Moral compass points South again


American Southerners are independent folk — independent enough to stand for the truth, even if it means standing alone.

A few weeks ago, Al Gore joined five other Southerners who have also been awarded the world’s most distinguished honor, the Nobel Peace Prize. We conservatives and liberals from the Southern Appalachians have much to be proud of, and much to be grateful for.

Even if we believe that Al Gore’s message is not perfect in every respect, there is no logical dispute over the basic conclusion. The climate is changing and fossil fuel use is the cause. What we do about it – what we can do about it – is the debate we need to have now.

It took moral courage to champion this controversial idea slightly ahead of its time, while we still have time. And so, although others are also deserving, we strongly believe that Al Gore has earned this award.

We also believe that moral courage is part of the heritage of the South, and that this heritage was there for Al Gore just as it is for all of us. In fact, we believe it is no coincidence that more Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded to American Southerners than to people from any other region of the world.

We recall the Nobel prizes awarded in 2002 to Jimmy Carter and of course in 1964 to Martin Luther King, both from Georgia. But we can’t forget George C. Marshall’s 1953 Nobel Peace Prize for the plan that helped rebuild Europe; Cordell Hull’s 1945 award for helping to establish the United Nations; and Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 award for trying to establish a League of Nations. Like Wilson, Marshall was from Virginia; And like Hull, Al Gore is from Tennessee.

The Nobel Peace Prize was never meant to be the end of the story. It is meant to convey a message from a tiny Scandinavian nation with a strong moral compass.

Today, that compass points South again. The message is that we need to work within the international framework conceived by Wilson and Hull; we need to rebuild our world’s environment, just as Marshall envisioned rebuilding Europe; we need compassion and democracy in the process, as Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter have reminded us; and we desperately need courage in the face of sneering ignorance, as Martin Luther King and Al Gore have shown us.

What we stand for today is a profound commitment to the future.

We stand with these Nobel Peace Prize winners and hope that we can all encourage moral courage and leadership. We will need every scrap of courage and every reverent act of leadership as we face the environmental crises that will decide, one way or another, the very survival of humanity.

Dangerous Rhetoric

There was, from some quarters, a less than gracious welcome for Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize. This is something to be expected in American politics. The give and take of ideas is part of what we are about, and certainly, the other American Nobel winners put up with as much or more in their day. We have no particular quarrel with those who just don’t like Al Gore.

Yet within this normal political atmosphere, there is a dangerous idea being spun by certain desperate demagogues. They are falsely claiming that there is some kind of “Church of Global Warming” and that environmentalism is a religious cult that is cut off from real religious values.

This dangerous message signals a less-than-human status of people who care about the environment. Why is it dangerous? Cult followers quickly become devils, and devils quickly become targets. We have seen it happen many times in history.

Of course, the argument is illogical on the face of it. Anyone who has been to church or synagogue in the past few decades, or who understands religious faiths, knows very well that stewardship and creation care are moral values that are deeply embedded in the faiths. It is faith that helps us stand for the truth, that gives us a moral compass.

But the reaction to Al Gore’s Peace Prize shows a rising tide of hate speech about the environment and politics. It’s not about logic. It’s about the pundits and wing-nuts acquiring power with the darkest appeal to the deepest fears.

It is deadly stuff in the hands of fools.

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