Climate, Class, and Claptrap [excerpts]

By Garret Keizer
[Notebook, Harper’s Magazine, June 2007, p. 9-11]

Global warming, we are told, will have its most devastating effects on the world’s disadvantaged. Therefore, we need not care so particularly about the world’s disadvantaged; we need care only about global warming — as mediated, of course, by those who stand to make a bundle off it. … To quote Mr. Gore, global climate change is “not a political issue; it’s a moral issue,” glad tidings of great joy to souls weary of such crassly political issues as universal health care, reproductive freedom, the rights of workers, the treatment of captives, the plight of women and men shoveled daily off our sidewalks like so much offal …

Am I too irreverent? Am I not aware that polar bears are drowning in the Arctic? I am very much aware and very grieved as well. I am also aware, thanks to book after book by Jonathan Kozol, that children are drowning in our inner-city schools and have been drowning there year after year and decade after decade, but I do not recall anything like the universal lament that has met the drowning scene in An Inconvenient Truth. Then again, the polar bear depicted in that movie has two incontrovertible advantages over Kozol’s kids: it’s digital and it’s white. …

A new chorus of sanctimonious ministers will point to the melting ice caps, much as Bush and Cheney pointed to the site of the twin towers, and dare any would-be dissenter to profane the rising steam. I give them six months to find the temerity to say, “You are either with us or you are against us.”

… Gore speaks of the need for “a different perspective,” one that will place us “above ourselves and above history” …. But this is the old perspective: the race to the moon, the triumph of the will, the forward march of progress on a goosestep and a prayer. The unquestioned belief that the answer to every human dilemma and desire is a gizmo — in short, the very attitude that gave us global warming to begin with. Those measuring the ice shelf in Greenland would do well to spend a few weeks measuring the time that typically elapses between any mention of conservation and the quick segue to something sexier; that is, to something you can buy or sell. The abolition of obscene excess, the equitable distribution of finite resources — these have the same appeal for our movers and shakers as adopting a crack baby has for the infertile members of their club. …

If I sound bitter it is partly because I have been vouchsafed a glimpse of the new carbon-trading world order in the New England villages where I have lived, taught, and buried the dead for close to thirty years, and where any egress from one’s house now risks collision with an eco-fluent carpetbagger. Apparently, this place that has never had much use to the larger world beyond that of hosting a new prison or a solid-waste dump turns out to be an ideal location for an industrial “wind farm,” ideal mostly because the people are too few and too poor to offer much in the way of resistance. So far only one of the towns affected has “volunteered” — in much the same way and for most of the same reasons as our children volunteer for service in Iraq — to be the site of what might be described as a vast environmentalist grotto of 400-foot-high spinning “crosses” before which the state’s green progressives will be able to genuflect and receive absolution before zooming back to their prodigiously wired lives.

… The intestinal tipping point came for me when a contingent of students from Middlebury College (annual tuition and fees $44,330) found both the gas money and the gall to drive to the town of Sheffield (annual per capita income $13,277) in order to lecture the provincials on their responsibility to the earth and its myriad creatures. …

And the offset mongers and their green-team lackeys, those whose favorite sneering put-down is “not in my back yard,” will be glad to know that none of this — the wind farm, the coal plant it “offsets,” or any wasted life that perishes in between — is even close to their back yards. …

It is not enough to acknowledge that global warming exists; we also need to ask what global warming means. Surely one thing it means is that a culture that has as its highest aim the avoidance of anything remotely resembling physical work must change its life. If you want an inconvenient truth, there it is: that the very notion of convenience upon which our civilization rests is a lie that is killing us. …

The game of finding someone else to fight our wars, pull our rickshaws, and serve as the offset for our every filthy indulgence is just about up. It is either Earth for all of us or hell for most of us. Those are the terms, those have always been the terms, and any approach to climate change that begins on those terms can count me as a loyal partisan.

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