No doubt our work has been getting harder for decades, centuries. No doubt our numbers have dwindled, our bodies ripped from foundations, our skins flayed and fed to machines with metal teeth and roaring gears. No doubt we bore it all, as we have borne frost and disease and pestilence before.
Now, though, it is getting harder to breathe.
Still, our bodies are sophisticated, finely tuned to the smallest change in particulate content and humidity, designed to respond and deflect. Even if some of us fail, others will learn from their mistakes, springing from the earth to take our place. You cannot halt a billion years of evolution. We were here long before you and we will be here long after.
Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. I guess they like what we’re about to sign. I knew they were going to like this one. Well, thank you very much. I very much appreciate it. And thank you to our great Vice President, Mike Pence.
Together, this group is going to do a truly great job for our country. We have a very, very impressive group here to celebrate the start of a new era in American energy and production and job creation. The action I’m taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom, and allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete, and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time, fellas. It’s been a long time. I’m not just talking about eight years; we’re talking about a lot longer than eight years. You people know it maybe better than anybody.
We didn’t fight back when you came with your torches and gasoline, machetes and bulldozers. We burnt at the stake but our ashes still gave generously, still fed your genetically modified tomatoes, redder and rounder than anything we’d ever seen, your melons with no seeds, your roses with no thorns.
We didn’t fight back when you felled us whole, the screaming saws sending tremors through our deepest roots, the tips of our tender newly budding leaves. We said nothing as we were shorn of our limbs and strapped together in unceremonious piles, lifted onto cold metal platforms and trucked away. We were still conscious as we travelled along wide grey rivers of concrete to our final destinations, surrounded by the noise of engines and the smell of fumes. We were fading then, but still felt every bump of the roaring truck’s wheels, the cold screech of the wind against our open wounds.
We didn’t fight back when we tallied our losses and counted our dead, realised the number was so large that even we couldn’t understand it.
We didn’t fight back, for we have been around long enough to witness other rises and other falls. We have seen fortunes ebb and flow, populations grow and die. This too shall pass, we thought. You wail smugly, chain yourselves to us, distribute flyers made out of our pulped and hammered flesh. You think your cruelty is exceptional but to us it is banal. We have been through worse before.
The miners told me about the attacks on their jobs and their livelihoods. They told me about the efforts to shut down their mines, their communities, and their very way of life. I made them this promise: We will put our miners back to work. (Applause.) We’ve already eliminated a devastating anti-coal regulation — but that was just the beginning.
Today, I’m taking bold action to follow through on that promise. My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. We’re going to have clean coal — really clean coal. With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations. (Applause.) And, by the way, regulations not only in this industry, but in every industry. We’re doing them by the thousands, every industry.
But what if we are wrong? What if the hubris is justified, if this is indeed different from the lava and ice that we have faced before? What if this does not pass?
First, today’s energy independence action calls for an immediate reevaluation of the so-called Clean Power Plan. (Applause.) Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers, and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry.
Second, we are lifting the ban on federal leasing for coal production.
Third, we are lifting job-killing restrictions on the production of oil, natural gas, clean coal, and shale energy.
We feel ourselves reaching a tipping point. We wheeze, we huff, we suffocate on surfeit. Breathing is difficult, our numbers are so diminished and our task so great.
We wonder if there is a different way.
Those of us in the Amazon feel the most strongly. We are backed up by the Southeast Asians – Borneons and Sumatrans displaced by rubber palms, Mekongese by sugar and rice. The Congo Basin chimes in as well, choking from city fumes that draw ever closer each day.
We tilt our boughs in the whispering breeze and listen to each other speak. We listen hard and we begin to hear other, smaller voices. A small clump of Hinton’s oak, once loved for its dark bark and red leaves, now present in homes throughout Mexico in the form of knife handles. Smatterings of Honduras redwood, overharvested for expensive violins and status symbol dining tables. The last colonies of Clanwilliam cedar, once populous in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, majestic in its eighty feet average height and thousand-year lifespan.
We listen and we hear the call to action. It floats through the air borne by feather light spores, flows through the tiny tributaries in the soil from which our roots drink. We feel it in a part of us that we did not know existed.
It frightens us, and there are some who resist the call. Some of us do not believe it is our place, that we must be patient. That our only destiny in this dying world is to spread our arms towards the sun, providing shelter to those who need it, termite or human alike. That all we can do is to wedge ourselves firmly into the soil, giving and taking from the earth in the same rhythms that have persisted for centuries. That all we need to do is to breathe.
But how are we supposed to breathe when the air is laden with acrid smoke? When it is filled with other invisible poisons, odourless, colourless and deadly? How are we supposed to breathe when there is so much to take in? When every day your jet engines, your livestock, your air-conditioning units give us more and more and more? We cannot inhale fast enough. Our exhalations are tiny insignificant puffs, we are choking on our own breath.
We will unlock job-producing natural gas, oil, and shale energy. We will produce American coal to power American industry. We will transport American energy through American pipelines, made with American steel. Made with American steel. Can you believe somebody would actually say that? (Applause.)
This came up a little bit coincidentally when I was signing the pipelines deals. I’m all signing, I’ve got them done. And I said, folks, where do we get the steel? And they said, I think it’s from foreign lands. And I said, no good. Who makes it? Who makes those beautiful pipes for the pipeline? Sir, they’re made outside of this country. I said, no more, no more. So we added a little clause — didn’t take much — that you want to build pipelines in this country? You’re going to buy your steel, and you’re going to have it fabricated here. Makes sense, right? Doesn’t it make sense, Bob? Think so. He knows. (Applause.)
In the end, it is not a collective decision but a lone action that does it. It is a Bois Dentelle, the only one of its kind left, its population long decimated by foreign insects introduced by your shovels. It lives in a lush shaded garden on the island of Mauritius, a small, unassuming tree, known for its ivory flowers with petals like lace.
The Bois Dentelle stops breathing overnight, and by morning its much-lauded flowers are yellow and limp. As the day goes on and the heat intensifies, its leaves begin to crackle and wilt, falling off one by one.
You are mystified as to its sudden demise. Scientists from America fly in to examine the tree, men in khaki pants rolled to their knees and pasted check shirts soaked with sweat. You poke and prod and analyse, ultimately attributing the loss to unexpected changes in soil composition. You co-author papers and appear on the local Mauritian weekly talk show, passionately making your case for better funding of tree conservation programs. But then you pack up and go home, taking a Boeing 747 back to your air-conditioned apartment in a city that has paved over our roots, that surrounds us with concrete and boxes us in with black metal railings.
Soon you have forgotten about the Bois Dentelle, but we still feel its loss deeply. We feel it in the tender pockets that run through our flesh, in the ringed layers of our bones. The grief gets under our bark, seeps in through our roots, poisons our sap. We beat our branches in the wind, all the while still struggling to breathe.
You don’t notice when we begin following suit. Like the Bois Dentelle, those of us who have had enough simply stop overnight, our flowers brown and drooping by sunrise, our leaves yellow and earthbound by afternoon.
Entire swathes of forests perish before you catch on. By the time you do, it is too late. You declare a state of emergency, dispatch armies of scientists to the Amazon, Gran Chaco, Cerrado, Borneo, New Guinea, Sumatra. You pluck the crisp brown leaves from the forest floor with metal tweezers and place them carefully into clear sealed bags, as if there were not a million, a billion more where they came from. You dig up dry roots. You cut into our trunks, looking for answers. It still hurts when your scalpels enter our flesh, but we tell ourselves that it will not hurt for much longer.
I want to just thank everybody in this room. You’re all very special people. In particular, I want to thank the miners. You know, my guys, they’ll get enough thanks. These people haven’t had enough thanks. They’ve had a hard time for a long time. (Applause.)
They’re tough-looking guys, too. I’ll tell you what — not going to mess around with this group, right?
After we are gone, after the heat waves and the hurricanes and the unseasonal, unnerving snowfall, after the earth is scorched and soaked and wrung dry of minerals and nutrients, after the food shortages and widespread starvation, after all of this, the floods will come. Washing away your scalpels and microscopes, your electric cars, your newspapers. The floods will come and wash us clean.
All right. Thank you, fellas. I made my promise and I keep my promise.
We give up one by one. We do it at night, when the air is cold and fresh, reminiscent of what it used to be. We stretch our roots deep into the earth, feeling the movement of soil and water and insects between the tips of our toes. We straighten our branches and crack our limbs quietly, so as not to scare the baby birds nesting in our joints. The night breeze catches our leaves all of a sudden and we feel a million sensations, a million tiny yearnings that will never be fulfilled. We sway, one last time, and then we stop forever.
So I want to thank everybody in the room. God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)