Democratic reform is vital to address the climate and environmental crises

May 31, 2021

Society faces a fast moving confluence of climate change, environmental decay, and increasing zoonoses but fails to recognise the most compelling underlying problem, the crumbling ability of democratic systems to deliver any meaningful action.

This is certainly the case in Australia’s abrogation on climate change and the environment. An increasing proportion of society recognises the threat to future generations and increasingly demands action on the crisis, but few remonstrate or demonstrate for reform of democracy to bring effective action.

Perhaps we are fatalistic about reform of a system seemingly set in stone, or perhaps we subconsciously accept our fate because we cannot imagine the endpoint of our destructive actions, the demise of natural resources and life support systems which will enforce cruel declines in world population, a  ‘Nature Strikes Back‘ scenario.

Democracy is failing for two fundamental reasons:

The fundamental role of democracy is to bring agreement between differing viewpoints reflected by elected representatives. This role and the power it confers frequently involve corrupt practice, deceit and lies. To remain in power, dishonesty with colleagues and the electorate and collusion with special interests is rife.

Currently media and fossil fuel interests delay action on climate change and environmental sustainability which leads to incompetence in government and thereby public distrust.

It is “time for asking ourselves how it is that we have created a political class which is apparently morally,  intellectually or practically unfit to govern, yet which continues to do so, confident that it is beyond any check or accountability from a system they have thoroughly corrupted”.

JACK WATERFORD. Are our leaders morally fit for purpose?

However is not that democracies today are more incompetent or self seeking than 50 or 100 years ago, it is that they no longer have the ability  to deal with the confluence of wicked problems which threaten us. Nor do they have the intellect to grasp the problems as wicked and the expert bureaucracy which might enlighten them has been hollowed out in favour of political advisors.

Consequently unless the Member of Parliament understands the critical nature of these problems, they will not enter the democratic process for debate and action. This is reflected in humanity’s grossly inadequate response to these world crises.

The confluent crises

A zero emissions target by 2050 is easy to adopt but unachievable on current track records. To stay within a 1.5 degree limit, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions must decline by about 45 per cent from the 2010 level by 2030.

Yet global emissions this year are expected to experience their second largest increase on record. We have eight years to act decisively or the world is heading for a 2-4 degree rise.

The state of the environment is even more catastrophic. The IPBES Global Assessment concludes that one million of the world’s species are threatened with extinction. This requires urgent transformative change to human civilisation, meaning a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors.

For Australia, ANUs Environmental Explorer Report provides a rating of 0.8 out of 10 for seven key indicators.

Zoonoses are the third impending catastrophe. We have convinced ourselves that we have the scientific and technological clout to deal with Covid-19.

However it is now clear that we do not have the democratic insight or governance to deal with it globally, consequently its damage to economies and the fabric of nations may continue for decades.

The past century has seen a progression of pandemics and potential candidates are increasing with plunder of the natural environment especially with corona viruses MERS and SARS. Developed countries are blithely generating a crisis of antibiotic resistance  which can now be linked not just to their use in animal farming practice but also to the use of weed killers.

Government fails to recognise that pandemics are environmentally generated and does not understand that the endpoint of environmental loss is ‘no economy’ as it continues dismantling the proposed modest improvements to the EPBC Act.

Last year, its spending on protecting the environment  was 37 cents and on the climate crisis 16 cents respectively out of every $100 spent in the 2020 budget. This spending has fallen by nearly a third since the Coalition was elected eight years ago.

This wave of crises creates many more in its wake- environmental refugees, conflict over water and land, poverty and greater inequality. Nor should we forget the ever present threat of nuclear war which may well be increased as nations tussle for diminishing resources.

The existential perils facing humanity: the Thucydides Trap.

Democratic reform

An increasing number of articles in public interest journals, including Pearls and Irritations, describe in detail the many failures of current democratic processes. It could be seen as truly remarkable how few suggestions and proposals are made for reform which is so essential to address the crises. Are we accepting our fate? Have the many contributors with public service experience nothing today, no ideas, no suggestions?

Reform is now so urgent, one is driven to consider what can be done even before the next election. The stellar performance on the current crises by Zali Steggall and Helen Haines and some others has created the need for many more independents to be elected. Malcolm Turnbull understands this need and he surely recognises that those who could lead on these vital issues don’t want to suffer selection through Party processes based on dubious criteria irrelevant to the crises.

In addition to Malcolm Turnbull there are other well respected ex-members who could persuade Australians distinguished in their field to stand in selected seats and support them; job  specification-required- “Australians who have made a distinguished and publically recognised contribution to Australian life and progress urged to give three years of their life in the national interest by standing as an Independent candidate”.

After the election we must move to a national debate on democratic change led by non-parliamentary leaders.

As indicated before we urgently need a proposal which will simultaneously impact both parliament and public using the power of scientific veracity and the skill of those delivering it.

Our political processes have failed us on climate change and the environment.

Early last year the Union of Concerned Scientists <> declared with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world:

“clearly and unequivocally, that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency”.

Yet today a majority of parliamentarians cannot grasp the task before them.

This week a Federal Court Judge had no difficulty grasping the outlook for Australia:

“It is difficult to characterise in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecasts for the children. As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well”.

The lack of effective action in the Parliament for political reasons is the failure of our democratic system.

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