I thought I would briefly discuss this Nature comment called Climate policy: Democracy is not an inconvenience. I initially read it and tweeted it, thinking “yes, democracy is important and not an inconvenience”. I then read it again and thought, “hold on, is this a massive strawman?”
The main premise seems to be based on:
Researchers are increasingly concerned that no one is listening to their diagnosis of the dangers of human-induced climate change and its long-lasting consequences, despite the robust scientific consensus. 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.
Really? I realise that there are extreme elements everywhere, but I don’t think I’ve seen any scientists actually argue that we should subvert democracy. I’ve certainly seen people suggest that our democracies are not suited to solving this type of global problem, but this – as far as I can tell – is typically said in the context of democracy being the worst form of government, apart from all others. Also, it is often in reference to the influence of the media, vested interests, and short-term political thinking, rather than an argument against democracy itself.
In fact, what I think most scientists are frustrated with (me, certainly) is a sense that we have all this evidence, it is very strong, and yet it appears to be largely being ignored or dismissed. I think most scientists recognise that the evidence alone doesn’t tell us what should be done, and that there are other important factors that will – and should – influence decision making. The argument is more to do with robust, evidence-based policy-making, not an implicit suggestion that we should undermine democracy and put the decisions into the hands of scientists themselves. Not only would putting decision making into the hands of scientists be an exceptionally poor idea (I should know, I am one and work with many others), but I’d also like to see an example of someone making this argument, because I really can’t think of one.
Maybe the most ironic thing about this article is that it almost seems to be doing what it is criticising others for apparently doing. It is essentially trying to delegitimise some by suggesting that their concerns are an attempt to subvert democracy. Well, as far as I’m concerned, free speech and the right to criticise policy makers is a fundamental part of our modern democracies. Suggesting that something that is fundamentally democratic is an attempt to undermine democracy, seems rather confused; maybe intentionally. Of course, we live in democracies where such arguments are allowed, even if they don’t make much sense.