Will democracy be our downfall?
Published 12th December 2009 - 16 comments - 696 views -
One of the concerns raised by sceptics (including our very own Vitezslav) is that the objectives of environmentalism will only be achieved through communist-type measures. 5 year plans, unprofitable subsidies, government driven initiatives...
Now, you may have seen my previous post “Environmentalists are like watermelons” - I’m not keen on being called a commie just because I support sustainability. Nor do I think that the vast majority of individuals interested in tackling climate change would align themselves with the Reds.
Nevertheless, as I’ve given thought to how we might attain the goals being discussed I’ve become less and less convinced that we’ve got any real chance of them being achieved.
The main problem is that there is no way that the general population are ready to make the hard decisions necessary to achieve radical cuts in emissions.
Who’s going to vote for higher petrol taxes?
Who’s going to request a reduction of imported or high-carbon goods?
Who’s going to vote for significant sums of money being redirected towards developing countries?
The reality is that while opinion polls show that a majority consider Climate Change issues important, they rank them low in terms of their priorities. So why expect them to vote to the contrary?
People elect parties because they want to keep their jobs.
People elect parties because they want lower taxes.
People elect parties because they want better access to medical care.
People vote to maintain or improve their standard of living.
They might care about a heating earth, but they care more about the fact their neighbour has a nicer car or new renovation. And that their pension isn’t big enough.
True, I’m really only talking about those who are fortunate enough to live in developed countries or are in the upper wealth band in their own countries. Yet these are the people who have the resources at their disposal to make the most difference.
Within a democracy the greatest chance for change is a widespread shift in priorities among individuals – in this case towards environmental issues. Yet, while more people recycle, and more people reuse their plastic bags we’re a long way from making the hard choices we’d need to in order to achieve a 20%, 50% or even 80% reduction in carbon emissions.
So if substantive change was to take place then it would probably have to be imposed.
Unlike Vitezslav and other sceptics however, I think that fears of environmental communism are unfounded. Why? Well because those same leaders sitting in Copenhagen have to come back and face an electorate.
They can slam their fists down and say “we need a 30% reduction in emissions” but I can guarantee they’ll do anything to avoid making the unpopular decisions necessary to achieve them.
Just look at the progress made since the Rio-Summit, or Kyoto, or even Bali… all talk, very (very) little action.
The thing about having a limited term in power is that you can plan, espouse and propose all you like. You can even put in “initial steps” and “ground work”. But you can leave the hard choices to your successor, who you can then criticise for not doing anything.
People aren’t ready to make the serious sacrifices needed to avoid climate change, and they certainly aren’t going to vote for them. Nor are politicians going to do anything that will risk their leadership.
Ironically should climate change turn out to be the serious threat it is currently thought to be democracy may be our very undoing.
About the author
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