Could Climate Change Kill Liberalism?

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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 (#70).

“An independent political philosophy with no inherent ties to either the left or the right,” he explains, “liberalism forms the basis of liberal democracy, the most popular and successful form of governance ever deployed.”

Liberalism has been widely embraced, 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: catastrophic climate change.

“The liberal democracies have already demonstrated a disturbing tendency to revert to authoritarianism in times of emergency,” he notes, citing Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, FDR’s confinement of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II, and George W. Bush’s disregard for due process at Guantánamo Bay.

The next emergency, he suggests, is imminent: “Too many conservatives think global warming can be dismissed as a socialist conspiracy. Too many progressives agree with the 90-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.”

In other words, the best way to preserve the red, white, and blue is by going green now.

Image by addedentry, licensed under Creative Commons.

This article first appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

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