The moral contradictions of global warming politics

December 19, 2009

As I hunker down to enjoy the fiercest December snowstorm on record for the Washington area, I note that the global warming summit in Copenhagen has ended, and nothing much happened.  After all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, this may seem a surprising resolution, but it was entirely predictable.  In fact, I predicted it.

Promoters of global warming like to express themselves in apocalyptic language, and to savor how our species will be brought, by its own folly, to the eve of well-deserved destruction.  Anne Applebaum called this sort of talk “anti-human” – and superficially it very much sounds that way.

Contemplating the political inertia in Copenhagen, the Guardian asked in an anguished editorial, “Does the human race deserve to survive?”  In an earlier, more hopeful moment, George Monbiot observed that “the talks in Copenhagen . . . represent a battle to redefine humanity.”  Clearly the 1.0 version of the species will not do.

But all the anti-humanism vanishes like my barbecue grill under mounds of snow, when one asks:  by what moral standard is “humanity” being judged?

Monbiot, the Guardian, and the people cited by Applebaum are secular, multi-tolerant, nonjudgmental in every way.  They provide the intellectual slop sustaining most if not all the Western leaders who attended Copenhagen.  So to which moral ideal can they appeal, when they claim our species doesn’t deserve to survive?  What shared values form the basis of that human redefinition Monbiot ardently desires?

God has been banned from the heavens.  Our cultural traditions are a mass of bigotry and superstition.  Because multiculturalism fosters a deep ignorance of other cultures, we can be sure that the elites at Copenhagen didn’t have Yoruba values in mind when calling down the apocalypse on our kind.

What then?  Put the question differently:  what moral structures exist inside the heads of those who threaten doomsday unless we are born again?

So stated, the question answers itself.  These are highly educated Westerners – Europeans and Americans make up pretty much the entire AGW tribe.  They absorbed with their education the moral standard of the West.  They believe, with various degrees of sincerity, in equity, fair play, public-mindedness, and the Christian ideals of charity and renunciation.  And, in their moral confusion, they project these virtues into the universe, as facts of nature, and appeal to them under this aspect.

Global warming activists deal in Western morality, but they hate the West.  They hate liberal democracy because it often raises up politicians they detest.  They hate the marketplace because it rewards risk-takers rather than intellectuals.  They accuse their culture of monstrous crimes, including that of poisoning the world and endangering all forms of life.

Their attitude isn’t anti-human.  It’s anti-West.  It’s an angry divorce from their own history, a chopping away at their own roots.  The problem is that when you do this, you lose the grounds for moral rage.  One can’t trade in values that have brought us to the edge of doomsday – yet nihilism is an illogical place from which to launch a reformation.

This was the internal contradiction paralyzing Western politicians at Copenhagen.  They invoked ideals in which they no longer believed, and they lacked an alternative morality with which to persuade public opinion, much less redefine an ancient and dominant culture.

Non-Western attendees at the summit understood this perfectly.  Moral monsters like Robert Mugabe and thugs like Hugo Chavez puffed themselves up in moral superiority to elected leaders of law-abiding nations.  Hypocrisies beyond belief were inflicted by persons who craved either, in Mark Steyn’s quote, to be “very high up in climate change,” or to be bought off with Western money.

There was little push-back from Western politicians, but no significant action or agreement either.  Moral contradictions hollowed these people out, left them mere walking surfaces, without purpose or direction.  Around them, because of them, nothing happens.

For that, I suppose we should be thankful.