From the Arms Race to Climate Change, Conservatives Have Never Cared Much About the Day After

Sunday’s the big climate march in New York City, which I’ll be going to with my family and, well, a lot of other people. I had promised my friends Ted Levine and Carolina Bank-Muñoz that I would blog about it. But the last couple of weeks have gotten away from me.

But tonight I read a great post by David Roberts that my wife sent me. It’s about the conservative refusal to deal seriously with climate change. And it tells an unbelievable story.

I give you North Carolina, where a government-sponsored scientific report revealed that, by the end of the century, oceans would rise up to 39 inches and the Outer Banks would be under water — an economic and cultural cataclysm for the state.

Galvanized by the threat, the Republican-controlled legislature … threw out the forecast.

The state’s new Republican governor appointed a new coastal commission chairman, Frank Gorham, an oil and gas man who announced this spring that the new forecast would be limited to 30 years.

These are people who literally close their ears to the news that their own homes will be underwater…

Roberts tells this story as a counter to a friend of his, George Marshall, who thinks conservatives can be reasoned with on the question of climate change.

Marshall’s suggestions are sensible: find spokespeople within the movement to do the talking; frame things in terms of values like conservation, purity, and loss-aversion; avoid divisive, hot-button topics like cap-and-trade. My contention is simply that the [conservative] tribe is too far gone.

Count me on Roberts’s side of this one, but I want to take issue with that last “the tribe is too far gone” remark. Because it implies that once upon a time, they weren’t.

Now I’ve blogged many a time against the notion that once upon a time, conservatives were different, that they were like Edmund Burke and Bill Buckley. In fact, I’ve written a whole book against that notion. So I won’t rehearse those arguments here.

Instead, I want to focus on that North Carolina story and what it tells us about how conservatives think about time. Not necessarily about the environment, about which their views may have changed in response to political contingencies, but time. And the truth is, though conservatives are supposed to care about conserving the past for the sake of the future—hence, Roberts’ friend Marshall urging him to talk about “conservation, purity, and loss-aversion”—they’ve always had a strangely distended notion of time. Even Burke. An almost teenage, James Dean-esque, version of time.  In which we’re burning the candle at both ends, so why worry today about what we may not survive to experience tomorrow?

I was going to write more about this and then remembered that I already have in a previous post:

In my junior year of high school, ABC televised a film, The Day After, about what the world would look like after a nuclear war. This was a time, some of you might recall, when talk of “nuclear winter” was all the rage. One of the strongest memories I have of the film was of its depiction of that winter. Dust and debris were everywhere; they looked like snow flakes of death, made to match the color of Jason Robards’ hair.

After the film was aired, Ted Koppel convened a panel of worthies—Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Brent Scowcroft, Elie Wiesel, Carl Sagan, and William F. Buckley—to debate its implications. I can’t remember much of what was said, but one comment from Buckley has stayed with me all these years (see 2:45 in this video link).

In response to a provocation from Wiesel—who asked how it was possible for his co-panelists even to talk about a nuclear war, as if such a war could be fought and won (one wonders where Wiesel had been all those years)—Buckley said:

I think we do have to talk about it. Dr. Kissinger, twenty-five years ago, got hell for consenting to talk about it. So did Herman Kahn. The fact of the matter is here we are talking about all the tensions we’re going to be living on, fifteen years from now, twenty years from now. Well, the implied assumption is we’re going to be alive fifteen years from now, twenty years from now. That’s pretty good news, isn’t it?

Someone else on the panel, perhaps Scowcroft, muttered an encouraging “yep,” and Buckley went on. Until Koppel broke in:

Fifteen years may be pretty good news to men of your generation and mine. I suspect that some of our children might regard that as a rather limited life span.

The conservative imagination is supposed to prize longevity and continuity. It is the wisdom of old men. Yet here we have its most genteel modern tribune sounding like Edna St. Vincent Millay, happily mooting his own extinction and that of his child, declaring the shelf life of civilization to be little more than the life span of a reckless teenager. This is not Rambo conservatism but Rimbaud conservatism, betraying less a disregard for death than an insufficient regard for life.

When conservatives in North Carolina in 2014 hear “by the end of the century” in the context of climate change, they’re responding the way Bill Buckley did in 1984 in the context of the nuclear arms race: You’re saying we’ve got 15 more years? 20 more years? That’s pretty good news, isn’t it?

No, it’s not.

See you on Sunday.


  1. cartoonmick September 20, 2014 at 1:37 am | #

    Good luck with your march today, hope it gets the message across before the oceans rise.

    But it is simply amazing how many people will put their head in the sand, and ignore experts who know more about science than they do. What are they scared of; the facts?

    This cartoon may help with answers to that question . . . .


  2. Stephen Zielinski September 20, 2014 at 3:38 am | #

    My impression: Conservatives in America seem to believe they comprise the best of civilization as we have known and ever will know it. After them will come an age of barbarism or nothingness. Why should they care about a future they would refuse were they alive? Why should they care about a humanity they believe unworthy of they air it consumes? The space and time it occupies? The freedoms and pleasures it enjoys?

    I used a wide brush…. I suspect that conservatives exist who are not misanthropes before they are anything else. But….

  3. GerardO September 20, 2014 at 4:06 am | #

    I think Prof. Robin tends to intellectualize these things too much. From where I sit conservatism is a way for people of limited intellectual capacity to navigate a Universe they have no possibility of understanding. Like religious fundamentalists, they can imitate more advanced minds, but on closer inspection they are ‘zombies’ — they look like you and me, they talk like you and me, but there’s nothing really there.

  4. Mark September 20, 2014 at 8:30 am | #

    Perhaps the conservative elite are nihilists at heart. Nihilism seems like an elite philosophy to me. Fecundity and husbandry are preoccupations of the peasantry.

  5. pat September 20, 2014 at 8:55 am | #

    I’m not a conservative, but I don’t believe anybody’s predictions of what will be happening ninety years from now. I’ve been on the fringes of the environmental movement long enough to remember Ehrlich, if not to remember Malthus, and our track record leaves a *lot* to be desired.

    I agree with you that the conservative positions are often short-sighted and irresponsible, but lambasting them for not accepting predictions about the end of the century gives them undeserved ‘cover,’ since pretty much anyone I know would ignore predictions that far out.

    • Benjamin David Steele September 20, 2014 at 10:43 am | #

      You are treating environmental activists and scientists as if they all speak with one voice. There are always many predictions and theories..

      I don’t know of any evidence that Ehrlich represented the majority of people concerned about and/or studying the environment. He proved wrong, at least in the timing of his prediction. On the other hand, there have also been people talking about climate change for decades, and they have turned out correct.

      So, some theories prove false and others prove true. Being wrong isn’t a failure of science. Science progresses either when a hypothesis is proven or disproven.. That is how science works.

      But with conservatives we are speaking of people who dismiss science and don’t want to have their beliefs tested as scientific hypotheses. A big difference between the two groups.

      By the way, there is the book “The Bet” by Paul Sabin. Ehrlich made a bet with Julian Simon. Ehrlich lost the specific bet, but it turns out that in most cases he would have won the bet. Disproving something in once incident might disprove a specific prediction, but it doesn’t disprove that the basic prediction might be untrue.

      The problem with the environment is there is no easy way to do experiments. We get one chance. The experiment can’t be repeated. We can’t undo climate change, mass extinction, etc.

  6. Bart September 20, 2014 at 9:25 am | #

    Even squirrels know to gather nuts in the Fall for the Winter ahead.

  7. Edward September 20, 2014 at 9:55 am | #

    This isn’t just a problem of the conservatives– unless you regard most democrats as conservatives, which is reasonable. The whole political system has a “live now, die later” attitude on just about every issue. We couldn’t even take the minimal step of restoring the “Glass-Steigal Act” after the economic crisis a few years ago. How short-sighted is that? Do I need to rehash Obama’s record on global warming? On just about any issue- net neutrality, NSA spying, the electrical grid, its the same story. Maybe Republicans are worse, but they aren’t alone.

    I also don’t agree that it is hopeless to talk to conservatives. They are too large a group for such generalizations. As I understand it, in politics you want to convert the “other” to your side, if possible. The British seem good at this. There are divisions on the right and some have sought, unsuccessfully so far, a left-right coalition.

    I am glad you brought up “The Day After” because now I can make a plug for a favorite movie of mine, “Threads”, which is about the same topic. It can be watched here if you are interested:

    • Rich Puchalsky September 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm | #

      I have a poem on the general subject of this post. It’s been more than 25 years that they’ve been saying “well we’ve got 25 years”.

  8. Denis Rancourt September 20, 2014 at 4:09 pm | #

    Slow down guys… Do not discount the many serious professional scientists who are critical of the warming interpretation. Here is one of several critical examinations of the alleged “scientific consensus”:

    Eminent historian of science and technology David F. Noble made this important observation in 2007:
    “The Corporate Climate Coup” by David F. Noble
    that was re-published in several magazines such as Canadian Dimension.

    Of course there is environmental and habitat destruction, related to huge injustices towards local populations, but that is a different question than believing that atmospheric CO2 is a cause. There is a global-financier push towards a carbon economy as part of the geopolitical arsenal, and CO2 alarmism plays into that, which is the only reason the MSM allowed it to the extent it did.

    The instruments of the world carbon economy are real and present and are truly devastating… research it.

    Links to my own work on this issue are here:

    • Benjamin David Steele September 20, 2014 at 8:11 pm | #

      There are always critics within science, even when those critics are a small minority. But that is irrelevant as far as the science goes. Science progresses through continued research. As climatological research has progressed with decades of research, the support for the climate change has grown from a minority position to now a majority position. The data has become so compelling that a consensus has formed. That isn’t easily dismissed.

      • Denis Rancourt September 20, 2014 at 11:19 pm | #

        All the scientific models that have been proven wrong (flat earth, earth-centered universe, spontaneous generation, etc.) started small and were the dominant paradigms before being proven wrong. Virtually all the dominant paradigms of the past have been abandoned. That at least suggests that today’s dominant paradigms are not as robust as we believe. But that is a side issue because:

        There is no consensus. Even the alleged consensus on the warming interpretation is a fabrication. Read the critiques of the peer-reviewed sociology-of-science articles that allege a consensus. Look at the arguments and use critical evaluation rather than repeating the convenient line-of-the-moment of those in your circle. Read the links I provided or seek out the source articles yourself.

        Or ignore my post but spare me the canned knee-jerk reaction.

      • Benjamin David Steele September 20, 2014 at 11:39 pm | #

        That was my point. Climate change and global warming theories began small. It was originally a minority who supported those theories. This is because there wasn’t as much good data in the past. Decades of research led to more data and better data. So, climate change and global warming theories became more compelling based on the data and so the former minority position became the new majority position. Science is always developing. I’m not sure why you find that a revelation. I’ll spare you the knee-jerk reaction, if you spare me the projection and backfire effect.

    • John September 21, 2014 at 10:41 am | #

      “Do not discount the many serious professional scientists who are critical of the warming interpretation.”

      No need to discount them, as their are only a miniscule proportion of the scientific community. If 999 out of 1000 doctors diagnose cancer and one dude says “nah it is fine, take a nap” then I’d go with the 999. If you have something to offer in terms of science then stop wasting your time blogging and commenting on blogs and start publishing in top peer review journals until you have convinced the 999 out of 1000 climate scientists. The fact that you post here instead only count against your credibility.

      • ovitt September 22, 2014 at 8:03 pm | #

        Mr. Rancourt has been beating this drum for years, but w/o any proof of his contrarian position. No need to check out his own “activist teacher” blog for support for his own position, instead look at the respected journals of climate science. The one thing I would like to hear from Rancourt et al. is what exactly the scientific community has to gain from inventing a climate change hoax? As a so-called leftist, maybe he should follow the money…where does it lead, to the NOAA, or AAAS, or to the Koch Brothers?

  9. howard berman September 20, 2014 at 7:03 pm | #

    Though unfashionable you could raise the specter of the Freudian death instinct, or death wish, which might perfectly sum up Buckley and his ilk

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 23, 2014 at 9:09 am | #

      I have been secretly harboring that hypothesis for years — especially after I read Klaus Theweleit (even though that is not his thesis; closer to that is Ehrenreich in her preface to his two-volume “Male Fantasies”).

  10. indglish September 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm | #

    I think we can distinguish Anglo-American Conservatism, which is about preserving the Past by destroying the Future (Karl Popper and Daniel Dummet have pointed out different ways in which the Future alters the Past- indeed, decides its content) and German Conservatism which, quite absurdly, thinks ‘Time Preference’ is linked to the preservation of a complex intersubjective Lebenswelt and it is the conatus of this Lebenswelt which is the proper subject for Political Philosophy.
    I need hardly say that Anglo-American Conservatism is greatly to be preferred because it isn’t even speciesist or Gaiaist, or Lifeist- and hence truly Revolutionary.
    I suppose the reason that working class people like me are now solidly Tea Party is because we have what Hans Hoppe calls high time preference and the Left (Hoppe thought Milton Friedman was a Socialist!) has simply stopped pandering to us.
    Speaking of ‘cap and trade’, Graciella Chichilnisky work could easily have been taken up by the Left. Instead, for some reason, they signed up with the Right Wing fossils of the Club of Rome.
    Liberal Guilt needed a new focal point? What’s wrong with first fixing things for those struggling on minimum wage and ‘zero hour’ contracts and so on? I know that a lot of people talk of linking equity to climate change and there are some very pretty models with fancy maths explaining why this must be so; but why can’t the Left come up with a more attractive way to package this issue? Why bring in future generations? The solution is raising the minimum wage, reducing the working week, free child care etc NOW.
    If the only way we can pay for Climate Change is through regressive taxes then Econ 101 tells us we’re altering our Consumption bundles in a manner that more than cancels out the benefit. Which may be good for some high paid pointy heads and Venture Capitalists and so on- but aint good for Working people nor, indeed, for those on the Left who forgot about us guys coz we just aint as smart as dolphins.

    • Benjamin David Steele September 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm | #

      I don’t have any opinion about your various definitions of conservatism. But I thought I’d respond to the other parts of your comment.

      “I suppose the reason that working class people like me are now solidly Tea Party is because we have what Hans Hoppe calls high time preference and the Left (Hoppe thought Milton Friedman was a Socialist!) has simply stopped pandering to us.”

      I’m not sure about pandering. I wouldn’t trust anyone who panders to me because they are probably trying to deceive and manipulate me for their own devious agenda. If you feel the left stopped pandering to you, I’d say that is a good thing.

      What I think you mean is that you haven’t heard much from the Left that connects with you. You’re not hearing can mean many things.

      Maybe you aren’t listening in that you aren’t looking for the voices on the Left who speak to and for the working class. Or, assuming you are listening and are looking for those genuine voices on the Left, maybe many on the Left aren’t speaking in a way you understand. Either way, there is a communication failure.

      Another possibility is that it could simply be that those voices on the Left are being silenced and not given a mainstream platform. Hence there being no easy way for those like you to even know they exist. That would be the failure of a society dominated by mainstream media corporate oligopolies. An example of this is that newspapers commonly had a labor section along with a business section, but as newspapers became big biz the corporate management conveniently got rid of the labor section that spoke to the working class.

      By the way, I’d point out that not all or even most working class Americans identify with the Tea Party. The Tea Party actually has low support in the polls across most demographics.

      You might also ask yourself why the Tea Party isn’t speaking to most of the working class… and certainly isn’t speaking to the working poor. Most of the support for the Tea Party comes from the middle class and even there only a specific demographic of the middle class, disproportionately white, male right-wingers. The Tea Party doesn’t even speak to the average conservative and Republican, as far as I can tell from the polls I’ve seen.

      “Speaking of ‘cap and trade’, Graciella Chichilnisky work could easily have been taken up by the Left. Instead, for some reason, they signed up with the Right Wing fossils of the Club of Rome.”

      You obviously don’t know much about the Left. You are talking about the Democrats, it appears, who are neoliberal, just another variety of corporatists. Most of the American population is to the left of the Democrats.

      The actual Left has a variety of opinions about environmentalism, climate change, etc. Ideas like ‘cap and trade’ are part of capitalism, just with some regulation on top like frosting on a cake. If you really want some serious Left ideas, you’ll have to look to left-libertarian, anarchist, socialist, and Marxist critiques of the entire crony capitalist system. Many on the left are for free markets, but what the Left understands is that capitalism as we know it is not and never has been a free market.

      This is what the Left is trying to tell you, if you would only listen, Do you want a free market? Then you better look outside of the two-party corporatist political charade. The Tea Party just will give you more of the same, since it was co-opted by the GOP political machine.

      BTW I’m working class as well and live in a working class Midwestern farm state. I lean toward the left-wing at times, but I’ve always identified as a liberal, although I don’t fit into mainstream liberalism, not of the Democratic Party that is for sure. As a working class liberal from the Left, I’m speaking to you and my other fellow working class Americans. I’d love to dialogue with Tea Partiers, but most of them seem oblivious that working class blokes like me exist all around them.

      “Liberal Guilt needed a new focal point?”

      I have no liberal guilt. Not any more than you have conservative shame. Those are meaningless words, just talking points that one hears from the MSM and professional politicians.

      “What’s wrong with first fixing things for those struggling on minimum wage and ‘zero hour’ contracts and so on?”

      What’s wrong with working on all our shared problems simultaneously?

      “I know that a lot of people talk of linking equity to climate change and there are some very pretty models with fancy maths explaining why this must be so; but why can’t the Left come up with a more attractive way to package this issue?”

      It doesn’t take fancy maths to understand pollution and environmental destruction is bad. It does require being slightly informed, but anyone with moderate intelligence can educate themselves on the issue. It is important enough that people should go to some basic effort to inform themselves. The MSM won’t inform you for the most part.

      “Why bring in future generations?”

      Why not point out the obvious implications? Sure, if you are an older American, maybe you don’t give a fuck about the future. But if you are younger, you are part of those “future generations” that will inherit the mess when you get older. There is a reason the younger generations care more about environmentalism than do old people who are closer to the end of their lives.

      “The solution is raising the minimum wage, reducing the working week, free child care etc NOW.”

      That is what many on the Left are fighting for. You certainly aren’t going to get the minimum wage raised, to get a living wage, or a basic income by supporting the Tea Party. The Tea Party is pushing the complete opposite agenda. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

      “If the only way we can pay for Climate Change is through regressive taxes then Econ 101 tells us we’re altering our Consumption bundles in a manner that more than cancels out the benefit. Which may be good for some high paid pointy heads and Venture Capitalists and so on- but aint good for Working people nor, indeed, for those on the Left who forgot about us guys coz we just aint as smart as dolphins.”

      Our present system of corporatism and crony capitalism is good for high paid pointy heads and Venture Capitalists and so on. That is the problem. Those of us on the Left would like to solve that problem by getting to the root.

      If you are to take one message away from what I say, let it be this: The Democratic Party is not the Left, but is to the right of the average American. My advice is to check out more alternative media to discover the genuine voices of criticism on the Left.

      • indglish September 23, 2014 at 7:37 am | #

        What a well worded and articulate response! I see from your blog that you are in your thirties, whereas I’m in my fifties. Back when I was at College the Left offered working class people the following ‘Buy now Pay later!’ menu
        1) Keynesian Full Employment- this meant that the ‘efficiency wage’ had to be a lot higher than subsistence AND employers had to be nice to you, otherwise you’d just walk down the road and go work for a rival at almost the same wage.
        2) High ‘replacement rate’- i.e. Social Security to Wage ratio (this happened by accident during the 70’s because of inflation)
        3) Rising share of Govt spending to GNP (again unanticipated, due to Inflation) which meant Empire building Bureaucrats were in a hurry to sign up beneficiaries to Govt. programs so as to put in a claim for a bigger budget next time round.
        4) High Wage to Profit ratio- ie. Labour got a larger slice of National Income while Rentiers were squeezed (by inflation)
        5) Expanding Higher Education sector with low or negative real costs for working class people- Life Chances were increasing with the cost paid by someone else.
        6) The promise (which proved abortive- indeed, this is what split the Labour movement) that high paid skilled workers would support faster than average wage rises for low skilled, low bargaining power, workers.
        7) State funded pensions and subsidized mortgages- once again the burden of paying for one’s old age was being passed on to someone else.
        Environmental concerns could have been neatly added to this agenda- basically tax rents on scarce commodities for the benefit of the working class AND throw open more and more of the Great Outdoors open to us for huntin’ & fishin’& trekking without any need to buy gas guzzling R.Vees. The Germans made ecology attractive to their working class. Anglo-America chose to go the other way- the super-rich were thought to be the proper conservators of the wilderness.

        What is the Left’s menu for the working class of today?
        1) Everybody has to get a PhD in Eco Feminism and be thoroughly indoctrinated in Political Correctness and have a bleeding heart for forriners (they take our jobs!) and A-rabs and Dolphins and so on.
        Why? It’s like you said- people like me gotta learn that the Media is crooked and so I’ve got to get schooled proper so as to be able to find the right blog which correctly interprets Heidegger on Planetary Technology and Chomsky on how come the US only kills terrorists who attack it and not some Cuban dude who attacked Castro and Rawls on overlapping consensus and Roberto Unger on why Time isn’t many fingered and Judith Butler on why all men are pigs and gimme tenure already and …. oh yes, them Israelis sure are nasty. They kill fewer Arabs in a decade than get killed in a week in Syria or Iraq or Yemen and that simply isn’t ecologically sustainable.
        2) Upward mobility only in the vicarious form of Middle Class Guilt. As a kid, in Catholic school, the only thing I had to feel guilty about was masturbating. As soon as I got to College I found out that working class people don’t need to feel guilty about anything ever and its the job of Govt. to provide us instantaneous gratification without guilt.
        Econ 101 tells us that Govts. screw up when they play the delayed gratification-as-virtue (or patriotism or whatever) card. Because of Principle-Agent hazard, stuff that is saved for a rainy day- or to stop it raining too much due to global warming or whatever- is stuff that gets misallocated and ends up lining the pockets of rent-seeking pointy heads.
        I’m not actually Tea Party- you are quite right, few people are- but what Sarah Palin was offering Joe the plumber was at least a no-guilt (though vicious) vicarious instantaneous gratification- for a moment we could all feel we’d won the lottery and were shooting grizzlies from helicopters.
        Also Sarah Palin had a Swahili Witch Doctor. Me want.

      • Benjamin David Steele September 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm | #

        I still don’t get the sense that you know much about leftist politics. It seems you are conflating all of the Left with the Democratic Party and mainstream movement liberalism.

        Sure, you’ll find some on the left who support Kenynesianism, mostly mainstream liberals/progressives, but you’ll also find on the left some of the harshest criticis of Keynesianism. By the way, around when you were in college, the likes of Reagan increased government spending like never seen before, except during active wars like WWII, and created the permanent debt we now have. Also, in case you didn’t know, wages for most Americans have been stagnating since 1974 while actually decreasing for the working class and the poor, including during times of economic growth and high rates of corporte profit.

        As for cheap college, that began with the federal land grants in the 1800s. It was further made cheaper then by the GI bill. All of that helped build the middle class. And all of it had happened in the generations before you. It was also a bipartisan effort. Republicans at one time were extremely progressive. That was still the case up until Nixon. Along with Nixon, Theodore Roosevet and Eisenhower were more progressive than any Democratic president in recent history.

        That is how far mainstream politics has shifted to the right. This is how both of the two main parties ended up to the right of the American public.

        This plays into how the labor movement was split. In fact, the entire Left was split. Mainstream liberals today have more in common with mainstream conservatives than they have with the left-wing. Much of the past century’s history has involved the left fighting against itself. This is how the left-wing has been forced into retreat, with liberals being among the strongest advocates of the Red Scare. And this is why the left-wing is so wary of liberals and criticize them at every turn, not that the mainstream media and politicians typically notices or acknowledges even the existence of the left-wing.

        The left-wing has no voice in mainstream politics. All your criticisms are mostly of partisan politics and its failure. The left-wing would agree with you on that, and obviously you don’t realize this. All that you describe is a caricature, a straw man of the Left. You are simply parroting the talking points of right-wing pundit and the partisan rhetoric of Republicans.

        I’m on the Left. I’m working class and without a college education. Like most on the Left, I’m not advocating any of the things you falsely beliee the Left advoccates. You could deal with the actual Left or you could go on fighting a bogeyman.

        You seem like a smart guy. You are far from clueless about world, even if your knowledge of the Left is severely limited and your view skewed. What I basically get from you is that you are angry and verging on cynicism. I empathize.

        Mainstream politics hasn’t served most Americans well, either on the Right or the Left. Government has failed us, capitalism has failed us, unions have failed us, academia has failed us, and religion has failed us. Most Americans feel disconnected and abandoned in a heartless winner-takes-all society. One has to look to the fringes in the hope of finding genuine moral leadership, but even that hope feels slim to none.

        It is too easy to fall into cynicism. I struggle against that daily. I don’t live an easy life. I work and don’t make much beyond paying the bills. I have lived below the poverty line in the past and I’m not that far above it now, although I have a better job than most working class Americans. It’s a brutal world out there with little compassion to go around. If you fall, there isn’t much of a safety net to save you and the support of traditional communities is all but gone.

        I come from the left side of the political spectrum, but I represent no one other than myself. I speak as just some random person who isn’t special. My frustration and at times hopelessness is not different from that of so many other struggling Americans. In the end, it probably isn’t all that helpful to speak of left and right. If you are working class, working poor, or unemployed, you have few shared interests with the political and monied elite on either side of mainstream politics.

        That is an insight Americans every now and then are reminded about, a lesson learned and relearned and each time forgotten again by following generations.

        Thomas Paine learned that lesson before coming to America when he moved to London. The ruling elite their intentionally was keeping the general public ignorant. It was against the law for the common folk to be allowed to attend college or even sit in on courses. So, the working class and poor scrounged up what money they had to educate themselves. They would hired learned men to give them lectures. They bought books, globes, scientific equipment, etc. It was knowledge through self-education that radicalized people like Paine.

        When Paine arrived in America, the same kind of thing was happening in here as well. When Paine showed up, public debate had become common, not just about politics but all kinds of subjects: economics, science, medicine, religion, philosophy, human nature, etc.

        That is how revolution began. It was first a revolution in the public mind. People had to first recognize they didn’t understand what was going on before they could seek out something new. They had to admit that they found themselves in a situation of ignorance and that, even though it wasn’t their fault, only they had the power to remedy the situation by educating themselves. If they had embraced anti-intllectualism and cynicism, it is unlikely that change would have followed from their dissatisfaction with the status quo,

        The same thing happened during the Populist Era. Most of the population was either undereducated or entirely uneducated. They found themselves in changing times and didn’t have a grasp of what to do about. They had a gut sense and the practical experience to know they were being taken advantage of, but they lacked a larger context of knowledge.

        So, rural farmers and urban factory workers began educating themselves. They bought books and got hold of any info that was available, printing their own publications when necessary. They shared knowledge and taught what they knew. They analyzed the data they had and came to their own conclusions about what was going on. They didn’t put their trust in mainstream politics and corporations. They took responsibility for their own fate, starting their own political parties and organizing cooperatives (such as farmers having shared ownership of a granary to give them bargaining power with the railroad tycoons).

        We find ourselves yet again in a similar situation. What will our response be?

      • indglish September 23, 2014 at 5:26 pm | #

        Well written! Young men like you should write about the world you see around you. Yes, older people do lose touch with current developments. I wouldn’t say we are cynical so much as suddenly overwhelmed by a tragic sense of wasted opportunities and wrong turns taken down the primrose path of Media bubble politics.
        Good luck to you, young man. Tell it like it is.

      • Benjamin David Steele September 23, 2014 at 9:15 pm | #

        The best any of us can do is speak truth as we understand it. For that reason, we should take great care in the truth we give voice to. What we speak might matter more than we realize. When we speak, others are listening. We never know the impact we may have on those around us. All change begins with ideas and words.

  11. Diana September 21, 2014 at 6:05 pm | #

    I signed up to be a legal observer for the climate march and it was past 2pm when marchers backed up north of the Natural History museum started moving. There were a lot of motivated people in the march — people sat down when it became apparent we weren’t going to be moving for a while (march was supposed to start 11:30am) but very few people left. A great experience.

  12. Oliver September 26, 2014 at 8:03 am | #

    I’m late to this, but I’d just like to pick up on this point:

    “Marshall’s suggestions are sensible…. avoid divisive, hot-button topics like cap-and-trade.”

    Cap-and-trade was meant to be the kind of climate change policy that would appeal to a right-winger (because it used market mechanisms to achieve its end). It has failed where it has been tried, and now apparently it’s too controversial even to discuss.

    It seems to me that, even if it’s possible to get conservatives to acknowledge the reality of climate change, any consensus will instantly collapse the moment you move on to the question of what to do about it. People have been trying for decades to come up with a way of dealing with climate change that conservatives can get behind. They never manage it. Either the solutions don’t work (cap and trade) or they’re so massively risky that only a madman would even consider them (geoengineering).

    The fact is that any practical policy for addressing climate change will involve accepting unwelcome restrictions on our lifestyles. So, if your worldview is based around the idea that the Free Market is Good and Regulation is Bad, as long as there’s even the faintest hope that the scientists might be wrong (which there always will be, until it’s far too late), it’s much easier just to ignore the problem.

    • Denis Rancourt September 26, 2014 at 9:09 am | #

      I think you are correct Oliver.
      All the elements of a global carbon-control/carbon-trading economy are being and will continue to imposed against the will of those affected.
      At the moment the main harshly affected people live in the communities where carbon-trading policies are imposed as part of a national/regional economic scam, not to mention ethanol mega-monocultures.
      Developing World inhabitants are being devastated by these undemocratically imposed schemes.
      See, for example, the outstanding documentary film “The Carbon Rush” by Left-film-maker Amy Miller:

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