To Tackle The Climate Crisis We Need More Democracy, Not Less

To Tackle The Climate Crisis We Need More Democracy, Not Less

As the climate crisis is increasingly felt across the globe, protesters take to the streets and politicians scrabble to respond, a crucial question is beginning to emerge. How can governments develop climate strategies which build public support for action? An announcement by six UK parliamentary committees that they will hold a citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency is a crucial step toward answering that question.

There are no shortage of prescriptions for climate action. From economists calling for an economy-wide carbon tax, to scientists advocating “earth system governance” at the planetary level, there are experts assuring us that they have strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly and effectively. But there’s a dangerous illusion sitting behind these prescriptions – what the social scientist Maarten Hajer called the illusion of “cockpitism”. Cockpitism describes the assumption that you can dictate climate solutions the same way a pilot might fly a plane, sitting in the cockpit charting the most efficient course, with perfectly calibrated instruments and levers.

This illusion is very problematic – and not just because the climate system is an entity far more complex than a plane. It is problematic because it cuts people out. It is a seemingly apolitical view that self-defined “experts” can decide what is best for people and impose those solutions. At its most extreme, it suggests that democracy is the problem, not the solution – as veteran earth scientist James Lovelock once said, “climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

My own research suggests that the opposite is true. To tackle the climate crisis, we need more, and better, democracy, not less. My interviews with politicians showed that they were convinced of the need for action on climate, but did not know what support there would be from the electorate. As one told me: “I’ve had tens of thousands of conversations with voters, and I just don’t have conversations about climate change.”

But this may be about to change, as we know from polling data that generalised concern about climate change is now at an all-time high. Yet how does this translate into support for far-reaching climate action? Would people be more likely to support locally based programmes, with powers given to cities and towns to cut emissions? Would there be support for introducing a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, over the next decade? Would people support higher taxes on carbon, if the money was invested in low-carbon solutions and support for vulnerable households? And crucially, how could this all link together into a credible, effective climate strategy that would build the mandate for further action toward a net-zero carbon target?

To Tackle The Climate Crisis We Need More Democracy, Not Less People say they want climate action. But are they really ready to ban petrol cars? daisy / shutterstock

This is where processes such as a citizens’ assembly, or other deliberative processes such as citizens’ juries or deliberative workshops, can help. These processes allow a representative group of citizens to meet with experts on equal terms, assess evidence, debate and suggest solutions. They are not a substitute for electoral politics, but they provide a more nuanced and detailed understanding of voters’ viewpoints than traditional political polling or focus groups.

At the recent Citizens’ Assembly on climate change held in Ireland, citizens offered up a surprisingly radical and confident set of suggestions, most of which the government is now taking forward. In the UK, many local areas are now setting up deliberative processes to decide their own next steps on climate.

Done well, such processes can help to develop a more inclusive, less divisive politics, countering the distrust of “experts” and allowing a constant interplay between the views and values of the public and politicians.

A citizens’ assembly is not a panacea. Deliberation won’t, in and of itself, solve the problem. We need far-reaching action which will require radical policy and confrontation of vested interests. But this policy and action will only be achievable if people understand and support it. The more we find out about how to build a public mandate for climate action, and the more we include people in genuine debate and deliberation, the more likely we are to find a way through the climate crisis. If it’s not democratic, it’s not realistic.

About The Author

Rebecca Willis, Researcher in Environmental Policy and Politics, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
by PBS
In this two-hour special, renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson takes us on an epic adventure through time at the polar…
A huge iceberg just broke off West Antarctica’s most endangered glacier
A Huge Iceberg Just Broke Off West Antarctica’s Most Endangered Glacier
by Madeleine Stone
Huge blocks of ice regularly shear away from Antarctica’s ice shelves, but the losses are speeding up.
The Rise Of Solar Power
by CNBC
Solar power is on the rise. You can see the evidence on rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants…
World's Largest Batteries: Pumped Storage
by Practical Engineering
The vast majority of our grid-scale storage of electricity uses this clever method.
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
by Zhenguo Huang
Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.

LATEST ARTICLES

Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods
Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods
by Robert Wilby and Simon Dadson
As large swathes of the UK endure the worst floods in living memory, hearts and minds are rightly focused on protecting…
Keeping The City Cool Isn't Just About Tree Cover – It Calls For A Commons-based Climate Response
Keeping The City Cool Isn't Just About Tree Cover – It Calls For A Commons-based Climate Response
by Abby Mellick Lopes and Cameron Tonkinwise
A recent report by the Greater Sydney Commission singles out urban heat as one of four priority areas given our coming…
Low Flammability Plants Could Help Our Homes Survive Bushfires
Low Flammability Plants Could Help Our Homes Survive Wildfires
by Tim Curran, et al
Destructive wildfires are becoming more common in many parts of the world and are predicted to worsen with climate…
Carbon Pricing May Be Overrated, If History Is Any Indication
Carbon Pricing May Be Overrated, If History Is Any Indication
by Cameron Roberts
A common demand in discussions about climate change is to respect the science. This is appropriate. We should all be…
Here Are 5 Practical Ways Trees Can Help Us Survive Climate Change
Here Are 5 Practical Ways Trees Can Help Us Survive Climate Change
by Gregory Moore
As the brutal reality of climate change dawned this summer, you may have asked yourself a hard question: am I…
A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters
A Military Perspective On Climate Change Could Bridge The Gap Between Believers And Doubters
by Michael Klare
As experts warn that the world is running out of time to head off severe climate change, discussions of what the U.S.…
Nearly 80% Of Australians Affected In Some Way By The Bushfires, New Survey Shows
Nearly 80% Of Australians Affected In Some Way By The Bushfires, New Survey Shows
by Nicholas Biddle, et al
Our research shows the vast majority of Australians were touched in some way by the fires. We asked about eight…
Changing Climate Has Stalled Australian Wheat Yields
Changing Climate Has Stalled Australian Wheat Yields
by Zvi Hochman; David L. Gobbett, and Heidi Horan, CSIRO
Australia’s wheat yields more than trebled during the first 90 years of the 20th century but have stalled since 1990.…