A growing number of voices are calling for democracy to be put to one side for a while to allow the dangers of climate change to be tackled. One of the most prominent people putting forward this argument is Professor James Lovelock (the originator of the gaia theory).
A BBC Radio 4 was broadcast on this topic on Sunday (if you are quick you can listen to it on BBC’s iPlayer) with Justin Rowlatt looking into the claim that democracy is now expendable in the greater cause. In the show Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute says “I think in the same way that I understand James Lovelock has suggested that, I fear I have to share his view on that. There’s no way that the public are going to willingly say ‘I will forego flying’. The fact is that we’ve got to live on such a low use of fossil fuels for our daily activities. Therefore it’s got to be required of them and if they don’t go along with it, then we are - I fear - heading for absolute disaster. We are on a trajectory towards rendering the planet steadily uninhabitable.”
Now, I completely accept the argument that we have to have a real reduction in carbon use in the world, which implies a massive reduction in the West (without accepting every number in every report). But I think those arguing for the suspension of democracy are dangerously wrong.
The people asking for democracy to be suspended are assuming that the people who would suspend democracy would be enlightened, tree-hugging, liberals. However, if we look at the people who have the guns, the tanks, the jets, and the power, we see they are amongst the most right wing and amongst the most sceptical of the science behind climate change.
If we removed democracy we would probably have an elite committed to enjoying the party for as long as they could, and the massive carbon impact of civil wars and insurrections.
One interesting side fact that is beginning to emerge from the debate about climate change is that right-wing politicians seem almost uniformly sceptical or hostile to the claims from the scientists. I do not have an easy answer for why that might be. There are plenty of very intelligent people on the right, why do they struggle to deal with an overwhelming scientific consensus?
ps I am not saying that all climate change sceptics are right-wing, just that most right-wing politicians are sceptics.