Climate Change and Democracy

By Keith Kloor | July 9, 2014 12:26 pm

From an interview between Columbia University Press and science historian Naomi Oreskes:

Q: What are the threats to democracy and personal freedom posed by climate change and its effects?

Oreskes: Disruptive climate change threatens democracy—threatens democratic institutions—and personal freedom, because natural disasters require massive governmental responses, and invite the federal government to usurp local and individual authority.

I’m puzzled by this statement. Can anyone elaborate on how this may play out?

Also, while we’re mentioning climate change and democracy in the same breath, I would be remiss in not pointing out this controversial 2007 book, which argued that democracy, as stated in the foreword, was “an impediment to finding ecologically sustainable solutions for the planet.” (The book goes so far as to argue “that authoritarianism is the natural state of humanity.”)

Such an abhorrent perspective is well outside the mainstream and should in no way be ascribed to environmentalists and those concerned about climate change. But it is a disturbing mindset and as such, cringe-inducing. Nonetheless, some thought leaders have dabbled (or at least fantasized) around the edges of it. [UPDATE: On Twitter, Robert Wilson reminds me of James Lovelock’s utterances on global warming and democracy.]

So while I, too, am concerned about climate change, I’ll be keeping one wary eye on the tides and the other on what I would consider a more realistic threat to democracy.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, democracy
  • charlesx

    Given the way some people in the climate debate are trying to suppress views that they don’t agree with, it is probably fair to say that climate change is a threat to democracy.

    • brianOO7

      I think what you mean is the climate change industry is the threat to democracy.

      • Matthew Slyfield

        That should be climate change activists, not climate change industry, don’t forget, they are anti-industry and would love to see the developed nations de-industrialize.

  • Tom Scharf

    I think I would have to vote that environmentalists tend to be some of the most authoritarian types on the planet. If you look at there actions they tend to favor getting their goals by executive fiat through the court system and EPA, and don’t spend as much energy trying to accomplish their goals via new legislation or running for office on their green platform. The last major environmental legislation was in the 1970’s as I recall.

    Certainly the typical response to this is that the other side of the aisle is obstructing them…but that is because their supporters don’t want the environmental “utopia” that many greens promote, naturalistic fallacy and all.

    The broad spectrum attempts to silence dissent of the deniers is another very obvious authoritarian tendency. It is very odd to me that they even engage is such silliness, it reflects very poorly on them.

    • JH

      Along these lines:

      The Army Corps of Engineers apparently wants to destroy a cormorant colony at the mouth of the Columbia river because
      the colony is eating too many salmon. But as if this incident of destroying nature to save nature weren’t already odd enough, a representative of the Audubon Society complained that, if the Corps managed the river for fish instead of power and transportation, they wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. Apparently Audubon isn’t quite clear on the fact that the Corps is there specifically to manage the river for power and transport, and if they weren’t doing that, there would be no managing for fish. And if the Corps weren’t managing the river for power and river transport, there probably wouldn’t be any Audubon chapter in Portland, much less any Portland, to complain about how the flippin’ river is managed. And, finally, on top of all of that weirdness, the whole reason the Corps is trying to improve fish runs is because environmental groups like Audubon have demanded that they do so. I guess their real hope was that the Corps would just destroy the dams and send us all back to the stone age so we could eat fish from our
      spears, but instead it became a story of good(?) intentions gone wrong, and the Corps has instead moved to kill birds, sea lions, seals, and all sorts of other wildlife feasting on the fish.

      This is the kind of idiocracy we get when enviromental groups act on their good(?) intentions.

  • sean2829

    An eye on the tides as in the oceans or an eye on the Tides as in a foundation that sees democracy as an impediment to their vision for civilization.

  • realheadline

    “I’m puzzled by this statement. Can anyone elaborate on how this may play out?”

    This is exactly what the Environmental movement has been promoting for the last two decades. The Greens political affiliations are common knowledge, i.e., anti-capitalist. Now you claim that you’re shocked and had no clue? What do you think this global warming nonsense has been about since day one?

  • mem_somerville

    You know, if you had blanked out the words “climate change” in the Q & A, and the name of the person replying, I would have guessed it was a tea partier talking about FEMA camps.

  • JH

    “Such an abhorrent perspective is well outside the mainstream and should
    in no way be ascribed to environmentalists and those concerned about
    climate change.”

    :) Nooo wayyyy!

  • zlop

    Democracy always was a psychological operation, to deceive the Serfs,
    that their hope for change, matters a lot. Most can understand that greenhouse gases cool, but truth is Common Cored, to support taxes.

  • hamlett22

    If the term ‘Climate Change’ in this blog refers to doing something to sustain our planet for the habitability of our species, then ‘Climate Change’ could be a short-term threat to ‘capitalism’ (not necessarily democracy). The only way to implement sustainable energy projects world-wide would be to enforce a set of stringent laws for the production of clean energy. If clean energy (nuclear, solar, wind, etc…) does not trump dirty energy (fossil fuels), then climate change will become more than an ‘issue’ that might threaten any form of economic or governmental rule.

    So define climate change first and the context in which it is used.

    In its simplest form, Climate Change defined is a sudden or gradual change in the earth’s environment. Now let’s connect Climate Change to our way of life. The impacts of climate change can and do effect habitability and therefore the sustainability of our species. Science has proven so. Results?- As a species, we either do something to sustain ourselves, which at this point in human evolution and intellectual progress means sustaining our planet, or we choose not do something which most certainly means the ‘culling of the herd’ on a mass scale within the next 1000 years.

    Here’s the conundrum. I want my coffee and newspaper in the morning. I want my kids to go to school, and get a good job and take care of themselves. Short-term goals for me, myself and I.

    BUT

    I want to know, when I am on my deathbed, that the human species will survive and that I did my part to make it so. To bring that back to me on a personal level?… I want to know that my grand kids, and my great-great grandkids will have a home and a good way of life and that I did my part to make sure my consumption of natural resources and the discarding of my waste did not impinge upon that goal. The frustrating part of this want of mine is that I cannot do it on my own. There’s simply too many people on this planet.

    If we want to sustain our planet, then we must change how our species utilizes our planet’s resources and discards our waste. Will viable solutions affect government? Yes. Daily life-style and creature comforts? Yes. Economics? Yes. And onwards.

    Do nothing and there won’t be democracy or capitalism or any other kinds of -isms for our great-great grandchildren to govern, regulate, philosophize or what-have-you.

    The term Climate Change, at this point, means nothing without doing something. If we are to do anything that can actually be effective in reversing or controlling threatening changes in the Earth’s climate, then yes, all country’s sovereignty, and individual rights are at risk in that the masses must change their way of life on a micro scale, to promote and foster sustainable, renewable energy sources to replace the burning of fossil fuels.

    That means changing habits and life-styles. That is part and parcel to economics, in its most simplest form, reinvesting in alternative energy solutions and consumption on a mass scale.

    To do so, means relinquishing the status quo.

    Unfortunately, there is no time in written history when the masses changed the status quo (any status quo) willingly and voluntarily.

    In short, the masses are not going to voluntarily relinquish their ‘known’ way of life for the long term, the term beyond what they can see or know. One generation’s mortality has a limited field of vision. Unfortunately climate change, any climate change, is for the long term and nature knows no bounds, has no emotional construct.

    Change will have to be enforced. The question remains.. who will enforce any fore-see-able, sustainable, changes that carry positive impacts?

    The minority invested in fossil fuels for economic gain? No.

    The majority invested in their meager way of life? No.

    Then who?

    Climate Change is a loaded term. From my perspective, the term means nothing without doing something sustainable for the good of our habitat and thus the long-term survival of the human species.

    If we are to do anything that can actually change human induced climate change, then we must switch off fossil fuel energy plants and switch on solar, and wind production plants. Currently solar and wind can’t replace 100% of our energy needs. Nuclear energy needs to take up the slack. Nuclear energy is a concern but only if we can’t control it. We can. We have the technological advancements to do so. Nuclear energy power plants of the 1970s and the 2000-teens are apples and oranges. Nuclear energy is a cleaner energy, for the long-term, than the burning of fossil fuels. We need to get over our fear of it, and use nuclear energy to sustain our immediate energy needs and in doing so keep our planet viable for the long-term.

    We could cut back fossil fuel emissions by 95% if we wanted to and we could do it quickly (20 years, maybe less) world wide. But energy investors would have to switch over. Reinvest. Governments would have to enforce the move. Nations would have to relinquish their sovereignty, at various levels, to make it happen on a world scale. Liberties would be altered until the switch from dirty to clean was complete. But pride is a small price to pay for the long-term survival of our species.

    I’ll reiterate what Carl Sagan said decades ago. ‘The masses aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Our little pale world is all we have for the foreseeable future.’

    We better do everything we can to sustain it, nourish it, and cherish it for the sake of our children. We can get our liberties back once climate change is a lesser issue.

    • realheadline

      “Climate Change defined is a sudden or gradual change in the earth’s environment.”

      The forever unfalsifiable “climate change” hypothesis, the political gift that just keeps on giving.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    The trivial alternative to Klimate Kaos from Jevon’s Paradox is to reverse technological progress to before the Industrial Revolution, to before the Iron Age,

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/diary/population-graph.jpg
    It must be true – it’s a graph.
    http://www.gibs.co.za/SiteResources/images/figure-1.gif
    One cannot imagine from where the CO2 overage originates.

    hence Luddite Enviro-whinerism. Only the Carbon Tax on Everything can save us! That, and arbitrage of carbon cap-and-trade credits. Burn suet candles, ride horses, die of an infected mosquito bite. You will gladly pay us today for a promised 2100 AD, or else.

    • hamlett22

      Not quite sure here you are going with this, but if you mean we must revert to pre-indutrial life-styles, that is not going to happen and further more i tis not necessary. We have the know-how and ability to create energy without burning fossil fuels and damaging the climate or our environment. We must implement our knowledge on a mass scale, world-wide. Doing so locally first world nations) isn’t going to save our habitiat in the long-term. Mass scale clean energy production. Capitalism stands in the way. Rights to unhindered freedom stands in the way. Feeling like big government should be down-sized rather than enact policy and procedure to ensure things happen equitably stand it the way. The only way we can switch to clean erngy world wide is to build, implement, produce, clean energy. This must be enforced world wide or we our in serious trouble. There is no easy solution here. We need to make it happen or the herd will be culled by climate change and then we may indeed revert to the pre-industrial age against our will. Sad thing is the current generation will never see it which is in itself a hinderance to changing from dirty to clean. But at least if we did make the change in oru generation we would know we are headed int he right direction and our children can carry on.

      • Matthew Slyfield

        “We have the know-how and the ability to create energy without burning fossil fuels and damaging the climate or our environment.”

        The only thing that we have the technology for now that would even come close to allowing this without a reversion to preindustrial per capita energy use is nuclear.

        Wind and solar will never be practical at the necessary scales, neither will any sort of bio mass based energy.

  • Ray Del Colle

    Global warming threatens the security of evry nation on the planet! “We’re not in the middle of a natural cycle: the world is warming because we have increased heat trapping-pollution in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent since the 1800s.” http://clmtr.lt/c/JHw0bK0cMJ

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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