In 1976, I worked as a ranger on the National Mall in Washington, DC, interpreting monuments to past Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson, as well as memorials to the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. I spent that winter with Thomas Jefferson, who stands tall in a marble rotunda, surrounded by his insightful commentary on our young nation. On the SE Portico, from a letter he wrote in 1816, he proclaims: …, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
In my succeeding 40 years with the National Park Service, I was responsible for the maintenance, protection and interpretation of thousands of monuments, from the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, to the Statue of Liberty, to the monuments that dot the battlefields of the Civil War. I worked for a decade to bring to reality the memorial to the brave men and women of Flight 93, who fought back on 9/11 and are remembered in lonely Pennsylvania field. These metal and stone edifices do not let us forget the past and encourage our own resolve in times of crisis.
In light of the challenges our planet now face from anthropogenic warming, with rising seas and melting glaciers, I suggest we need a new memorial, one that reminds us of those who worked hard to undermine efforts to address the climate crisis, to attack the science (and the scientists) and to sow seeds of doubt that intentionally prevent true action. For those who have not heeded the advice of Jefferson, we should erect A National Climate Denier Memorial.
I envision this memorial as a tall, limestone obelisk, standing on the edge of the ocean, with its base aligned perfectly with sea level in 2019. A few inches above the water are inscribed the names of corporations, their top executives and boards who used their power, influence and lobbying to undermine any efforts to switch our energy sector to renewables.
Next come the elected politicians, some bought and paid for, others just willfully ignorant who used their political power to defund government investments in sustainability, denigrate concerned scientists before hostile hearings and abandon world cooperation on climate mitigation.
Above them are names of political appointees hired from the fossil fuel industry and lobbying firms to reverse agency efforts to research and mitigate climate change impacts.
Above that line come the publishers, parent companies and talking heads of the media who gave platforms to climate deniers, presenting their political opinions on equal footing with facts from renowned scientists.
People who visit the National Climate Denier Memorial will be reminded of those who were at the heart of inaction on an existential crisis and the resultant human suffering. As the dire predictions of rising seas become reality, these engraved names will become inundated, battered by storms, submerged and encrusted with salt, until the obelisk is undermined, topples and dissolves in a warm, acidic ocean. And in its wake, there will be many who resolve to never again let those with only a short-term interest determine the long-term future of our planet.