Usufruct. There's a $50-word that you don't hear very often.
Especially from so-called "conservatives" who should know that word, understand its meaning, and have internalized the conservative ideal that gives the word its ethical power.
"Usufruct" means the right to use property that belongs to another, on the condition that the property cannot be harmed. Renting an apartment that belongs to the building owner is a form of usufruct. At a much larger scale, so is using natural resources that are the common heritage of humanity, including generations unborn. The atmosphere is the most pervasive and arguably the most essential part of this ancient heritage.
Thomas Jefferson understood the idea: "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living," he wrote to James Madison in 1789. Margaret Thatcher understood it also. Nearly two centuries later, she said: "No generation has a free hold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy -- with a full repairing lease."
But you won't find the Man from Monticello's or the Iron Lady's idealism anywhere in the activities of what a Newsweek cover story this month calls the global warming denial machine.
The machine is still out there, down but not out, practicing the dark arts of distortion to sow doubt about the well-documented link between human activities, mainly fossil fuel combustion, and global warming. This denial machine and its fellow travelers in Congress and in the media are called "conservative." They are nothing of the sort, because the denial machine has forsaken the conservative ideal of stewardship that is a foundation of usufruct.
Unwittingly or not, they are exhibiting a "me generation" attitude unworthy of conservatism. It's live for today, baby, and consume all you want. If it feels good, do it. It's New Left hedonism at a colossal scale. Meet Rush Limbaugh, the honorary mayor of Haight Ashbury.
The first step in battling the machine is to get our terms straight. Stop calling the machine's backers conservative because that's not what they are.
Fortunately, there are real conservatives out there keeping the old ideals alive. A couple of examples: Andrew Sullivan, conservative commentator and author of The Daily Dish: "At the core of conservatism, after all, is the word 'conserve.' The earth is something none of us can own or control. It is something far older than our limited minds can even imagine. Our task is therefore a modest one: of stewardship, the quintessential conservative occupation."
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford: "The real 'inconvenient truth' about climate change is that some people are losing their rights and freedoms because of the actions of others -- in either the quality of the air they breathe, the geography they hold dear, the insurance costs they bear, or the future environment of the children they love."
There is a lot more. Read up on Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and other great conservative thinkers of our past. Rediscover their teachings about the conservative principles of prudence, forbearance, and responsibility. Throw their words in the faces of radical bloviators making ludicrous claims about climate hoaxes.
Better yet, tell those bloviators to go get usufruct.
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