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A New Nero: Trump and the Paris Agreement

During the Great Fire of Rome, it wasn’t the rich who suffered. Within the walls of their stone palaces and ceramic villas, the ruling class was safe from the unrelenting flames. The blaze left 2/3 of the city in ashes, dozens of ancient public monuments destroyed, and tens of thousands injured, homeless, or dead. All the while, Emperor Nero sat in his palace, fiddling away. Over the ashes of Republican Rome, he built a palace whose opulence and size exceeded most any before him. A hellish phoenix, brought back to life through a ritual of misery and subjugation.

When a disaster strikes, it rarely affects the rich. Those with money and power find walls to hide behind, and enlist private armies to patrol them. It’s the rest of us who suffer. Not only the poor and marginalized, but everyone beyond the palace walls. Alongside slums and shanties, Nero burned apartments and market stalls. President Trump has just pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Facing two degrees of global warming (mind you, the last Ice Age was just two degrees colder than the pre-industrial average). The major world power of the day has now declared itself as being utterly unwilling to curb it. Rome is burning, and Trump is fiddling away.

13 of the 15 largest cities on earth are close enough to the coast that they will be at least partially flooded by rising sea levels within the next 50 years. Entire islands in the Pacific like Fiji could be consumed by rising oceanic levels. Should the earth warm by four degrees, 760 million people will be left homeless. Even if we managed to prevent a rise above two degrees, 13 million Americans will be forced from their homes by a rising sea. Over the summers of 2012 and 2013, my hometown was ravaged by wildfires. More than 800 homes were destroyed, and thousands of Coloradans were displaced. Many families who had opened their homes to those fleeing the blaze in 2012 found themselves searching for refuge one year later. As the fires burned, all were equals. Nature doesn’t discriminate between lawyers and plumbers, but society does. When the smoke cleared, the rich rebuilt, while the rest struggled to move forward.

Unless drastic change is accomplished, climate disasters will become only more common. More homes will burn, more cities will flood and more people will die, but the rich will remain untouched. In their billion dollar bunkers, they will survive, while the rest of us perish. They will fiddle, Rome will fall.

If we truly wish to stop climate change, and to prevent utter catastrophe, we cannot rely on the ultra-wealthy to save us. Trump knows he has little to fear from a devastated planet. I imagine that he intends to build a palace of his own on the ashes of this world. We must stop him. All people who have no stone palace, nor concrete bunker, all those who practice empathy and compassion, all who believe in liberty and justice for all, must join together. We have no choice but to rise against the Nero of our time, and beat back the flames of subjugation. In order to save the world, we must take our fate into our own hands. We must fight for our right to exist.