Captain Denial mimic the orange man? In mid-2018, a particularly Trump-like Captain Denial became premier of Canada’s most populous province. He showed what he thinks of global warming by cancelling clean energy projects. He put an end to Ontario’s cap-and-trade carbon pricing system. Both moves cost his province a bundle. The point was not to save money but to spend it denying the threat of climate change. See how a Captain Denial, no matter how apparently dumb, can deny away disaster?
Going into 2019, several Canadian Captains Denial, all imitators of Trump to some extent, are premiers of Canadian provinces. In the coming elections, several more Captains Denial are waiting in the wings, hoping to win by denying climate change and scrapping the federal carbon tax. Alberta, of course, has its own version of this. Is it working? According to current polls, it is.
Maybe we should channel Captain Denial and deny the polls. They have been wrong many times in recent years. Also, let’s improve the image of Chickens Little. Stage Chicken Little rallies at which we chant “Lock Up CO2!” Posters of a new, buff Chicken Little rippling with muscles, holding up the sky.
Fred Stenson’s most recent novel is Who By Fire (Doubleday). Other books include The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.