Observations On A Tender, Obnoxious, Unethical Screed

My original impulse was to post  this as an ethics quiz, with a heading like, “Is Bill Weir’s essay as bad as I think it is?”

Bill Weir is CNN’s climate correspondent. His wife just gave birth to a son, for which Ethics Alarms gives him a hardy congratulations and will wait for its metaphorical cigar. However, Weir chose to use this life event for an astoundingly long, self-indulgent, and in several ways unethical post on CNN’s site headlined, “To my son, born in the time of coronavirus and climate change.”

Read the thing, if you can stand it. Commenter Other Bill sent it to me with the query, “Is it ethical for this guy to have a child?” He was engaging in hyperbole, but the thrust of the question is valid. Here’s how the essay begins:

Against all odds you were conceived in a lighthouse, born during a pandemic and will taste just enough of Life as We Knew It to resent us when it’s gone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry we broke your sea and your sky and shortened the wings of the nightingale. I’m sorry that the Great Barrier Reef is no longer great, that we value Amazon more than the Amazon and that the waterfront neighborhood where you burble in my arms could be condemned by rising seas before you’re old enough for a mortgage.
The scent of your downy crown makes my heart explode. The curl in your Tic Tac toes fills me with enough love to power New York City.

Gack! I’m sorry, I have to take a break.

I checked: Bill Weir has no training or education in science, climatology or computer models. He majored in creative writing, apparently the sub-major known as bad creative writing. (If that baby has toes like Tic-Tacs, he’s the size  of a squirrel.) Since Weir has no foundation from which to examine and challenge the scientific theories and models he appears to have accepted uncritically and swallowed whole. He is no different from, just paid more, than your Facebook friend hysteric who keeps screaming that we have twelve years to live. Weir was hired as a shill, not a journalist, pundit or analyst.

What makes someone decide that his newborn son is a perfect vehicle to exploit for an emotional climate change rant? Emanuel Kant decreed that human beings should not be used as a means to an end. Never, in fact. Like all absolutes, this one has exceptions, but I’m pretty sure Kant would agree with me that a helpless newborn isn’t one of them. Dad was desperate for a topic, so River (don’t get me started on New Age parents who burden the innocent with hackney hippie names) was elected. The child isn’t a week old, and already the world knows where his parents boinked to spawn him. I can hear the playground taunts now: “Hey River! When do you move back to the lighthouse?”

Weir’s betrayal reminded me of a chilling line from Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” when a writer’s wife excoriates him, saying, “You’re an eater, Stephen. You consume the people in your life, and shit them out for money.”

Unfortunately, the screed continues.

If only. Instead, the milk in your bottle was warmed by dirty, ancient fuels and as a result, you will learn to walk on a planet that has never been this hot for humans. We are just now wrestling with the implications of this but as your Pop, the most poignant evidence was seeing your mother give you your first kiss through a P100 mask that smelled faintly of smoke. I’m sorry my boy, but we were warned. See, for decades, scientists told us that if we weren’t careful, humans would unleash an invisible enemy out of the jungle and into our lungs. But that was a story few wanted to believe. So we kept cutting down jungles — and prairies and mangroves and the last few the places where the wild things are — to pave and plow, develop and devour everything inside. As you get older, this will be hard to understand. But we were under the spell of Genesis 1:28: to take dominion over every living thing. We had the strange urge to carve straight lines out of nature’s curves and were under the spell of a uniquely human force called “profit motive.” When we finally realized that the worried scientists were right, people got scared and went searching for potions and protections. They emptied store shelves even faster than the jungles and all the invisible enemy masks were gone. Just in time for your birth.

This is bad science, bad anthropology, bad journalism, bad economics  and fake news, as well as cruel parenting. There’s nothing like telling a newborn that he’s doomed before he takes a step. Of course, he isn’t doomed. The future isn’t written yes, and River (sorry, kid) has a shot at changing it.  Meanwhile, Dad is blaming the industrial revolution, capitalism, and Third World nations trying to catch up for the fact that China likes pangolins and bat soup, and that Communists are assholes.  Oh, and Christianity. Dad uses his son’s birth as an opportunity to take gratuitous cheap shots at that, too:

 Take your Grandma Pat. She believed the stories in a very old book with such passion, we followed her dreams from our home in Wisconsin all over the Bible Belt where the heroes were Jesus, cowboys and oilmen. So we burned gasoline for no good reason. We left Prosperity Gospel megachurches, tied a rope to a dirt bike and belly-surfed across a sod farm. We rooster-tailed across Lake Tenkiller on two-stroke Jet Skis and cruised mall parking lots in muscle cars singing “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” Turns out that it doesn’t, and it does. I’m sorry.

To be fair, Bill Weir doesn’t just exploit his son to compose a juvenile, Greta Thunberg-level doomsday rant (a photo of Greta accompanies his whatever-it-is), he uses his mother as well.

Yes, he’s an eater.

40 thoughts on “Observations On A Tender, Obnoxious, Unethical Screed

  1. I guess my question wasn’t hyperbolic. Seriously, if this guy really believes we’re on the eve of destruction, was it ethical for him and his wife to conceive a child knowing that child would be condemned to a horrible existence? Put your money where your mouth is, Mr. Weir? Act upon your beliefs? Or is it all just “good for business” posturing? I can remember thinking as an undergraduate the world was going to end in a nuclear holocaust, but I got over it.

  2. Notice he the writer takes no responsibility for the hedonistic pleasures that culminated in the seeding of his wife’s fertile ground. If he is so sorry for bringing him into the world why didn’t he consider that beforehand?

        • I made it through a minute and twenty-four seconds! Over an hour left. So the guy had a mentally unstable in one way or another, but certainly delusional and self-aggrandizing, mother. And now he’s out to save the world? Single-handedly? I guess we all know where the apple doesn’t fall far from. There may be another reason this guy shouldn’t have had a child: I’m pretty sure bi-polar disorders are likely genetic and pass from one generation to the next.

          • Well, had you watched it you would not be able to say what you are saying.

            I don’t know how to put this except as an admonition: people really need to devote time to examining the worldview of *the other side*.

            You shut the door before you could do that. And what you say about the man is completely false. He is a sympathetic character and presents a view of *what America should be* that has a real appeal.

            As I often say, or try to say, the America that Jack and most who write here recognize as *America* is a Postwar creation. The idea of America was transformed, by an act of will and activism, into a new, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic America.

            • You bring up a strong point, Alizia, from a keep your enemies even closer perspective.

              But for the good cryin’ out loud, the all-but-assured soul-crushing tedium one will be compelled to endure gives one pause.

              There a CliffsNotes version…

  3. And yet this child is born into a world of relative ease, comfort, health, and prosperity compared to generations before. A world where instant communications and the sum of mankind’s knowledge can be accessed from a device that fits in pants pockets. A world where one can be from just about any place in the world to just about any other place in the world in the same day. A world where “miracle” medical procedures have become routine. A world where almost anything can be purchased and delivered directly to one’s house in a couple of days. A place where a home is filled with appliances, powered with electricity, and systems to keep the inside climate comfortable year-round. For that, River, you should be immeasurably thankful to those who came before and worked to make the world a better place. And I hope you do the same for future generations.

    • “And yet this child is born into a world of relative ease, comfort, health, and prosperity…”

      It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he’ll be inculcated with White Lefty Guilt & self-loathing soon enough, and will decry/disclaim any advantages as undeserved.

      • Or, he may decide his father’s feelings of guilt are overwrought and ridiculous. In which case he wouldn’t be the first kid to reject the values of his/her/its parents.

        • ”Or, he may decide his father’s feelings of guilt are overwrought and ridiculous.”

          Hopefully, he’ll have that option; this happened just over 10 years ago.

          Baby Survives Being Shot AMID FEARS Of Climate Change

          Granted, that’s an outlier, but do you think over the last decade that the True Believers have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse?

          IMO, much of the best parentS can do is impart a healthy sense of self esteem, which is not the kind where the child never hears the word NO.

          Don’t pre-program them to be morons/victims; teach them to think for themselves, to make their own choices, and to live with the consequences.

  4. The article is utter garbage, written by someone untrained in science, but trained in making up stories. One day when River is grown up, assuming he makes it there and isn’t driven off the deep end by constant teasing, I hope he reads this article and asks him, just like Greta, “how dare you?” How dare you use my birth to push your own agenda and your employers’ agenda? How dare you plaster pictures of me as a newborn infant all over the internet where anyone can see them? How dare you reveal the circumstances of my conception to the world? I’m an individual. I am not an accessory to flash around like a new pair of sustainable dockers. I am not a prop for your causes. I am not an illustration to make a point next to pictures you cherry-picked to tell the story you wanted.

    I’m not a half bad storyteller myself, and I’d tell quite a different story if a son were born to me. I always said if I had a son I’d name him Charles James, after my grandfather and father (ironically also now after two heroes of my own writing). So, if he were born, I’d say this:

    Welcome to the world, son. Some will ask me if I should even say that, because we’re dealing with a major problem, maybe even a few at the moment. However, I still say welcome. When your dad was born, people said the human race was going to blow itself apart in the Cold War. Around the time your grandad was born, people said mankind was going to tear itself apart in the greatest war this world has ever seen. When your great-grandad was a kid, they were saying both of those things, AND that we were going to all die from a wave of illness. However, we made it through all those things, and I’m confident we’ll make it through this one, maybe even before you’ll be old enough to remember it.

    You are lucky. You’ve been born into the greatest nation in the world, with the greatest power in the world, the greatest economy in the world, and a Constitution often imitated but never duplicated. You’ve been born into a world that’s conquered a lot of problems you will never have to deal with. You will never see a house quarantined for diptheria or measles, and you’ll probably never see one quarantined for this problem either, at least that you’ll remember. You will never have anyone tell you not to speak your mind, lest you be arrested for it. You will never hear anyone tell you that you must go to this house of worship or go to jail instead. You will never have anyone tell you that you can’t profit from your own business. You will never have anyone tell you that you can’t marry the person you love. You’ll be able to tap a few keys and find out almost anything you want to know. You’ll be able to keep in touch with almost anyone anywhere in the world at any time. There’s a very good chance you’ll be spared a lot of the pain and discomfort that go with major illnesses, should you be unlucky enough to have one, we’re doing very well there now, and we’re making advances every day. When I was where you are now, many of these things weren’t true.

    I’m not going to say we don’t have our challenges now, or that new ones won’t pop up in your lifetime. There will always be those who hate our way of life and will do everything to try to impose theirs. The names and the symbols will change and have changed, but the basic concept is always the same. Some wore the hammer and sickle, some wore the swastika, some hide behind a crescent and a star. We saw through them, and you’ll need to see through them when they come again, whatever symbol they dress up in then. Natural disasters are a fact of life and have been since the beginning of history. The earthquake that obliterated Lisbon in 1531 wasn’t because we did anything, and neither was the Thera eruption that almost wiped out the Minoans completely. They are just things that happen and that we deal with when they happen. That said, we humans mess up occasionally too, and cause oil spills, chemical leaks, and so on. However, we are getting better at dealing with them when they happen and, stopping them from happening in the first place.

    The biggest dangers you’ll meet, though, won’t be the ones that come from without. They will be the ones that come from within. Pride is a big one. We are all entitled to be proud of who we are and what we achieve, but never let yourself get so proud that you don’t ask for help until it’s too late. Never let yourself get so proud that you can’t see the value in someone else. Never let yourself get so proud that you overreach. Anger is another. Like a fire it can spur you to achieve, or right a wrong, or help where no one else will. But, also like a fire, it can destroy you if you let it burn out of control. Shame is yet another. Sometimes it is justified, when you make a costly mistake or do something you should have known better than to do. The danger is when you let shame become a chain that holds you back, or a weight that keeps you from even trying.

    Remember you share this world with others, and don’t get so proud that you become selfish. Don’t spend all your energy on trying to get even, the books of life just don’t balance like that. Never let anyone shame you into doing something you know to be wrong. Don’t be afraid to stand up to those who are deliberately rude or who try to bully you. Remember, every choice leads to a result. Some we can’t see, but a lot we can see coming a mile away.

    We’re Catholic, and that’s what we’re going to teach you. I hope you will embrace the belief in a loving God, the concept of forgiveness of wrongs, and the promise of a life to come. However, maintain a respect for the beliefs of others. Too many bad things in history resulted from those who believed one way refusing to respect those who believed another. Also, don’t become too reliant on faith to rescue you. A wise fisherman prays to God, but continues to row to the shore.

    Speaking of history, we’ve got an awful lot of it. Become familiar with it. Take note of the things that keep happening again and again and why they happen again and again. Beware disagreements that can’t be reconciled, as I just said. It is best to compromise, it is usually better to agree to disagree if a compromise can’t be reached, to fight is the least desirable way of dealing with a disagreement, although sometimes it can’t be avoided. Beware too much success too fast. It almost always leads to taking one step too far, which can take away all the gains you made. Beware too easily classifying anyone as good or evil, almost no one is purely one or the other, and doing that leads you to those disagreements that can’t be reconciled. Choose wisely your heroes and villains, and do not base them on fame or popularity.

    Be wise about who you trust. Be wiser still about who you trust completely. Stay away from tobacco and recreational drugs, nothing good and a lot of bad comes from them. Beware the excessive use of alcohol, especially when dealing with a problem. No one ever found the solution to his problems at the bottom of a bottle.

    Remember there will always be one thing that you can’t see, but you will show constantly. You won’t be able to hear it, yet it will precede you wherever you go. You won’t be able to touch it, but you will hold it all the time. You won’t be able to eat it, but it will put its taste in everything. You won’t be able to spend it, yet it will be priceless. It can, however be stolen from you. If it is, it will leave the thief no richer and you as poor as you can be. That thing is your honor, and for these reasons guard it wherever you go.

    One other thing you’ll always have, at least as long as it lasts, is family. You come of Italian heritage, so that’s very important. Your mom and I will always be here for you, and you can always come to us.

    This is a lot to take in, and you’ll be able to take it all in in good time. It’s not time yet, though, so for the moment just lie there asleep, and gather your strength for the journey ahead. It will be mostly what you make of it.

  5. I recommend he try spending a northern winter without the energy we derive from fossil fuels, or for that matter without burning wood, and definitely without that icky environment-destroying nuclear power.

    He might discover, to his chagrin, that there are indeed reasons why we burn fossil fuels besides believing in Jesus and wanting a bigger truck than your neighbor.

    • ”I recommend he try spending a northern winter without the energy we derive from fossil fuels…”

      Shelter and warmth are certainly considerations, but just getting around (securing provisions, getting to work & such) are challenges about which this coddled softy has earthly idea.

      Being UP DERE is demanding and not for the faint-of-heart, but hardy, northwoods rural folks do Make The Best Of It.

      And how far north you talking, Dave?

      Hurley, WI (46.4497° N) is just south of Lake Superior and measures snow in feet; that’s with an F!

      They’ve had 16.33 feet/4.06 meters thus far & they ain’t finished yet.

    • I wonder, given the fact that his readership nowadays is almost entirely online, if he recognizes that the Interwebs is estimated to consume between 10 and 15 percent of all the electricity generated in the world – regardless of source.

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