12/11/2007 10:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This Earth Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us

We're locked in an existential game of "chicken" with China, each nation daring the other not to take its foot off the gas pedal as we careen towards catastrophe. We don't want to change the way we live, and the Chinese want to live the way we do, too.

Unfortunately, the limitations of our finite world make that a mathematical impossibility. As James Kunstler is fond of saying, (and I am equally fond of quoting,) America's suburbs represent "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. America took all its postwar wealth and invested it in a living arrangement that has no future.''

Our love of living large has brought us to the brink of disaster, as Al Gore noted in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Norway yesterday. Borrowing a line from Winston Churchill, Gore compared the world's leaders who downplay the urgency of global warming to those who ignored Hitler:

'They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.'

But Gore's not the only one who sees a parallel between the Holocaust and global warming. Climate scientist James Hansen caused a ruckus back in October with this bleak statement:

If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains -- no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.

Dave Roberts of Grist wrote a brilliant post about whether Hansen's Holocaust analogy is "appropriate," asking the question, "Why do we judge the Holocaust unique in history?"

His conclusion:

What gives the Holocaust its unique place in history is its origin in the deliberate intent of a single person and the chilling industrial efficiency with which that intent was carried out.

What's notable about global warming is that you get the industrial efficiency and the horrific result without the intent. You have, in effect, a holocaust with no evil. Coal miners are trying to feed their families. Utilities are trying to keep the lights on. Industries are trying to profit. Governments are trying to gain power and provide for citizens. All us developed world drivers are trying to get to and from work. Nobody intends to create a horror, but cumulatively, that's exactly what we are doing.

America's original suburb, Levittown, recently declared its intent to become the nation's first "green" suburb, with a series of initiatives designed to encourage more energy efficient homes and habits in this Long Island enclave. Scott Carlin, an associate professor of geography at Long Island University, wrote approvingly of the plan in Newsday, but noted that "truly greening the suburbs will require a bigger shift in values and behaviors."

But how can we convince our fellow Americans that conservation is a civic duty, and not a commie plot? An indignant Newsday reader from Hicksville (no comment) replied to Carlin's op-ed as follows:

In "The greening of the suburbs" [Opinion, Dec. 3], Scott Carlin uses the word "green" or references to it almost a dozen times. But his vision of Long Island is the same old template of Red socialism.

Carlin's vision of Long Island consists of high-density, mixed-use communities with public transportation. Cars will be used sparingly and shared instead of being privately owned. He proposes higher prices for natural resources and higher taxes levied on gas and electricity. And, by some sort of alchemy, being packed in like a bunch of sardines and paying higher prices and taxes will improve our lives.

Far from being a utopia, Carlin's drab Long Island sounds like the former East Germany. Rather than promoting mental health, Carlin's overcrowded, Marxist-socialist community, devoid of private property, would only foster rootlessness and anomie.

In other words, better dead than red. Because, you know, the suburbs do such a stellar job of fostering connectedness and bonhomie. Al Gore said yesterday that our children will either be asking us 'What were you thinking; why didn't you act? Or they will ask instead: 'How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?'''

The answer to the first question: We were thinking, how can we ever get through to every dumbass in Hicksville? The answer to question number two: We had to forge ahead, despite all the dumbasses in Hicksville, because the fate of the earth was at stake.

I don't know which question our kids will be asking, but I'm guessing that the answer isn't to cling to a way of living that spells death for life as we know it.