Let’s talk about moral courage.
The term came to me when I learned of former President George W. Bush’s book, Portraits of Courage. The book contains portraits and brief bios of soldiers wounded in armed conflicts Mr. Bush was responsible for during his presidency. The portraits were painted by Mr. Bush.
I confess that I was not a fan of Mr. Bush’s when he was president. But Portraits of Courage has floored me. I’m sure all presidents give serious thought to the devastating effects of war on service men and women before ordering engagement. But how many take the time to sit with those adversely affected by the war they approved, paint their portraits, then contribute all proceeds for the book to those most directly affected by their decisions to go to war?
I’m still making my way through Mr. Bush’s book. I look forward to becoming better acquainted with the courageous Americans represented in it.
Today, though, in the wake of our current president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s former President Bush’s courage that most inspires me.
Moral courage. Recognizing that my actions affect other people. Having the strength of character to take responsibility for those actions. Doing my best to make reparations for harm done by my actions. The moral courage of individuals is commendable. To apply that courage to national and international arenas? That’s what it means to be a good leader. That’s what it means to be a good human being.
Yesterday’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement was an act of moral cowardice.
The current president’s concern for the livelihoods of some Americans is commendable. But when that concern is divorced from any acknowledgement of the devastating impact of our country’s profligate use of fossil fuels across the globe, that concern rings hollow.
Though China’s growth spurt the last couple of decades has moved it to the front of the line in carbon emissions currently, cumulatively, the United States has been the single greatest contributor of carbon emissions in the world’s history. And who most suffers the effects of our conspicuous consumption? Poor people across the globe.
Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement was a cowardly abdication of moral responsibility. By many accountants, the Paris Agreement only began to scratch the surface of what the planet really needs to begin its process of healing. So much more needs to be done. But to get nearly 200 countries to sign on to the agreement? For 147 of those countries already to have ratified it? The Paris Agreement reflects a near-global conversion to the reality that if our planet is to be saved, we must work together.
I weep at the loss of all we as a nation might have contributed to that work.