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.