Carthago delenda est!

On the day after Christmas – Boxing Day for Canadians and Anglophiles – I will have been a professional, freelance journalist for ten years.  (If the crick don’t rise, that is.  At 62, I assume nothing).

For me, journalism began with a series of first-person articles written for Petersburg’s Progress-Index, describing the experiences of a week-long venture to New Hampshire.  Volunteering for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign allowed me to check off a key item on my personal bucket list – and get my first real taste of writing for the consideration of others.

I started doing occasional op-ed pieces for the Progress-Index.  In the summer of 2004, I submitted my first piece to the Village News.  From that point, with a couple of breaks, I’ve been at it ever since.

As my regular readers know, I like to vary my subject matter.  Sometimes, it’s personal stuff about growing up in Chesterfield, keeping bees, caring for an aging parent, or books, plays and movies I’ve enjoyed.

On other occasions, I tackle politics, education, and other controversial topics – sometimes with a light touch, sometimes not.  A year ago, I hammered Superintendent Newsome’s “Design for Excellence” for three straight weeks, calling it a “Design for Ignorance.”  I haven’t changed my mind about that – or my belief that Chesterfield would do well with a different person running its schools.

That series aside, I’ve usually written with the intention of persuading, rather than denouncing.  I’d rather educate – which, to me, has always been about encouraging study, thought, and new perspectives, rather than insisting that everyone think my way.

I’ve received awards for opinion writing, but I cherish most the morning when a lovely lady came up to me during a Shepherd’s Center session at Chester Baptist and told me that my article on same-sex marriage (“Adam and Steve,” August 11, 2010) had changed her mind on the issue.  

A writer can ask for no higher praise.

I say all this because, after nearly ten years, I’m thinking about violating my own rules by taking an uncompromising position – saying, in effect, that, on one particular issue, I’m no longer interested in debating those who disagree with me.  

Not simply because I’m sure I’m right.  I’m pretty sure about a lot of things, but I’m willing to enter into dialogue in the democratic spirit – assuming that there’s generally something to be learned from an exchange of views.

In this one case, however, I no longer feel that way.  Indeed, I’m quite sure that the issue is too important – and, as Mr. Covey would say, too urgent – to wait for consensus.

It’s time for those of us on the right side to saddle up.  We should, by all means, persuade the open-minded.  But arguing with the skeptics is no longer justified.  The evidence is so compelling that anyone who rejects it either hasn’t looked into it – or is determined not to believe it.  

Either way, debating the skeptics is a waste of breath – and a waste of time.

The issue, if you haven’t guessed, is global climate change – or, as the more emphatic among us call it, Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).

I’ve long believed that AGW was real, and important.  I’d read a bit about the science behind it.  But until this May, I hadn’t really dug in and made a systematic study of that science.  

That changed when I signed up for “Climate Literacy:  Navigating Climate Change Conversations,” a ten-week, science-based MOOC out of the University of British Columbia.  I’m seven weeks into the course now, and from what I’ve seen, there simply is no question.  

AGW is real.  The evidence is not only scientific – it’s in the headlines.  SuperStorm Sandy.  Record tornadoes in the Plains states.  Colorado on fire.  Alaskan temperatures in the 90s.

Nineteen gallant firefighters – from an elite team – dead in Arizona.

Recent changes in climate are, overwhelmingly, the result of human activity.  The consequences of further delay would be catastrophic.  Yet, if we attack it now, the worst could be averted.

What “worst”?  

In future, I’ll write about that – and about practical steps that can be taken by individuals, communities, states, and this nation so meet the challenge.

Because – as scary as the truth is – it is not too late.  Not yet.  

Not quite yet.

But I don’t intend to debate the science.  For one thing, I’m not a scientist.  Anyone with an open mind can find lots of scientific information put together by people far better qualified than I will ever be.

If  you’re in doubt, do your research.  It’s out there.  But get it from experts, not me.  

Besides, I’m more interested in getting things done.  There comes a time when you just don’t want to debate any longer.

In the ancient Roman Republic, Cato the Elder – a prominent Senator – reached the conclusion that Rome’s longtime rival, Carthage, had become too great a threat.  So convinced was he that Cato decided to end every speech to the Senate – on every topic – with this reminder: “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.”

Sometimes, he shortened it to “Carthago delenda est.”  

“Carthage must be destroyed.”

Cato kept up his insistent demands until Rome acted, won the Third Punic War, destroyed Carthage, and became mistress of the Mediterranean Sea.  

In this column, I’ll continue to write about a variety of topics.  I’ll try to maintain my light touch.

But with respect to AGW, I’m considering the example of old Cato, and ending every column with something like:

“Climate change must be combatted.”


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