Sep 21, 2009

The Age of Regret

The Age of Stupid premieres in New York city this evening. Celebrities of various descriptions will be on hand. The film, while described by some as a documentary, is a fictional tale set in the future. Its premise is that the present crop of voters and politicians are too dumb and self-absorbed to do the right thing about the alleged threats posed by global warming. Ergo, some years later, bad things happen on planet Earth. People from the future appear in the film pointing accusing fingers back at our generation.

Admittedly, this is an interesting thought experiment. But more than one scenario may be explored in this manner.

As a feminist, former journalist, photographer, and civil liberties advocate I believe in freedom of expression. I believe in questioning authority. I believe voters are entitled to decide who makes the laws that govern our lives - and that we're also entitled to influence what those laws say. In short, I believe in freedom and democracy. Lots of other people have believed so fervently in these things that they've sacrificed their very lives to ensure liberty for the rest of us.

But principles like free speech are not valued highly by many global warming activists. Some of them say that merely asking questions is "immoral". Others believe that elected officials who don't promote their specific agenda should be jailed.

All sorts of intrusive, privacy-invading measures are being proposed in the name of saving the planet. All kinds of authoritarian ideas are being floated in the name of avoiding a highly speculative future catastrophe. (It's worth remembering that, in 1970, the media warned we'd all be wearing gas masks outdoors by 1980 due to air pollution. Environmental experts were wrong about that - and a great many other things in recent decades.)

So here's my thought experiment. Let's call it The Age of Regret. What shall I say to my grandchildren when they ask me why I let freedom slip away? When they ask why I did nothing as every facet of daily life became assessed, inspected, and tightly regulated by eco authorities.

How shall I explain that I took the word of Al Gore that dramatic changes in ordinary people's lives were necessary even though Mr. Gore himself continues to fly around in a private jet and continues to live in a 20-room mansion that consumes several times more energy than the typical American home?

What shall I say to a granddaughter who isn't permitted to study abroad because she doesn't have enough carbon rations? How shall I explain to my grandson that I have to miss his birthday party because the rules say I'm entitled to only four hour-long drives a month and I've used all of mine helping to care for a dying friend?

How shall I defend myself against accusations that, year after year, I said little while environmentally-driven policies became harsher, while ordinary folks' personal freedoms were steadily eroded, and while ever more decision-making power became concentrated in international bodies that any one country's citizens had faint hope of influencing?

The future is not yet written. But let's be clear: there's more than one nightmare scenario to be frightened of.

[an unflattering review of The Age of Stupid appears here]