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December 11, 2009

Americans need to 'raise their game' on climate change

Everyone should read this Matt Ygelsias post on the need for all of us to "step up our game" morally speaking as regards the climate. The climate change "debate" is a true gut check moment. And right now, we're failing:

CNN was running a climate change story yesterday with the chyron "Global Warming: Fact or Fiction." It's clearly not the case that that happened because no one at CNN is unaware that framing the story that way is nonsense. They just chose to let it happen. John McCain used to recognize the urgency of the climate threat and then, thanks to pique or something, he decided to become an opportunistic pollution-defender. Bob Corker recognizes the need to curb carbon emissions but insists that he’ll support a bill if and only if it meets his exact politically unrealistic expectations. And millions of Americans supported the ACES bill in the House but didn’t bother themselves to call their congressman about it, helping to create a situation in which phone traffic tilted heavily against the bill and progressives on the Hill now feel defensive.

All this -- and more -- is carried out by free moral agents on a daily basis. And this is simply not an issue you can solve without people raising their game, morally speaking. That means politicians, and activists, and ordinary citizens and business elites and media figures and all the rest. We've developed a public culture in the United States in which it's regarded as grossly naive to suggest that a Senator or an executive ought to do the right thing simply because it's the right thing. But if you think of any major problem this country has ever solved -- the Civil War, women's suffrage, defeating Nazism, Civil Rights -- it's always required not just smart tactics, but moral behavior, people willing to cast risky votes, people willing to risk physical harm in combat or non-violent resistance. It's been the same all around the world throughout history. If people don’t want to do the right thing, the right thing doesn't get done. On climate, in particular, a huge swathe of the American elite has simply refused to acknowledge any sort of duty or obligation.

Addressing climate change -- not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not health care reform, not even torture -- is the true moral challenge of this generation. And at the moment, the other side is succeeding in dismissing the entire enterprise as The Greatest Hoax of All Time. Societies do fail "to do the right thing" when faced with great moral decision -- and it never ends well. Indeed, we're threatening to follow in some pretty awful footsteps. What do we have to do to get this whole negotiation to "Yes"?

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