Climate Denial – Like Defending Slavery

April 27, 2015

slavesIn many ways, the Tea Party conservatives so influential in politics these days are the spiritual heirs of the slave-owners and segregationists of previous eras.

I’ve pointed out the commonalities between racism and climate denial several times.

Here the Lexington (Kentucky!) Herald Leader compares Coal defenders to those that clung to Slavery in the Old South.

Lexington Herald Leader:

I hoped to strike a nerve — and apparently succeeded — when I wrote an April 14 editorial that began: “Mitch McConnell and others who are trying to obstruct climate protections will be regarded one day in the same way we think of 19th-century apologists for human slavery: How could economic interests blind them to the immorality of their position?”

Senate Majority Leader McConnell fired off a stinging response. He almost always does, which we appreciate; we like publishing lively exchanges of ideas and are glad he reads us.

The newspapers in Bowling Green and Paducah also took us to task.

“The Lexington Herald-Leader should be ashamed of itself for its efforts in a recent editorial to try to say that history would equate McConnell efforts to protect coal to 19th-century apologists for slavery,” a Bowling Green Daily News editorial said on April 22.

McConnell’s office e-mailed that editorial to media along with an April 19 column by Paducah Sun publisher Jim Paxton. Both pieces stressed that McConnell is just honoring the promise he made last year to voters.

As the Daily News wrote, “He is looking out for Kentuckians and those in other states who depend on coal for their livelihood.”

OK, take that sentence, substitute “slavery” for “coal.” The same thing could be said of the gentlemen who the antebellum South elected to Congress. They were just looking out for their constituents who depended on slavery for their livelihood.

Other parallels between anti-abolition and anti-EPA arguments are easy to find.

Critics of President Barack Obama’s proposals for reducing the output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide warn the cost of the energy transition would cripple the economy. McConnell calls the power-plant regs an “attack on the middle class.”

Critics of abolition warned that ending slavery would cripple the national economy because cotton was the major export and critical to northern industrialization and finance.

The pro-slavery argument was dressed up as states rights. McConnell insists the Environmental Protection Agency is flouting its constitutional bounds and urges governors to resist. McConnell often speaks of “defending our way of life,” a sentiment dear to Dixie from slave days to the head-bashings in Birmingham.

Southerners constructed elaborate theological defenses of slavery. Republican Sen. Jim Inhoffe of Oklahoma insists only God can alter the climate.

I could go on but here’s what matters: Something that is so clearly wrong in retrospect — “America’s original sin,” McConnell calls it — could be so easily rationalized when it was convenient to do so. Defending coal, even by denying climate change, feels right to many people; so did defending slavery.

McConnell accuses us of “ratcheting up the rhetoric.” But considering what science says is at stake, I wonder how it’s possible to ever ratchet it up enough. That an entire political party wants to do nothing will be unfathomable in retrospect.

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10 Responses to “Climate Denial – Like Defending Slavery”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Three cheers for the Lexington Herald Leader. A great job of conflating coal-cotton-slavery-climate change. McConnell and his ilk won’t “get it” because they are ignorant and whores for fossil fuels and “free markets”, but their rear ends have just been nailed to the wall.

  2. blied7656 Says:

    I don’t say this lightly but I do believe it’s an apt comparison. Not because I have an authoritative voice on slavery, but because I recognize moral equivocation when I see it. McConnell’s attempts to block climate saving action endanger all of us. They will be remembered as misguided, ignorant, evil.

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    If fossil apologists are like slavery apologists, is another Civil War the only way out of our conundrum? I’m not being facetious, I actually think it may come to something like that (only global, not regional). British Petroleum estimates global oil reserves at 1.7 trillion barrels. At $56/barrel, that’s worth $100 trillion. Who is going to voluntarily give up $100 trillion? So this ‘unstoppable force’ is about to meet the ‘immovable object’ of climate consequences, and squeezed between them is, I believe, the very concept of modern governance and economics, which I believe is going to start the century very much aligned with the former, and end the century in great alignment with the latter. In a world of debts, we will find out this century which debts (human or environmental) are truly unforgivable.


    • Problem with your numbers. There may be 1.7 trillion barrels of oil in reserve, but a lot of that reserve is in the form of sand tar and shale. If it costs you $200 a barrel to get the stuff out of the ground and refined, you’ve just lost $144 a barrel. What’s that really worth then? (And why are you quoting BP? The whole lot of them should be in prison.)

      You could have made similar arguments about slavery about their value. The single biggest asset in the United States prior to the Civil War was slaves. The Civil War wasn’t even about owning slaves. No serious politician at the time was even considering outlawing the institution. It was about having new states entering the Union as slave states. When Lincoln was elected, the South had a hissy fit about having fewer slave states in the Union and rebelled. (The South is always having a hissy fit about something– the most antidemocratic region in the country.)

      • ubrew12 Says:

        British Petroleum posts these numbers on the internet. google ‘statistical review of world energy 2013 workbook’. At end of 2012, 10% of proved reserves was in Canada, 3% in US, 18% in Venezuela, 5% in Russia, 48% in Middle East, 5% in Libya+Nigeria, 2% in Asia-Pacific.

  4. Paul Hogue Says:

    I would like to point out (as a resident of Lexington and Kentucky for four years) that the very powerful coal lobby doesn’t speak up for the people who actually live in coal country, which should be of no surprise. For all the talk about how well McConnell did in the last election, he lost several rural counties where the coal industry has been the primary employer. Unfortunately, the Democratic candidate ran on a pro-“clean coal” platform also. I think if she’d actually run as a real Democrat, and pointed out that this backwards and destructive energy source can’t be the long-term future of this state, she might have won.

    • blied7656 Says:

      What fascinating point. I didn’t know McConnell lost in those rural districts. That’s stunning to me. Is there any public summary of that data I can look at?

  5. karldubhe Says:

    The comparison that has always concerned me was a point that was made by one of my old profs, who claimed that it was industrialization and the use of coal that allowed us to get rid of the ‘tradition’ of human slavery.

    There is merit to the fear, but I think it’s a bit overblown. I’m sure we can find better ways of moving/making lots of stuff that doesn’t involve enslaving most people for the benefit of some people.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I’m sure you are oversimplifying what your “old prof” said, unless he was a closet apologist for the southern slave owners. What he said might be true up to a point, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

      In actuality, a higher proportion of humanity than ever is now “enslaved”. We are slaves to fossil fuels and the life style that fossil fuels have allowed us to have. We are slaves to the plutocracy that siphons off and privatizes the profit while the costs are socialized. Just because some overseer is not laying a whip to our backs doesn’t change that fact, and it’s the whole biosphere that’s feeling the lash with us.


  6. […] partisan gap on climate change. The caller noted that climate-change deniers also tend to be bigots (a point Peter Sinclair has long made), and suggested that climate hawks should point out that as seas soar and droughts devastate, more […]


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