“Just plain immoral.” That’s how Secretary of State John Kerry recently described those who stand idly by while the world burns—or, worse, obstruct those trying to douse the fire. He didn’t name names, but Kerry was clearly referring to Republicans who lockstep refuse to acknowledge climate science, even as California enters the fourth year of a historic drought and the West Antarctica ice sheet has begun an “irreversible” collapse that will eventually swamp coastal regions the world over. “We literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say ‘climate change,’” Kerry said.
Kerry’s use of unabashedly moral language is one sign among many that 2015 is shaping up as both the best and worst of times in the race to preserve a livable planet. Jettisoning the techno-speak that pervades most discussions of the climate crisis in favor of straight talk about right and wrong can re-arrange the political furniture, for it invites regular folk into the conversation. Most politics is decided below, not above, the neck—in people’s hearts and guts more than their brains. Solid information and logical arguments have their place of course, but what moves most voters are their emotional feelings about a given issue or candidate, not an intellectual weighing of pros and cons. Tap into that and real change becomes possible.
A stunning example unfolded in China earlier this spring when a well-known television journalist narrated a searing documentary about her homeland’s horrific air and water pollution. Chai Jing had grown interested in the topic after becoming pregnant with her first child, and her plainspoken account in “Under the Dome” of the health risks facing ordinary Chinese struck an unmistakable chord. Hundreds of millions of people viewed the documentary online before the authorities removed it.