Climate change: blame vs. responsibility

Snowfall in America brings with it, inevitably, a blizzard of “jokes” about the alleged absurdity of global warming. All of these jokes have two things in common: 1) they mention Al Gore, and 2) they’re not actually funny.

So begins the ever-brilliant Slacktivist’s recent post about the emphasis on blame in the climate change debate: if climate change isn’t “anthropogenic,” then “La la la it’s not our fault and that means…” what? We don’t have to do anything about it?

Slacktivist (who, it should be noted, is a politically liberal evangelical Christian journalist) claims that people make that argument to clean their souls. If we didn’t cause it, then we can still go to environmentalist heaven. I found this perspective fascinating:

This kind of accidentally disastrous consequences arising from well-intentioned actions is particularly confusing for the many Americans, including most evangelical Christians, who have a primarily visceral sense of morality, where what matters is what’s “in your heart.” Good-hearted decisions to do what you think is best for your family — a nice suburban home, cars chosen for their tank-like safety, etc. — can’t conceivably, from this perspective, produce anything but good results. The absence of deliberate malice constitutes innocence.

The whole post is a clearer statement than I’ve been able to formulate yet of something I’ve been saying for years: over the course of my lifetime, the American conversation about climate change jumped from “Global warming what now?” to a mix of “It’s happening but it’s too late” and “Maybe it’s happening, but we didn’t start it, so it’s not our responsibility.” The whole country’s standing around with our fingers on our noses, basically: “Not it!”

Slacktivist uses a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to draw a key distinction: “Few are guilty; all are responsible.”

[W]hat matters isn’t that we get everyone, or anyone, to accept guilt. What matters is getting everyone to accept responsibility.

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