The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

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Pledging Our Sacred Honor

Did you have a good Fourth of July? American Independence Day, of course, a day I tend not to get terribly excited about as I’ve lost my taste for fireworks, but I do still like to listen to the annual reading of the Declaration on NPR. What struck me this year was the phrase “our sacred honor,” something we don’t hear much about these days. The courage and commitment of the Founders–their various moral shortcomings notwithstanding–is also remarkable. Remember, they didn’t know they would win. They weren’t the Founding Fathers, yet. They were making it up as they went along.

So are we.

When in the course of human events it becomes obvious that the people in charge do not wish you well, and in fact have as their stated and consistent aim your failure and the destruction of all you hold dear, then by God you have a right–even a duty–to do something about that. You know where I’m going with this. I’ve argued in years past that the failure of American leadership on climate constitutes a kind of treason, a selling out of American interests to those of certain other countries. It’s time, and more than time, to take our power back.

This is the first election year in which climate change is a major campaign issue. It has become such because people are committing themselves, pledging their sacred honor, to the issue. Political leaders seldom do the right thing because they are asked nicely–didn’t work on King George–but because the people stand up and demand it.

Declare yourselves.


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We Hold These Truths

It’s been an interesting week for freedom.

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, America has begun discussing the Confederate flag, grappling with the paradoxical legacy of a second declaration of independence organized specifically around retaining the “right” of slavery. The aftermath of the same tragedy gave us the unforgettable sound of the President of the United States of America, the most powerful man on Earth speaking–and singing–as a black man, in a country where that is still not a safe thing to be.

We also got the wonderful news that the US Supreme Court had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage–and almost at the same moment, certain conservative forces began plotting how they might exercise a different kind of freedom by ignoring or subverting the ruling.

And now, American Independence Day itself is fast approaching, a time I like to use, not for patriotic veneration of the Stars and Stripes, but for contemplation of history, especially of how and why our cultural ancestors acted as they did and made this country.

In this spirit, then, I want to call the reader’s attention to a different Declaration of Independence, written by Alec Loorz as a means to call for action on climate change:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to rid themselves of an energy system that has been found to threaten their lives and liberties, it is only decent that they should declare the causes of separation from the dependence on Fossil Fuels.

We, the youth of these United States, know that some truths are self-evident: that all people are created Equal and that they have certain inalienable Rights: especially the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Because of our addiction to fossil fuels, the Earth has been pushed out of balance and suffers from Global Warming.  The effects of that warming include extreme weather shifts, more frequent natural disasters, melting ice caps and glaciers, global sea level rise, diminishing food and water supplies, and habitat loss.  These problems put the Children of this and every Nation, thousands of entire Species of animals and plants, and Future Generations in danger of losing their rights to Life, Liberty and Happiness.

So, when the burning of fossil fuels has been shown to cause Global Climate Change, it is time for those most affected to stand up and to demand change. We call for change from our cities, our states, and from our Nation.  And we commit to change ourselves.

Therefore, We, the youth of the United States of America, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of this Country, solemnly publish and declare, that we, as a Community, ought to be Free and Independent from lifestyles and forms of energy that cause Global Climate Change.

We Implore our Leaders to build of a Secure Future, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent People may of right do to build a more Sustainable and Just Society. And for the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge our Commitment, our Passion and our sacred Struggle for Equality and Justice.

Moving, no?

But without in any way criticizing Mr. Loorz’ work, I find it important to point out certain differences between his document and the one it was clearly intended to echo.

The first paragraph of each is essentially equivalent to the other; Thomas Jefferson acknowledged that when a people does something as radical as to unilaterally declare its independence, some explanation is in order. Mr. Loorz used similar wording to likewise offer an explanation. Mr. Jefferson goes on to assert what was at the time a very radical principle–that sovereignty rests with the people, whom government exists to serve, not the other way around. The Declaration of Independence from Fossil Fuels contains no such iconoclasm, but that is because it didn’t need any–the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness provide justification enough. Both documents enumerate a list of reasons for taking action, although Mr. Loorz’ list is much shorter.

But the critical difference lies in the fourth paragraph: “when the burning of fossil fuels has been shown to cause Global Climate Change, it is time for those most affected to stand up and to demand change. We call for change from our cities, our states, and from our Nation.” Structurally, its equivalent in the original is “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled…do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”

See the distinction?

Both writers used the because of A, B, and C, we therefore do D structure common to most legal declarations, but where Mr. Jefferson’s D was to unilaterally declare independence, Mr. Loorz simply asked somebody else to do a better job of leadership. In other words, it’s not a declaration at all: it’s a request. And, so far, the request has been denied, as most such requests are.

There is nothing wrong with making such a request, indeed, the signers of the original Declaration of Independence sent several requests for better treatment to their King, before finally deciding to take matters into their own hands. As Mr. Jefferson  acknowledged, revolution is such a major step that it should not be taken lightly, but only when there is no other reasonable choice. Then, too, Mr. Loorz was a teenager when he penned his request, and he was writing on behalf of other teenagers and of children. He and his colleagues could not reasonably declare unilateral independence from what amounts to the American economy since they were themselves still dependent on their parents (most of whom, we can assume, are still embedded in that economy). An impassioned request was probably their best move.

But what would a true declaration of independence from fossil fuels look like? I mean, aside from its literary form.

First, to declare independence, one must actually be independent. As John Adams later described, American independence was not something one on the battlefield but rather something that grew in the hearts and minds of the people. Britain tried to stop the independence, failed, and then admitted that they had failed by recognizing our government  as legitimate–but that recognition did not create our independence, it only ended the war. To declare independence from fossil fuel, one must first become independent from these fuels. Some individuals have done that–and some communities are in the process of working towards it.

Have any communities of significant size achieved independence? I do not know. If and when some do, it’s possible they’ll be some push-back–gunboats blockading New York Harbor seem unlikely, but expect lawsuits, arrests, jail time. Being opposed by “the establishment” is a sign that one is having some success.

The point is that one does not, cannot ask to be independent from anything–one simply becomes independent, and then announces that fact to others. As Mr. Jefferson wrote, it is decent to let the world know why this step is necessary–especially since the very fact that the declaration is necessarily suggests that the principles on which it rests may not yet be universally understood and accepted.

And so, let me say this; the radical truth that we hold self-evident is that short-term economic gain does not outweigh the good of the disenfranchised, the people of the future, or than planet as a whole. Indeed, it is the other way around.