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Sunday, May 26, 2013
In 1292 A.D., a devastating fire destroyed most of the seaside village of Dubrovnik, Croatia, where I took study abroad students last summer. An ancient fortress along the spectacular Dalmation coastline, Dubrovnik burned to the ground because its many wooden roofs enabled the fire to rapidly spread.
Afterward, Dubrovnik’s surviving citizens gathered in a town assembly (aka government) and voluntarily decided to rebuild their homes and businesses using only tile roofs (aka zoning ordinance). Seven centuries later, beautiful Dubrovnik stands as testament to the progress of materials science and collective wisdom of local democracy.
Today, countless examples exist worldwide illustrating the civic value and tangible benefits of internationally shared expertise, ideas and innovations that enhance our urban and rural habitats. Many of the advancements we enjoy daily originated in faraway places and entrepreneurial circumstances of which we are unaware: experimentation, famine, war, medicine, revolution.
Yet, to some Americans (aka tea party) outside ideas are automatically suspect and seen as a threat to one’s individual freedom, sparking fearful warnings expressed in conspiratorial language: U.N. agendas, global-warming alarmists, social engineers. I wonder why?
Bill Gregory, chairman of the Roanoke Tea Party’s Anti-U.N. Agenda 21 committee, asserts that the bottom line is whether one “believes man-made CO2 emissions are a major contributor to global warming” (“Evidence ICLEI is taking over as clear as RCCLEAR,” May 13 commentary). I suspect a more fundamental question lies at the bottom of our political divide: Are humans communal or independent creatures, or both?
To me, it seems abundantly obvious that we live in an increasingly interdependent world linked by economic exchange, communication technologies, environmental resources, demographic shifts, climatic systems, political relations, transportation infrastructure, cultural diversity and religious institutions. Hence, the role of government to facilitate dialogue and cooperation on all fronts.
Yet, some citizens are distrustful of all governments, especially those across geopolitical borders (aka international parasites). Yes, governments have their scandals (Watergate, Iran/Contra, IRS-tea party), and so does industry, our military and my Catholic church. Nevertheless, do we swim together or paddle alone?
I applaud (not demean, as he predicted) Gregory’s call for citizens to examine the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Roanoke County Community Leaders Environmental Action Roundtable and Agenda 21. Each is an autonomous and voluntary organization dedicated to sharing ideas and experiences among local governments (see Gene Marrano, “Nothing to fear from RCCLEAR,” April 8 commentary, and icleiusa.org/about-iclei/faqs). ICLEI explicitly emphasizes that “local democracy is key.”
In the spirit of Dubrovnik’s town hall meeting, 172 nations (including 108 heads of state) gathered at the 1992 Rio Summit, inaugurating Earth Summit. Among Agenda 21’s non-binding principles are calls for sustainable development, environmental protection, poverty reduction, racial harmony, universal education, economic growth, energy conservation, advancement of women and species protection. Its visionary agenda is proactive, holistic, collaborative, equitable and hopeful.
Conversely, for an in-depth philosophical analysis of the tea party’s paranoid mindset and obstructionist agenda, see fellow Hokie Professor Bruce Hull’s website at constructingsustainability.com/category/tea-party. Sadly, its worldview and agenda strike me as myopic and contradictory. If not, then I assume that tea party folks, in their constitutional obsession with personal freedom, would joyfully allow a 24-hour Walmart or porno shop next door. Mr. Property Rights collides with Ms. NIMBY.
Today, polls continually reveal that 97 percent of scientists acknowledge that the evidence for anthropocentrically accelerated sea-level rise (aka global warming) is compelling and significant, jeopardizing much of humanity’s livelihood. Ignoring tea party skeptics, strategic planners in our conservative U.S. Department of Defense are already coping with the impacts of rapid climate change.
When the 2008 U.S. financial crisis plunged the world into recession, conservative emeritus Pope Benedict called for establishment of an international body to oversee the global economy. Catholic social teaching has long promulgated that all private property carries a social mortgage requiring its use for the common good.
Perhaps we need a deeper understanding of the precious notion of freedom, as distinct from license. When government uses its licensing power to regulate our behavior, that does not diminish one’s freedom — the capacity to be a virtuous person, which includes having friendly relations with others. A prison inmate has lost his license, not his freedom. In fact, “freedom” and “friends” derive from the same etymological root. To be free is to realize our connectedness.
Anthropology and religion assert that humans are communal creatures, yesterday, today and tomorrow. For better and worse, our relationships began in the garden of Eden. It’s just a bit more complex now, indeed a global village needing the collective protection of Dubrovnik’s tile roofs.
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday