Garret Keizer: Climate, Class, and Claptrap


Richard Moore

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Climate, Class, and Claptrap [excerpts]
By Garret Keizer
[Notebook, Harper¹s Magazine, June 2007, p. 9-11]

Global warming, we are told, will have its most devastating effects on the 
world¹s disadvantaged. Therefore, we need not care so particularly about the 
world¹s disadvantaged; we need care only about global warming ‹ as mediated, of 
course, by those who stand to make a bundle off it. Š To quote Mr. Gore, global 
climate change is ³not a political issue; it¹s a moral issue,² 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 Kozol¹s kids: it¹s digital and 
it¹s white. Š

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, ³You are either with us or you are against us.²

Š Gore speaks of the need for ³a different perspective,² one that will place us 
³above ourselves and above history² Š. 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. Š

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
one¹s 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 ³wind farm,² 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 ³volunteered² ‹ 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 
³crosses² before which the state¹s green progressives will be able to genuflect 
and receive absolution before zooming back to their prodigiously wired lives.

Š 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. Š

And the offset mongers and their green-team lackeys, those whose favorite 
sneering put-down is ³not in my back yard,² will be glad to know that none of 
this ‹ the wind farm, the coal plant it ³offsets,² or any wasted life that 
perishes in between ‹ is even close to their back yards. Š

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. Š

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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