Ethics & International Affairs Volume 25.1 (Spring 2011): Essays: Face Reality? After You!--A Call for Leadership on Climate Change [Abstract]

Apr 6, 2011

In Joseph Heller's comic war novel, Catch-22, the catch-22 of the title refers to a supposed military regulation that allowed one to be relieved of military service if one was insane, but further provided that no one who realized he would be better off out of military service could possibly be insane. Humanity's so far leaderless approach to dealing with rapidly accelerating climate change embodies a similar, but profoundly tragic, catch-22 that has, among other twists and contradictions, transmuted justice into paralysis.

Many thought that the natural global leader of the effort to gain control of global climate change would be the United States, with its splendid cadre of scientists and its history of technological innovation. But our politicians have failed to be worthy of our scientists or of the trust we citizens have placed in them. Facing reality appears to be increasingly unpopular among those who pass as our national political leaders. Those who refuse to face reality often find that what they ignore may come back to bite them, and worse, it may hurt others who trust them with their well-being. It is unclear which members of the U.S. Senate have sold their souls to the fossil-fuel interests and which have simply closed their minds. But the effect is the same: the facts on the ground—and in the air, water, and ice of the planet—are racing further and further ahead of the faltering U.S. political efforts to respond to them. And the American failure of political leadership is one major factor that is crippling efforts to negotiate multilateral action at the international level.

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