The new Harper’s (June 2007) contains a stunning and powerful “Notebook” essay titled “Climate, Class, and Claptrap,” by Garret Keizer — a minister, if I recall correctly. Keizer writes as well as Wendell Berry, but with a kind of righteous anger that the more ponderous Berry tamps down. This essay is about the contradictions inherent in the environmental community’s fast embrace of “green capitalism” and wondertoys.

The intestinal tipping point came for me when a contingent of students from Middlebury College (annual tuition and fees $44,330) found both the gas money and the gall to drive to the town of Sheffield (annual per-capita income $13,277) in order to lecture the provincials on their responsibility to the earth and its myriad creatures. Not to be outdone, a small private school in our area (annual tuition and fees $76,900) has challenged the wind projects as a source of noise disturbance for its special-needs students. This could actually turn the tide. Like a bookie assessing the hindquarters of horses, I’ve learned to place my bets with a sharp eye on tuition and fees. Don’t tell me where you went to school; just tell me what it cost.

Alas, the issue is not yet available online, but like every issue of Harpers, is well worth a read at your library or newsstand. (There is also a nice series of short pieces, including one by Bill McKibben — of Middlebury College, I seem to recall — on what needs to be done to repair the damage after W is impeached or limps home in disgrace in 2009.)

To whet your appetite, I’ll further shred my carpal tunnels to share more of this powerful piece:

This pretense of not knowing what every idiot knows has increasingly come to define our national discourse. … It also characterizes the burgeoning acknowledgment of global warming, the willingness to grant that a crisis exists even as our key players scramble to guarantee that every systemic cause of that crisis remains intact. It characterizes our farcical debate over the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq even as permanent bases are constructed in that country to oversee the flow of its denationalized oil to our national snout.

More than anything else, it characterizes our official take on wealth and class, a blind spot as large as any hole in the ozone. …

But I shall be accused of dancing around the most important issue of our time, the issue at the name of which every knee shall bow. Global warming, we are told, will have its most devastating effects on the worlds’ disadvantaged. Therefore, we need not care so particularly about the world’s disadvantaged; we need only care about global warming — as mediated, of course, by those who stand to make a bundle off it …

Am I too irreverent? Am I not aware that polar bears are drowning in the Arctic? I am very much aware, and very grieved as well. I am also aware, thanks to book after book by Jonathan Kozol, that children are drowning in our inner-city schools and have been drowning there year after year and decade after decade, but I do not recall anything like the universal lament that has met the drowning scene in An Inconvenient Truth. Then again, the polar bear depicted in that movie has two incontrovertible advantages over Kozol’s kids: it’s digital and it’s white …

Gore speaks of the need for a different perspective … But this is the old perspective: the race to the moon, the triumph of the will, the forward march of progress on a goosestep and a prayer. The unquestioned belief that the answer to every human dilemma and desire is a gizmo — in short, the very attitude that gave us global warming to begin with. Those measuring the ice shelf in Greenland would do well to spend a few weeks measuring the time that typically elapses between any mention of conservation and the quick segue to something sexier; that is, to something you can buy or sell. The abolition of obscene excess, the equitable distribution of finite resources — these have the same appeal for our movers and shakers as adopting a crack baby has for the infertile members of their club. We have all these wonder-working technologies, all these clever schemes for producing the golden eggs — or you could always take home little Bernice. But that’s going to be a lot of work.

The bottom line here is, as always, the bottom line, already being parsed out in prospectus form for the eco-savvy investor. … Gregg Easterbrook, writing in the April issue of The Atlantic, is less of a prig. The question he invites us to ask in regard to climate change — “What’s in it for me?” — is “neither crass nor tongue-in-cheek,” he assures us. Much of what’s in it for you (that is, if you happen to be affluent, educated, etc.) will come in the form of carbon trading, a shell game allowing polluters to purchase “offsets,” in green-energy production, which may or may not come to include nuclear power …

Presumably this is not the same greed that inspired ExxonMobil to wage a campaign of disinformation about climate change. Presumably we might also consider redirecting the primal human impulse of hate. We could get the Ku Klux Klan to buy “offsets” for lynchings in Mississippi … It’s the Devil’s old remedy: If you’re being poisoned to death, try taking more poison.

… It is not enough to acknowledge that global warming exists; we also need to ask what global warming means. Surely one thing it means is that a culture that has as its highest aim the avoidance of anything remotely resembling physical work must change its life …

But that is only half a meaning, less than half. We’re told that “that science is all in on global warming” and that it’s just about unanimous. … But the science has also been in, and in for a while, and is every bit as unanimous in concluding that we are members of a single species, descendents of common ancestors — family in every conceivable sense of the word. How can we imagine that we will address one overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion without having acted fully on the other? …

To put that as succinctly as possible, the days of paradise for a few are drawing to a close. The game of finding someone else in some convenient misery to fight our wards, pull our rickshaws, and serve as the offset for our every filthy indulgence is just about up. It is either Earth for all of us or hell for most of us.