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On the surface the topic is global warming, but the issue goes a lot deeper. It is another modality of the near-cosmic debate that collectivists and individualists have engaged in for at least two centuries. The collectivists -- in this case, those who look after the interests of the collective -- assume that, because of industrial activities and the combustion of fossil fuels, the planet's temperature will rise several degrees, bringing catastrophic consequences: a polar meltdown, coastline flooding, extinction of species, and the rapid expansion of deserts over large areas of the planet.
Individualists, for their part, affirm that climate predictions are closer to witchcraft than to science. Not long ago, for instance, 翼varo Vargas Llosa recalled sardonically that three decades ago the prevailing fear was the inevitable beginning of a glacial period that would freeze our bones, while George F. Will wondered which was better: today's frozen and inhospitable Greenland, or the warmer and more hospitable island discovered by the Vikings one thousand years ago, where they established settlements and planted vineyards. On the other hand, the residents of the Caribbean and South Florida, who had resigned themselves to being pummeled by the 20 ferocious hurricanes predicted by meteorologists for this season, were happy to be defrauded: none came.
After the barely scientific debate -- because it is based on educated guesses or questionable statistical probabilities, not on proven cause-and-effect relations -- what remains is another form of the ideological and moral battle between the left and the right, or, broadly speaking, between those who defend society in the abstract (they usually write Mankind with a capital M) and those who focus their discourse on protecting human beings of flesh and bone.
That is why it is not surprising that in the ranks of the environmentalist collectivists, the Greens, you'll find socialists of every ilk, the communists who survived the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, their clothes still covered with ideological rubble, and, in general, all the members of the happy-go-lucky, vast and illusional family of the rogressives,?while on the other side, the side of the individualists, you'll find the liberals (in the European and Latin American sense of the word) who are more interested in the rights of people here and now than in the unforeseeable fate of future generations.
Naturally, the collectivists are not displeased because the debate is reduced to these moral terms. They are gloriously happy struggling (allegedly) for the survival of the specie, while their adversaries are exposed as a heartless gang of selfish cads who seek only to profit regardless of the damage they may inflict on the rest of the mortals, whose most notorious and repugnant leader is George W. Bush, the abominable president who does not want to sign the Kyoto Treaty. In addition, the collectivists feel that they are a majority and persuade themselves that the nobility of the cause they defend is very attractive. Who wouldn't like to be on the side of the heroic and abnegated good people?
Trouble is, this approach poses a tremendous moral question to the collectivists-environmentalists. If they not only represent the majority but also are guided by a strong ethical drive, why don't they set an example by behaving like people who are truly concerned over the future of the planet? Why don't they renounce their cars and travel only via public transportation to save gasoline? Why don't they drastically reduce water consumption, wash their clothes less frequently, reject transgenic foods, stop buying unnecessary clothing or appliances, denounce the tourism paradises that destroy beaches and shores, replace the conventional electricity in their homes with wind-generated power, and protect the forests by not buying books or newspapers that can be read on the Internet, thereby saving millions of trees? Why don't they also get rid of their pets, whose droppings -- almost always left in the open -- release a huge amount of methane gas that contributes to global warming? In other words, why don't they live as collectivists-environmentalists instead of merely spouting rhetorical discourse?
What I mean to say is that people expect moral consistency from those who wield moral arguments. If that majority of collectivist rogressives?lived voluntarily the way they want all of society to live obligatorily, we could determine in a very short time if their theories are right, and they would gain an unquestionable legitimacy to establish their demands. I am charmed, for example, by the Amish, who travel on horse-drawn carts through Pennsylvania, re-creating the sweetly rural world of the 18th Century. For whatever reasons (mostly religious), the Amish eschew progress and consumerism. When the vast family of the Greens begins to live like the Amish, I shall respect them. I might even vote for them.
February 13, 2007
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