Some 2000 years ago, a Roman emperor with artistic inclinations was accused of burning Rome to bring it into modernity. The Emperor accused the Christians of committing the crime but took advantage of the disaster to undertake the first urban renewal project, which even today is considered one of the greatest of all times.
Thanks to the fire in his city, Nero brought modernity to Rome.
The twentieth century did just the opposite. Now progress is incinerating the world. Thanks to the indiscriminate use of the products of modern times, it is no longer just a city that is burning. Now it is the planet.
Besides the reversal in order – progress incinerating instead of incinerating to modernize – and the proportions – the burning of the planet instead of a city – global warming has yet another difference: today the accusation cannot be leveled at a single Nero.
Each of us is a little Nero. Some are big Neros, like the governing classes; others among these are even greater Neros, such as the U.S. President, who refuses to recognize the catastrophe of the great fire. Considering the distinct levels of responsibility, however, none of us is exempt.
We are all little Neros, contributing daily to the incineration of the planet. And we do this all the while knowing that the result will not bring us a better civilization as happened in Rome, which resurged from the fire more beautiful than ever.
We incinerate the planet each time we start up our automobiles. Each time that we leave the faucet turned on longer than necessary. Each time that we throw out garbage in a place that is inadequate.
Whenever we stimulate, or tolerate, the advance of the area of agricultural production into the forests. Every time that we cut down the trees, whether for export, or for the manufacture of superfluous goods, or to burn in the smelting furnaces of the siderurgy plants.
History tells us that Nero remained on his palace veranda playing his lyre, dazzled by the fire and foreseeing the new buildings that would go up. In the same way here we are, in our living rooms, dazzled by the headlines that stress the growth rates based upon progress, foreseeing the increase in the amount of our consumption.
The fire of Rome brought about the city’s reconstruction, and Nero cut his own throat three years later. Now, civilization will not be rebuilt into a superior model, nor will any throat be cut to halt the march of indifference. Insatiable, we are headed for the great global fire like little Neros who do not look forward.
Luckily, movements are beginning that seek to impede that march. The film "An Inconvenient Truth," by former Vice President Al Gore, has this positive effect of sounding a warning. France will elect its president in the next months. All that country’s presidential candidates have signed a document committing themselves to carry out a strict environmental-defense policy.
This is an example of political action that puts long-term interests of the country before the immediate, specific interests of each group. What a pain that in the election of 2006, we, the candidates for President of Brazil, did not sign such a document. Happily, in a democracy, there is always hope.
Less than four years from now Brazil will hold another election. Let us hope that the Brazilian candidates will follow the French example and show that they are disposed to stop being Neros.
Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.