New politics needed to face global warming

Bill McKibben writes in the current American Prospect on global warming:

Europe and Japan have been able to begin grappling with climate change because they retain a different conception of public life. They don’t need houses as large as ours because their cities are in some sense an extension of people’s living rooms. They can cope with public transportation because they haven’t spread as far into distant and disconnected suburbs. In this light, it makes sense that Portland and New York and San Francisco have emerged as the centers of American activism. Those cities still have some public life. But suburban Atlanta? In case you’re wondering if such airy speculation makes a concrete difference, consider that western Europeans use, on average, 50-percent less fossil fuel than Americans. _Not because their lives are poorer, and not because they have some magical technology; because they think a little differently about life_… (emphasis added)

No, the political force that finally manages to take this issue on is the political force that also understands and helps to nurture the deep-rooted and unsatisfied American desire for real community, for real connection between people. The force that dares to actually say out loud that “more” is no longer making us happier, that the need for security and for connection is now more important.

But you could also make a decent argument that this issue is one of the doors into a new and more interesting politics. A politics that is about living the good life instead of acquiring more things. A politics that is about guaranteeing one another medical care and retirement security and a planet to inhabit. Those tasks all seem beyond the every-man-for-himself ethos of post-Reagan America; they rely on some emergent solidarity. Exactly how it will emerge and who will embody it are not yet clear, but physics and chemistry seem to require it.

Global warming is that rare (well, I hope so), overwhelming, all-encompassing, big-picture threat which could ultimately force a new politics of solidarity onto humanity — and, as McKibben points out, it’s just that solidarity which has been sorely lacking in American politics. Climate could also become the defining issue of my generation: “the baby boomers”: (scroll to page 6) got us into this mess, with more than _half_ of the world’s total oil reserves consumed during their lifetimes. That leaves their children to either (a) clean up the mess in a reasonable manner or (b) further delay the inevitable end of profligacy, merely ensuring that it’ll only get worse.