Utne Blogs > Wild Green

Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


Will Climate Change Spell the End of Liberalism?

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: climate change, politics, government, liberalism, liberal democracy, conservativism, socialism, environment, Keith Goetzman,

High-security sunset

Liberalism in the classical sense isn’t the opposite of conservativism but rather “the proposition that we’re all free to do as we please, other than to impede the freedoms of others,” writes Timothy Ferris in the Future Issue of The Oxford American:

An independent political philosophy with no inherent ties to either the Left or the Right, liberalism forms the basis of liberal democracy, the most popular and successful form of governance ever deployed. … Liberalism is a proposition, not a dogma. … Its method, like that of science, is to start with freedom and let people experiment as they see fit, discarding the experiments that fail and retaining those that seem to work.

Liberalism has been a resounding success, posits Ferris, with most Americans sharing basic classical liberal beliefs and liberal democracies comprising “nearly half of all humanity.” But one thing could be its undoing, he suggests: catastrophic climate change:

Liberalism itself could become a victim of such a calamity. The liberal democracies have already demonstrated a disturbing tendency to revert to authoritarianism in times of emergency. Few historians today think it was a good idea for Abraham Lincoln to have abridged habeas corpus during the Civil War, or for FDR to have put native-born Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II, or for George W. Bush to have imprisoned suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay without due process, but this baleful tendency has persisted anyway.

Too many conservatives think global warming can be dismissed as a socialist conspiracy. Too many progressives agree with the ninety-year-old ecologist James Lovelock that “it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while” in order to deal with global warming. There is a real danger of our running aground between these two big, ignorant, smug schools of thought—and a real need for those who comprehend the threat to start speaking out more forcefully about it.

 Source: The Oxford American (article not available online), The Guardian 

Image by Elenapaint, licensed under Creative Commons.