(former president of the Czech Republic)
Op-Ed, NYT, Septembr 27, 2007
OVER the past few years the questions have been asked ever more forcefully whether global climate changes occur in natural cycles or not, to what degree we humans contribute to them, what threats stem from them and what can be done to prevent them. Scientific studies demonstrate that any changes in temperature and energy cycles on a planetary scale could mean danger for all people on all continents.
It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don’t know how big its contribution is. Is it necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren’t we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?
Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for the past hundred years at least, Europe and the United States have been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following their example. Nature is issuing warnings that we must not only stop the debt from growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.
The effects of possible climate changes are hard to estimate. Our planet has never been in a state of balance from which it could deviate through human or other influence and then, in time, return to its original state. The climate is not like a pendulum that will return to its original position after a certain period. It has evolved turbulently over billions of years into a gigantic complex of networks, and of networks within networks, where everything is interlinked in diverse ways.
Its structures will never return to precisely the same state they were in 50 or 5,000 years ago. They will only change into a new state, which, so long as the change is slight, need not mean any threat to life.
Larger changes, however, could have unforeseeable effects within the global ecosystem. In that case, we would have to ask ourselves whether human life would be possible. Because so much uncertainty still reigns, a great deal of humility and circumspection is called for.
We can’t endlessly fool ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our wasteful lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there will be no major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.
I don’t agree with those whose reaction is to warn against restricting civil freedoms. Were the forecasts of certain climatologists to come true, our freedoms would be tantamount to those of someone hanging from a 20th-story parapet.
Whenever I reflect on the problems of today’s world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights — these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium.
We must return again and again to the roots of human existence and consider our prospects in centuries to come. We must analyze everything open-mindedly, soberly, unideologically and unobsessively, and project our knowledge into practical policies. Maybe it is no longer a matter of simply promoting energy-saving technologies, but chiefly of introducing ecologically clean technologies, of diversifying resources and of not relying on just one invention as a panacea.
I’m skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and regulations are important, but equally important is support for education, ecological training and ethics — a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility.
Either we will achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must see this issue as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.
The end of the world has been anticipated many times and has never come, of course. And it won’t come this time either. We need not fear for our planet. It was here before us and most likely will be here after us. But that doesn’t mean that the human race is not at serious risk. As a result of our endeavors and our irresponsibility our climate might leave no place for us. If we drag our feet, the scope for decision-making — and hence for our individual freedom — could be considerably reduced.
Vaclav Havel is the former president of the Czech Republic. This article was translated by Gerald Turner from the Czech. (go to NYT page)
Dec 31, 2007. 4;27 A.M.
West Shokan NY
Pre-dawn. Pitch-black morning outside my window.
Or is it night?
The light comes slow to these mountains. My wife and child are
twitching safe in their dreams upstairs. This is the hour of the
There is much to be thankful for and there is much to fear. The
list is long. What road is this? The people behind the wheel are
intoxicated and small children are in the backseat. Who are these
thugs in ski masks and leather coats putting the noose around
that man’s neck? Who are we?
How did this happen? Better minds than mine can map it out for
you in excruciating detail. I say the truth is not open to interpretation.
This regime and their cronies are at the wheel. Call them fiends
or fools, saviors or slime, whatever the name you choose the truth
remains; we have allowed them to take control. Things have been
set in motion, things that have the power to poison the soul of
this country far into the future.
They would have us believe that any truth other than theirs is
a mistake. While we wrestle with opposing points of view they
pursue their agenda and the world is driven to new depths of misery.
It is time to awaken the New Patriot. The New Patriot has a powerful
sense that the policies of this administration are dead wrong.
And this knowledge makes a patriot angry in the same way a feeling
human being would be outraged if they saw their children’s
bus driver blind drunk on the job.
of us have been outraged for years and some of us are coming to
it for the first time. Welcome all. There is no shortage of fuel
for this fire.
there right now people that once supported our current leaders
are experiencing new flickers of doubt in their chest as they
read about arctic ice shelves cracking off the North Pole or bombs
tearing off limbs in our latest war. That flicker of doubt is
not weakness or uncertainty or confusion. It is the first fires
of homegrown patriotism. It is the proper response, the human
response, when one bears witness to a crime.
we all suspect the Bush administration is engaged in a vast spectrum
of criminal and negligent behavior. Their policies and actions
are anti-earth, anti-human and more tothe point they are anti-American.
The word betrayal feels too weak. Treason barely feels like a
of us who find a voice and are angry enough to speak out are being
met with the label of unpatriotic. This response strains the tether
of reason and distorts all logic but it is everyday practice courtesy
of our leaders. But the New Patriot has seen another light, another
kind of rapture on the horizon. Never before has right and wrong
been so clear.
world and its problems and its machines are all increasingly complicated
and there are facets and sides and perceptions for everyone to
get tangled in. It’s tiring getting untangled and wading
through the muck. They want us tired and distracted. It’s
better for them if we grow weary, numb and forget what matters.
New Patriot is not rigid or cold. It is possible to act on the
truth and remain open minded and generous. The truth is the catalyst
that leads to an impulse. One day one stops and says, wait a minute,
this can’t be right, this can’t be good. A doubt leads
to a question and a firm demand for an answer.
Patriotism transcends politics, religion and personalities. It
is the clear cold water of patriotism needed now when a nation
is suffering, when it is thirsty and sick from the polluted policies
of its leaders. It is this new patriotism that will bring a desperately
needed humanity, compassion and common sense to a confused and
Nation is great. This is our homeland. That is another truth.
The President and the New Patriot may agree on this point. The
difference is that he and his team are not worthy of this nation’s
greatness. They should not be allowed to call this place home.
And the one who leads us into darkness will also lead us to a
new day? Accelerate the night and prepare to be blinded by the
dawn? No. We must take back the night and take back the day, take
back the clock and the calendar, the road map and the mangled
On this New Years Day our great nation is home to millions of
New Patriots. Some of us are still sleeping. We are all in this
together, all comrades. It is still night, still dark outside.
The hour of the wolf is at hand. We who are up early must wake
the others with the cracked and clanging bells of liberty. The
bells are our voices, voices of reason and voices of outrage.
Hear them rise.