In my experience, there are two types of people when it comes to appreciating nature: 1) Those who see a field, forest, or mountain and think, “That is lovely just the way it is”; and 2) those who think, “I’ll bet there is money to be made here.”
Well, there is a third type, but they mainly just complain about bugs.
In other words, some folks believe the natural world has implicit value, and others think it only has potential value — which is fulfilled when someone figures out how to exploit it.
President Donald Trump is undoubtedly in the second camp. I’m not saying this just because he skipped the climate change meeting at the G7, leaving his befuddled staff to issue lame excuses. Trump himself said it when asked about the environment: “I feel the United States has enormous wealth. That wealth is under our feet … and I’m not going to lose that wealth on dreams.”
Unlike many of the cryptic ideas he flings into the ether (see: hurricanes/nuclear bombs), there was no mistaking what he meant. He’s talking about coal, natural gas, minerals and oil; resources that he wants the U.S. to continue mining at higher and higher rates to maintain an economic advantage over other nations. And the dreams threatening to suck that wealth away? His meaning was clear there, too. In his worldview, those who are worried about climate change and think America should play a lead role in stopping it are living in a fantasyland. He doesn’t trust their science and he doesn’t trust their sentiment.
In his most magnanimous moment during that awkward exchange, he declared, “That great wealth allows us to take care of people!” But history suggests the “people” he’s concerned about are not so much struggling working-class citizens; rather, big business tycoons like himself, blustering Thurston Howells who often treat the nation’s diminishing wildlands as indistinguishable from trash-strewn, vacant lots.
Trump insists he is “an environmentalist,” even ending his remarks with a cheery, “Clean air! Clean water!” Still, his policies have shown a cavalier disregard for the source of such things: a healthy environment which must be judged on more than just a bottom line.