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Now We Have Won

The progressive movement has won two major arguments in the last six months. One, sadly, much too late to do much about it. The other, perilously close to the same.
The war in Iraq should never have happened. The invasion of Iraq should not have been undertaken. There were undoubted merits in removing the Hussein regime, but not in those circumstances, not in that way.
I walked on several peace marches in 2003, in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, protesting against the coming war. (The one I speak of I wrote about here.) I vividly remember crossing North Bridge in Edinburgh and seeing a man, forty-ish and spectacled and ordinary, standing with his arms folded and making eye contact with the marchers and shaking his head. Endlessly, slowly, shaking his head. You Are Wrong. This war is the right thing to do, and this is the way to do it.
It is no longer in dispute that it was not the right thing to do, and that wasn’t the way to do it. Public opinion has settled. We have won that argument.
Climate change is now on the agenda. A major group of articles in the local newspaper this weekend focused on climate change, with not a word devoted to whether it exists or not. New Zealand’s business-friendly National party made a huge and public u-turn on green issues in general and climate change in particular. Giant icebergs are floating past the NZ city of Dunedin, in sight of shore.
I remember at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2003 I went to an incredible presentation on ecology and social responsibility by Scottish writers Alastair Macintosh and Roger Levett. (I wrote about it here.) Sure enough, at the end of the presentation came a question doubting the existence of global warming and climate change.
It is no longer in dispute that climate change is real and caused by human activity. Public opinion has settled. We have won that argument.
The public landscape of ideas has shifted irrevocably to accommodate these two victories. The victory for the Democratic party in the US congressional elections has canonised these outcomes. All over the world, media and elected officials are falling over each other to align themselves with the new public opinion. Now that we have won the arguments, what are our concerns?
We must recognise our success. This means two things.
First, do not waste energy relitigating the argument. We’ve already won. Those who disagree are the minority now; ignore them. Either they will eventually be convinced by the simple prevalence of our ideas – or they were always beyond our reach. Either way, don’t waste time on them. Let them have their letters to the editor and their curmudgeonly comment columns. These people do not matter.
Second, push forward. We have won the argument; this does not mean the problems are solved. Far from it. Politicians are quick to claim adherence to a new common sense, but actual change in behaviour is slower to manifest. We must pressure our politicians and other leaders to engage with these issues in a productive way.
Winning the argument wasn’t even the first step on the road – it was only, for the first time, pointing people in the right direction. That is a significant achievement, and we’ve earned the right to say “I told you so”, but we better not get too enamoured of our success. There is a long journey ahead, and much work to do.

{ 9 } Comments

  1. Kiwi in Zurich (in Bermuda) | November 20, 2006 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Hey Morgue,
    I think you have to be careful to say that something has shifted irrevocably, ever. I was in the US at the time the Democrats won both houses, and while the war in Iraq came up frequently, I don’t recall the environment being mentioned once beyond Arnold and California, and there were enough gay sex scandles by supposedly straight republicans as well as an endless stream of corruption allegations about both sides. My impression is that US politics is hugely dominated by their own internal issues and Iraq. The recent massive rises in oil may have also led to the change, but that is about how it affects the average consumer’s wallet, not about a dedication to carbon reduction and a more environmentally sustainable way of life.
    Having said that, commentators have been saying that the Republicans moved too far to the right and that they need to reclaim the centre ground. In much the same way that Arnold has done in Califonia and what Giulliani (sp?) stands for and what he could pursue if he happened to make it to president in two year’s time.
    I can’t help but feel the whole thing is cyclical. People just eventually get sick of the arrogance of the status quo. I think Labour in NZ is classic of that at the moment.

  2. liz | November 20, 2006 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Being a US citizen involved in the election, I concur with Kiwi. The Democratic victory was in response to much short sighted discontent including changing opinions on Iraq because it’s taking too long with too many American deaths, not that the decision to go to war was itself wrong. And the environment isn’t discussed much at all. Global warming is still in debate. Growing cities have no public transit infrastructure. Curb-side recycling pick-up is a novelty. And old power companies are protected from investing millions of dollars into updating their factories to meet current (albeit lenient) environmental standards. It’s all pretty despicable, but at least now there’s hope of some positive change.

  3. Anonymous | November 20, 2006 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Giant icebergs are floating past the NZ city of Dunedin, in sight of shore.
    That, in itself, is not actually a sign of climate change. It has happened before, 50 years or so ago. It does in fact seem to happen periodically. However, if it happens twice more in the next ten years, then it may be a sign of climate change.

  4. Jenni | November 20, 2006 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    aw, you got your own comment doubting the existence of climate change!
    ahem. I was actually going to say that I noticed the climate change message had permeated when I watched the new episode of comedy show “My Name is Earl”. It features Christian Slater as a hippy who educates Earl about global warming.
    Earl then becomes a crusading greenie for a while and eventually pulls back to “just five minutes a day” doing recycling and such. But it had a lot of OTT viewer education built in…
    “Look Randy! I bought us energy efficient lightbulbs!”

  5. Andrew | November 20, 2006 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    “aw, you got your own comment doubting the existence of climate change!” – did he? Looks to me like [] is questioning the validity of a particular example (with reason given), rather than *doubting* the *existence* of climate change per se. I dunno if [] does or doesn’t doubt the existence of climate change, but I can imagine questioning Morgue’s example of the Dunedin icebergs while accepting the reality of climate change.
    If that constitutes “climate-change doubter”, we’re fucked.

  6. 2trees | November 20, 2006 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    When I see the base line of business changing its environmental practices I will believe we have won the race. Until then I am skeptical.

  7. Scott A | November 20, 2006 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    This is a troll, right?
    Surely?
    The climate change issue has been won? The Iraq issue has been won?
    Just like I suppose racism and feminism issues were “won” in the sixties and seventies. Because of course there is no sexism within corporate investment practices, and no racism within a nice western country like New Zealand.
    Sure, there’s been some movement, especially within the climate change issue (because, after all, that debate’s only been going on for, um, oh thirty years or so?) As for Iraq… well, enough commentators have pointed out that change where it matters – at those who hold the power in Washington, ain’t really evident yet.
    The arguement still needs to happen, the pressure still needs to be applied. But the more that hear the arguement, and accept there is a debate to be had, the better.

  8. morgue | November 20, 2006 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m responding to most of this in a followup post.
    KiZ and Liz – cogent analyses, and I agree with most everything you both say. But not everything. You may not be satisfied with my followup post 🙂
    (also, Liz – are you the American Liz I know? Or another one? Just curious 🙂
    Andrew, re iceberg comment – you’re right, Jenni was reading in. I think that’s more than forgiveable given the context. Especially since, unless it’s meant to undermine the idea of climate change, it doesn’t actually do anything at all – I never advance a claim that the icebergs are signs [i.e. evidence] of climate change in themselves, just that they’re helping put it on the agenda, which is kinda indisputable.

  9. Yes, that's right | November 21, 2006 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    You are super sexy. This is not a troll.