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I sometimes wonder why my ancestors in South Carolina owned slaves before the Civil War. How could they possibly have not realized the horror and evil they inflicted upon others? Why did they not immediately correct their wrongdoing and free those who suffered under them?

To the modern mind, the relative excuse that my ancestors were products of their own time is absolutely unsatisfactory. Theirs was a failure to love, a failure to act morally and ethically, and it’s easy now for people today to see that. I don’t propose taking down every statute and renaming every building, but many must be seen as historical artifacts to a shameful past.

What is not easy for all us to see today is that failure to act immediately to stop the existential threat of climate change is the modern equivalent of a failure to act morally and ethically to stop slavery. Just as we today may see our ancestors as reprehensible for their crimes, our descendants will with absolute certainty see us today as even more reprehensible if we do not solve the climate crisis with immediate action. Our great grandchildren will not care about our present-day responses to immigration, the pandemic, social inequities, the economy, and all of the other rearranged deck chairs on a sinking ship. They will ask only, “What did you do in the war on climate change? Why didn’t you act in time?”

Robert Ray Black


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