As governments continue to fail to take appropriate political action, democracy begins to look to some like an inconvenient form of governance. There is a tendency to want to take decisions out of the hands of politicians and the public, and, given the 'exceptional circumstances', put the decisions into the hands of scientists themselves.The term 'inconvenient democracy' has been introduced by Stehr before, and we had some discussions here on Klimazwiebel in the past.
Democratic nations seem to have failed us in the climate arena so far. ... Academics increasingly point to democracy as a reason for failure.Stehr quotes Jim Hansen and others for expressing such a view:
NASA climate researcher James Hansen was quoted in 2009 in The Guardian as saying: “the democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working”. In a special issue of the journal Environmental Politics in 2010, political scientist Mark Beeson argued that forms of 'good' authoritarianism “may become not only justifiable, but essential for the survival of humanity in anything approaching a civilised form”. The title of an opinion piece published earlier this year in The Conversation, an online magazine funded by universities, sums up the issue: 'Hidden crisis of liberal democracy creates climate change paralysis' (see go.nature.com/pqgysr).What are the reasons for this pessimistic view of democracy, asks Nico:
The depiction of contemporary democracies as ill-equipped to deal with climate change comes from a range of considerations. These include a deep-seated pessimism about the psychological make-up of humans; the disinclination of people to mobilize on issues that seem far removed; and the presumed lack of intellectual competence of people to grasp complex issues. On top of these there is the presumed scientific illiteracy of most politicians and the electorate; the inability of governments locked into short-term voting cycles to address long-term problems; the influence of vested interests on political agendas; the addiction to fossil fuels; and the feeling among the climate-science community that its message falls on the deaf ears of politicians.
Such views can be heard from the highest ranks of climate science. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, said of the inaction in a 2011 interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel: “comfort and ignorance are the biggest flaws of human character. This is a potentially deadly mix”.Nico rejects a technocratic alternative which would change the nature of the IPPC's role and function:
What, then, is the alternative? The solution hinted at by many people leans towards a technocracy, in which decisions are made by those with technical knowledge. This can be seen in a shift in the statements of some co-authors of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, who are moving away from a purely advisory role towards policy prescription.While I share the critique of technocracy I am less certain about Nico's worries that the IPCC might move towards policy prescriptions. In my view the IPCC has suffered from an absence of policy advice that was clear, open and transparent. The IPCC produced scientific reports that had very little policy relevance (despite its slogan of being 'policy-relevant, but not policy prescriptive'). It scientized the debate about climate change which was arguably counter-productive in terms of climate policy. Useful expertise produces knowledge that identifies levers of action, and options for action. To be sure, IPCC protagonists made statements that could be seen as policy prescriptive, and we discussed several examples of 'stealth advocacy' here on this blog. But i don't think that by moving the IPCC towards more practical policy advice a danger to the democratic process would ensue.
Finally, Nico observes that
The argument for an authoritarian political approach concentrates on a single effect that governance ought to achieve: a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. By focusing on that goal, rather than on the economic and social conditions that go hand-in-hand with it, climate policies are reduced to scientific or technical issues. But these are not the sole considerations. Environmental concerns are tightly entangled with other political, economic and cultural issues that both broaden the questions at hand and open up different ways of approaching it. Scientific knowledge is neither immediately performative nor persuasive.I think this is true, and has been argued by several commentators here.