Sunday, June 6, 2010

Leaving a Good Legacy: authors say combating climate change should appeal to conservatives

I was reading an interesting editorial in the latest issue of TIME, Leaving a Good Legacy, written by William Antholis and Strobe Talbott, about the ethical case for combating climate change and how it should appeal to conservatives.

What, you say? Conservatives combating climate change - how could this be? Well, on the face of it, it would seem a stretch in this world of polarizing politics where so-called "liberals" are the ones dedicating themselves to the environment and "conservatives" are dedicated to ravaging it for profit. And there would certainly be some truth in that, particularly based on the shrill comments from the extreme ends of both parties.

But Antholis and Talbott make an argument that taking on climate change and preserving the environment are actually conservative values at heart. Recognizing that government and society are part of a legacy to future generations and that what debts we incur on our way of life should be paid within our own time and not placed on future generations - these are actually prudent fundamentals exposed by founding conservatives throughout history.

Perhaps, in the U.S., the conservative movement, personified by the Republican party, has focused its aim to conserve on merely maintaining the status quo and conserving financial assets - wealth. But, as Antholis and Talbott point out, there are some in the party who recognize where the future of their party lies: with a generation that is keenly aware of environmental issues and the kind of world they face if those issues aren't addressed. U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is supporting new energy legislation, working with Senators John Kerry (Democrat) and Joe Lieberman (Independent), that addresses job growth in the alternative energy sector which would have a positive impact on the fight against global warming.

"Surprisingly, perhaps, it is Graham who has been most forceful in making the case for effective steps to counter climate change. 'I have been to enough college campuses to know — if you are 30 or younger, this climate issue is not a debate,' he told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in February. 'It's a value ... From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them.'"

The Gulf oil spill is a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels, one that is staring us in the face right now and whose effects will linger for decades. Global warming is also a consequence of fossil fuels, with effects that can be more far-reaching on many generations to come. If a true conservative is prudent, responsible, and less inclined toward excess, then the ramifications of our dependence on fossil fuels and what we are saddling future generations with, regarding the air we breathe and the water we drink, should be of major concern. In an ideal world, the environment should be a common cause for all politicians because it speaks to our living legacy to those who will have to carry on with what we did or did not do.

"We come into this world in debt to our ancestors, and we leave it an incrementally better place, believing our descendants will come up with means of fending off or coping with whatever their age throws at them," writes Antholis and Talbott. "Down through the years, that has been the narrative of the human family. But global warming alters it in a basic way. We cannot leave those who come after us to their own devices. If we do not get the process of mitigating climate change started right now, our descendants, however skilled, will not be able to cope with the consequences. If we do nothing, we will likely bequeath to them a less habitable — perhaps even uninhabitable — planet, the most negative legacy imaginable. That is why there is no time to lose."

Read entire editorial in TIME.
Antholis and Talbott are authors of
Fast Forward: Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming.

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