Does Liberalism Work Today?
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “liberalism” as follows:
“a political philosophy advocating personal freedom for the individual,
democratic forms of government, gradual reform in political and social
In our time of species-threatening climate change, classic “liberalism” and its implied approval of broad freedoms for individuals to pollute, produce, and consume as they choose is dangerous. There are critics: one example is the international outcry against Brazil’s intentionally-set forest fires. Liberalism’s “personal freedom” allows and even encourages destruction of rain forests, with widespread, bad, and uncompensated effects.
The Amazon rain forest, called the “Earth’s lungs,” generates much of Earth’s oxygen. Farmers destroying that jungle and planting commercial crops harm everyone’s air, and everyone’s oceans, but the financial gains from burning or clear cutting go only to those who harvest or destroy. The Brazilian government’s reaction to criticism of its failure to halt the destruction is hostile and tough; it argues national sovereignty protects Brazilians’ rights to do whatever they like to jungles within their borders. Foreigners have no vote under national sovereignty principles on how Brazilian land is used.
A Brazilian might tell an American that “you created the global warming problem” by burning disproportionate amounts of fossil fuels for many decades. High levels of consumption helped in building America’s industrial dominance and its high standard of living, and Brazilians didn’t object while it was happening.
Average people in the rest of the world do not, and have not, come close to matching our per capita greenhouse gas emissions, and about a quarter of all human-caused increases in CO2 levels since 1750 have come from America. No guilt, no action. The damages already inflicted on the planet are acceptable “collateral damages” of America’s tremendous productivity and its reliance on burning coal, oil and gas.
President Trump, and many others, would leave solutions of any such problems to “the markets” and assert “personal freedom” as a dominant value. That cowboy, leave-me-alone, “liberal”attitude hamstrings efforts to limit greenhouse gases, even for people who credit evidence about human causes of observed global-warming. Climate change deniers reject ideas to mitigate global warming under their gospel that “it’s just weather” and that humankind does not cause climate change. They often come from a “don”t interfere with me” liberalism which precludes, for instance, much government interference with mining and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas.
Freedom to release climate-changing greenhouse gases and otherwise trash the planet will, at some point, yield to protecting natural systems we depend on. More and more people will of focus on the health and survival of natural systems and personal freedoms emphasized in “liberalism” will yield to strict rules, strongly enforced, designed to protect Earth’s ecosystem. Changes will likely come through a revolution we can only dimly see, but when it happens it will change our daily lives. The revolution against our current “liberalism” and “personal freedom” which allow, and even encourage, unlimited consumption will be difficult, but it will protect you and your children in the long term. And it may happen soon.