It takes several generations for social movements in the United States
to achieve their primary goals; activists in this nation have always been
forced to accept small gains over many years until the prize is won. So far
the debate over climate change is following this patern. Activists point
out what must be done, “skeptics” refuse to act, and the nation edges for-
ward, slowly and cautiously, toward the goal.
This time around, however, the slow and steady approach will not do.
We do not have the luxury of awaiting the reconciliation of beliefs that
Hulme envisions. Because climate change proceeds apace, we must act
as soon as we possibly can. Hesitating to act in this case seems foolish.
Although all of us by now have a healthy respect for the ponderous rate at
which political change comes in modern democracies, we also know that
in this particular case, the problem gets worse with each passing year.
Is it possible that something is wrong with the best solutions proposed
to this point? Are they simply too much to take? If so, what about them
seems to go too far? As I have suggested, the basic approach is straight-
forward enough: raising the price of emiting greenhouse gases would do
the trick, especially through the mechanism of a greenhouse tax or untax.
(As I mentioned in chapter two, following the usage of Steven Stoft, an
untax is a tax whose entire proceeds are distributed equally to all taxpay-
ing citizens.) But to be fair, even this relatively simple approach would
require an important transformation in our political culture.
In the United States, we tend to place great faith in the rationality and
efficiency of the market. We interfere, if at all, by making certain transac-
tions illegal, imposing regulations on business practices, and encourag-
ing various endeavors with tax breaks. But for the most part, we allow
the market to set its own priorities. We regard any widespread atempt to
shape market forces with suspicion, having decided many decades ago,
at least by the time of the Cold War, that any collective control over the
market constituted socialism and therefore (in a major leap) totalitarian-
ism. For us, it seems, the liberty of the market is as sacred as any other
freedom, no mater what the consequences. But as a result, we tend to let
many abuses fester for generations; even though we can see that the mar-
ket creates a wide array of social problems, we refuse to consider many
ways to fix them out of the fear that intervening would look like social-
ism. Ironically, of course, through our government we have subsidized