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Will Our Children ‘Condemn’ Us for Inaction on Climate Change?

The Washington Post ran a thought-provoking op-ed Sunday that posed a simple question: “What will future generations condemn us for?”

Kwame Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton University, offered four possibilities, including the world’s treatment and disregard for the environment.

From the op-ed:

It’s not as though we’re unaware of what we’re doing to the planet: We know the harm done by deforestation, wetland destruction, pollution, overfishing, greenhouse gas emissions — the whole litany. Our descendants, who will inherit this devastated Earth, are unlikely to have the luxury of such recklessness. Chances are, they won’t be able to avert their eyes, even if they want to.

Appiah makes an important point, one that is both incredibly obvious and essential. He gets to the heart of why environmental legislation in this country often gets pushed to the sidelines: Climate change and other environmental issues have not affected Americans’ day-to-day lives in the same way that issues like the economic downturn and the housing crisis have.

As Appiah notes, it’s not that Americans are “unaware” of the impacts of the many environmental issues facing this country and the world as a whole, it’s just that we haven’t been forced to address them yet. And, the irony is, scientists say we need to address them now in order to avoid catastrophic consequences down the road.

It’s an issue that environmentalists have been struggling with for years. And, with the prospects of passing climate change legislation any time soon dwindling to nothing, environmentalists will have to continue to struggle to convince the American people and lawmakers that urgent action is needed.

Over the years, environmentalists have latched on to a number of symbols of the need to address climate change: polar bears, rising sea levels, melting ice caps and national security). None have seemed to work. The question going forward is this: what will the next rallying cry be?

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