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Limits of Liberalism?

I subscribe to our local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I appreciate its local coverage, liberal editorial bent, and the intelligent, well-written op-ed pieces.

The Gazette has given front page coverage since April 11th to protests organized by Divest UMass, a University of Massachusetts at Amherst student group demanding that the University divest from all fossil fuel companies. These protests included peaceful sit-ins in the University’s administration building leading to 34 arrests. The newspaper reported the Judge’s comments to some of those being arraigned. That article prompted me to write this letter to the editor:

"Older not wiser

According to the April 14 Gazette story, the Judge chided students for not riding bikes or public transportation to the hearing for students arrested for protesting UMass fossil fuel company holdings.

Of course we should all be aware of and act to reduce our carbon footprint. However, the individual actions the Judge addressed will at best only slow our plunge into civilization-threatening climate chaos. The students, on the other hand, by confronting the structure of our fossil fuel based economic system demonstrated a better grasp of what will save us.

Judge Estes is older, but the students are wiser."

I waited to see my letter in print. I’m still waiting ten days later. Instead, on April 19th, the Gazette published the following letter, by a professor of environmental economics at a local community college:

"Individual avoidance of fossil fuels does matter

Here, here to Judge Thomas Estes (“15 arrested,” Apil14) for putting his finger on the fact that it is students’ and everyone’s daily behavior that will effectively address climate change. Bike, bus, drive below the speed limit."

Evidently, our liberal newspaper was willing to print a letter that, in effect, said global warming induced climate change could be solved by altering our personal behavior, but not one that pointed out that we must change the nature of our system.

Individual verses structural change is not an either or proposition. I believe that basic economic change is paramount, but we must change our behavior as well. On the other hand, the published letter opined that modifying individual behavior is THE way to address climate change effectively. This personal focus turns a blind-eye to the root causes of the crisis. It lulls us into thinking that all we have to do to save ourselves is act more responsibly.

I wish that our decent local paper had published both letters, side by side, to encourage conversation about these issues. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m familiar with the limits of liberalism.

PS The Gazette finally published my letter this morning (4/26). While I am glad that they did, the delay since the publication of the 4/14 story has blunted it's impact. The students won their demand, and the news cycle has moved on.  Read More 
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