For the famously short-lived mayfly a spell of rain lasting a few hours is the human equivalent of a 30-year storm.
To Methuselah, the 5,000-year-old bristle cone pine tree in California’s White Mountains, the entire industrial age is the equivalent of an election cycle.
Everything is relative. Humans, necessarily, cram the entirety of the universe into comprehensible units that can fit on a Post-It note. So a day is 24 neat hours, not 8.64x10^13 nanoseconds. And the trip to Tesco is three handy miles, not 4.82x10^12 nanometers.
The timescale we adopt to measure our span of concern stretches from “living memory” in the past to “our children’s children” in the future. For practical purposes the rest is irrelevant.
As an example, it is no coincidence that peace has become a lazy assumption and the institutions of security a target of ire just as the last of the Second World War generation dies.
So the legacy and lessons of a Donald Trump presidency will fade in about 70 years. A generation will pass through bearing the scars and concede to a generation who will repeat the mistake and call it progress.
Or let us hope. For Trump, uniquely, has the ability to reach beyond the border of cultural memory and enter the eternal pantheon of human stupidity – already a very crowded place.
Future historians may stare in wonder at the distant calamity of “America First” – but if Trump obstructs the truth and work of climate change he may become the evergreen epitome of suicidal self-interest.
The omens are not good. He is looking to dump environmental agreements. Let oil pipelines criss-cross the country. Dismiss the whole weight of scientific opinion as a “Chinese hoax”. Precipitate the corruption of the planet in exchange for votes from the rust belt in 2020.
But he is not wholly to blame. He is a symptom. Caught up in the present pleasures of our little lives, we are mini-Trumps too, frankly. A green revolution will never mass behind a hemp banner while water still flows, cars still run and no-one can remember or foresee a time when they didn’t or won’t.
It is astonishing that we leave the most pressing problem on the planet to the likes of Trump, or the Chinese, or indeed any single person or group that possesses the ability to present a veto or undermine a response.
The Earth spent billions of years creating a mineral resource, only for humans, in a speck of time, to hollow out the planet, ransack its treasures, destroy its diversity and cast not a thought for those who will be left without.
We would endure limitless torments rather than see our children suffer, or our children’s children. Yet we yield, with barely a murmur, to the merciless annihilation of our children’s children’s children.
Humans eh – whaddya gonna do?
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