Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2021

A house divided against itself cannot stand

Two years prior to his presidency, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “house divided” speech, part of which went as follows:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other”.

On the then controversial issue of slavery, he reasoned that the USA would have to decide one way or the other – would it allow the enslavement of the black portion of its population in order to meet the energy needs of America or would it insist that all US citizens be free of such bondage? Lincoln claimed that this was the most important issue of the USA at that time, because he believed that a house divided against itself on fundamental issues such as this one cannot stand for long.

Prior to taking office in 1861, he also stated that if it would save the Union, he would go along with a compromised plan in which slavery would be allowed to continue in the South if the new states being added to the Union be free of slavery. Lincoln reasoned that with such an agreement, the USA would still eventually join the other emerging nations of the western world that were abandoning all forms of slavery.

Unfortunately, the southern states refused to consider any such compromised views on this issue and, instead, tried to withdraw from the Union. This, President Lincoln would not allow and it took a horrendous civil war to get the USA reunited and the 13th amendment to our constitution in 1865 to declare that all citizens of the USA would thereafter be free.  Thus, Lincoln’s prediction that the USA would become “all one thing or all the other” came to be sooner than he expected due to the inability of the North and South to come to any compromised view such as that offered by President Lincoln.   

 In the USA today we have a very similar division of opinion that is sufficiently contradictory as to again bring into question the survivability of the USA as a functioning entity.  As in the Civil War era, the main difference between these two groups is related to the means of energy production preferred by each group. As in the Civil War era, one side today favors an existing well-entrenched means of energy production based on fossil fuels that has become exceedingly problematic and, if continued, is sure to be recognized as such in the next decade or two. The other side favors the expansion of alternative, non-polluting  methods of energy production that are sustainable into the foreseeable future.

Those who recognize that global warming constitutes a real and grave threat to the future of humanity tend to accept the advice provided by our most respected scientific organizations who say that we must discontinue our use of fossil fuels because our atmosphere is already overloaded with the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The other group strongly favors policies and solutions that will not threaten existing business interests that rely on fossil fuels – even though modern science tells us that we must leave them in the ground.

Because this climate change issue is by far the most important one on the table today, it would be most beneficial to get the participants of this debate onto the same page with respect to the basic approaches they will take in coming to their decisions. The fundamental question in this case is: are we going to follow the recommendations of modern science or are we not? As with Lincoln prior to and in the Civil War era, we can be sure which approach to our problem will win out in the long run. In the next decade or two, monumental changes in our climate will continue to show that the dire predictions of climate scientists have been essentially correct.  As those changes continue to occur year after  year, at some point even the fossil fuel advocates of today will finally be forced to abandon their support of fossil fuels and our “house” will no longer be divided. The critically important point then will be –  will it be too late at that future point for even forceful actions to stop the advance of global warming? While we do not yet know the answer to that question, we do know that the sooner we commit ourselves to a fossil-fuel-free world, the better our chances of survival will be.  

The recently elected Biden administration is committed to the creation of carbon-free economies throughout the world. While achieving that goal will be challenging, it will also be greatly facilitated as both sides of our divided house accept the time-honored notion that modern science provides our best forecasts of what Mother Nature will do in response to mankind’s activities on our planet. While we do need a thriving economy, it must also be one that is predicted to be sustainable for at least several centuries. We, who have contributed so much to the greenhouse gas warming of our planet, should now help President  Bidon do what we can to preserve livable conditions on Earth for our grandchildren and their descendents.  


  1. Wow Eric, one of your better ones and so very true in that we are on the precipice of a disaster if we don’t come together to find a solution to this existential problem. I hope “someone” is listening as history has shown that we can come together when we have needed to in the past. I hope, in this case, that history will repeat itself!!!

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