Jonah Goldberg

Time magazine recently doctored the iconic photo of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima in order to "celebrate" Earth Day. Instead of Marines valiantly struggling to lift the stars and stripes, they are depicted planting a tree.

No doubt Time's editors think they will be celebrated in poetry and song for generations to come for their high-minded cleverness.

Still, if the symbolism wasn't clear enough, Time writer Bryan Walsh spells it out: "Green is the new red, white and blue."

There are any number of problems here, starting with the fact that this is simply a lie. Green is not the new red, white and blue. Concern over climate change may be the most honorable and vital thing imaginable. But if "the red, white and blue" means anything, it means patriotism or love of country. Patriotism and environmentalism simply aren't synonymous terms. Two things can be good without being the same. Fatherhood and all-you-can-eat chicken wings, for example, don't describe identical phenomena.

Even if Walsh and his bosses at Time were merely trying to be descriptive of American attitudes, they'd still be flat-out wrong. If Americans saw environmentalism as the purest expression of patriotic sentiment - like, say, buying Liberty Bonds during WWI - Time's declaration might be defensible. But Americans don't think any such thing.

The latest Gallup environmental survey shows that only 37 percent of Americans worry about global warming "a great deal," a drop from 41 percent last year. Indeed, the share of Americans greatly concerned with climate change is about the same as it was a decade ago, which still sounds a bit high since the globe pretty much stopped getting warmer in 1998. Even among environmental concerns, climate change isn't priority No. 1 for most Americans.

The editors of Time surely know this, which explains their real motive: They want to persuade Americans otherwise. And they are honest about it. Richard Stengel, Time's managing editor, who recently admitted that he doesn't much care about "objective" journalism, insists that "there needs to be an effort along the lines of preparing for World War II to combat global warming and climate change."

"The U.S. produces nearly a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases," Time reports, "... and has stubbornly made it clear that it doesn't intend to do a whole lot about it."

And thus we see the new patriotism wheeling around to identify the real villain. In World War II, we fought an epic battle for freedom, democracy, decency and capitalism. In the new moral equivalent of World War II, the trinitarian evil of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo is replaced with One True Satan, and he is ... us.

Rather than wade into the science and economics of global warming yet again, let us instead dissipate the hot air of the liberal obsession with the moral equivalent of war.

In brief: There is no such thing as the moral equivalent of war. Whatever war is, it is war. The good that comes from war is unique to war. The evil that comes from war is unique to war, too. Even natural disasters that require citizens to drop what they are doing to help those in need cannot truly be compared to war because natural disasters are never evil in intent. (If they were, we would call tornados "acts of Satan," not "acts of God.")

Ever since philosopher William James coined the phrase "moral equivalent of war," self-described progressives have sought to galvanize the masses for collective purposes. They have loved the idea of war-without-war precisely because they want a public that follows in lockstep and individuals who will sacrifice their personal ambitions for the "greater good." This is what John Dewey, James' disciple, called the "social benefits of war." Dewey, later a famous pacifist, supported WWI because he believed it would usher in an age of collectivism and crush laissez-faire capitalism.

The yearning for a moral equivalent of war is an understandable desire, perhaps even noble in its intent. But it is not democratic. It is fundamentally authoritarian, which might explain why so many environmentalists envy China's ability to ban plastic bags without reference to a vote or a court or anything other than the will of the China's technocratic rulers. Indeed, the authors of "The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy" openly question whether the crisis of climate change should render liberal democracy obsolete. For some it seems the moral equivalent of war requires the moral equivalent of a police state.

This is the atmosphere Time is helping to poison, with pollutants far worse than mere greenhouse gasses.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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