27 May 2010

Audio: Doomed by Democracy?

BBC Radio 4 on 24 May 2010 broadcast an "Analysis" programme dedicated to the discussion among environmentalists that democracy may have to be "suspended" in order to fight climate change.

The audio is available free of charge here:


The full text of the programme transcript can be read here:


Excerpts: "[Halina] WARD [Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development]: We don't have to be driven by what 50% plus 1 of the population wants to say that we represent a majority view. [Presenter Justin] ROWLATT: And this is Gordon Brown's former special advisor on climate change. [Michael] JACOBS: I don't think it's right to call something anti-democratic if it has the consent of the public even if you couldn't say that they were actively in favour of it. [... Mayer] HILLMAN [Senior Fellow Emeritus, Policy Studies Institute]: [...] 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. [...] ROWLATT: Establishing a kind authoritarian regime to impose restrictions on people's lifestyle – does sound like fascism doesn't it? HILLMAN: Well it's interesting you should use that noun because I've often observed that in 1939 had there been a referendum as to whether we go to war with Nazi Germany – the majority would have said 'No way' we had a horrific first war – we're not going to go through that again – there are times in history when democracy has to be set aside because of our wider obligation. [...]

"WARD: There are some environmentalists in particular who [...] feel that democracy is hampering progress. But those tend to be very privately expressed thoughts along the lines of China's easier to deal with [in] the intergovernmental arena perhaps because it's not a democracy. Thank goodness for that. And there's another group of activist civil society groups who I think see that democracy presents a huge challenge [...]. ROWLATT: Mayer Hillman [...] now believes the choice is between democracy and the survival of the human species. HILLMAN: [...] Democracy allows people the freedom not to be obliged to do things that we know we must do, so how can one possibly say yes but the principle of democracy must prevail over and above protection of the global environment from excessive burning of fossil fuels? Given the choice, I would sadly – very, very sadly – say that the condition of the planet in the future for future generations is more important than the retention of democratic principles. JACOBS: [...] Am I confident that democratic systems will deal with the issue of climate change? No. [...] ROWLATT: [...] The most pessimistic environmentalists suggesting suspending democracy are likely to remain a minority, not least because there is no obvious alternative. But what seems certain is that the challenge of tackling climate change will test democratic institutions as never before."

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