03 April 2011


There is a NY Times series called "Disunion," about the American Civil War. Today's was "How Slavery Really Ended in America." Apparently General Butler, in charge of Ft. Monroe in Virginia, created the wedge that eventually led to the emancipation of African slaves. Little known is that slaves were not emancipated at the start of hostilities. The north was still hoping for reconciliation and continuing to recognize the abhorrent practice of considering people to be property was part of that strategy of mollification. Butler refused to return runaway slaves. He argued that they were contraband. Like guns and ammunition, the slaves were being used to further the Confederate war effort, thus were fair game to be confiscated. Believe it or not, at the start of the war, runaway slaves were frequently returned to their bellicose owners. This stratagem circumvented that policy. This stratagem was a wedge that went viral.

Today we stand in an awkward position in relation to carbon emissions. If the worse case scenarios turn out to be true, we are looking at mass famines as the food system collapses; abject poverty; lack of potable water; intense storms and weather extremes. We have a moral dilemma. We have an existential dilemma. Much like slavery, we wed ourselves to a system we know to be morally indefensible. But wholesale abandonment of that system could also be catastrophic, not merely uncomfortable. Do we take on the issue and work towards a change? Or like the Civil War, do we wait for a precipitous calamity with untold violence, death, privation and misery? What is the wedge that begins to unravel the knot?

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