In 1951 Robert Wise directed the first incarnation of The Day the Earth Stood Still. If you’re as old as me, you may have seen it years later, perhaps late night on your parents’ TV set after everyone had gone to bed. Regardless, it would have given you chills.
A spaceship with single alien and giant robot protector lands in Washington D.C., explaining that due to the human races’ progress in atomic energy we have now become a danger to the universe and ourselves. The alien warns us that if we do not change our ways, we are doomed to extinction either at our own hands or through theirs. Fiction quickly became fact some 12 years later amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis when sirens rang across North America and children hid beneath their desks or stood nose up against the lockers in deathly silence. (After aerial bombings, often the load-bearing wall of a structure is the only thing left standing).
“The earth is so unique…there are so few planets that can support life, and he is here to exterminate the human race in order to preserve the planet.”
There was no “duck and cover” anymore, only the waiting. My parents, newcomers to Canada, sat on the edge of their bed listening to CBC radio as the world clock ticked towards self-annihilation. For them, and for millions of people across the globe that was the day the earth stood still for real.
“On June 1, 2017 the earth stood still again…as Donald Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris accord.”
In 2008 Hollywood remade this film classic with the aliens again monitoring human progress, and again delivering to us a prophetic message. Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, the alien, lands in Central Park and explains quite plainly that he is here to save the planet, not us. The earth is so unique, he explains, there are so few planets that can support life, and he is here to exterminate the human race in order to preserve the planet.
On June 1, 2017 the earth stood still again, no longer due to the threat of nuclear destruction, but rather in the knowledge that our warning signs, research, studies and prognostications were for naught as Donald Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris accord. Over the years a steady stream of tweets have flowed from Trump’s twitter account in regard to climate change, his most bombastic being, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Now as president, and having scrapped America’s participation in the accord, when asked repeatedly if he believes in climate change, the president remains as silent and as menacing as the giant robot from the films.
Anyone objectively measuring our achievement as a species would have hailed the Climate Change accord as an unprecedented worldwide commitment, with 197 parties putting aside their differences to welcome the philosophy of the world as a global community. All but for Donald Trump and by proxy the United States, the second highest carbon emitter on the planet, perhaps even the galaxy.
Hollywood in its own prophetic way may have anticipated this dire situation as often art precedes culture. In the 2008 version of the film a scientist pleas with Klaatu, explaining that only on the brink do people find the will to change, “only at the precipice do we evolve”. Some of us do, while others need to wait until that last minute, understandable for the layperson, unacceptable for the president of the United States. So now we wait knowing that the earth will not stand still for long.
The final line from the original film is just as dire and foreboding today, perhaps even more so, than when first uttered over 60 years ago. Before Klaatu’s black and white image re-enters his spaceship to depart, he speaks to the scientists who have gathered before him. “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. The decision rests with you.”
First published June 4, 2017