Climate Action: Is Democracy to Blame?
Climate change is neither a newly discovered phenomenon nor a trivial one. It poses a dangerous threat to human beings and all other forms of life on Earth. If this catastrophe was first discovered in the 1980s, why is it that two decades later, it has grown to be as rampant as ever?
Recent reports have shown that the majority of global citizens are concerned about the state of the environment. Why do world leaders still refuse to take significant action and save our planet? Has democracy failed? Here to answer all these questions and more is Perspectoverse’s Ishana Kandhari.
The latest research on climate change has shown that the rate of global warming in the last 150 years has been unprecedented since the last Ice Age. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that unless net carbon emissions are halved by 2030, the effects of climate change will be irreversible. The implication is, within the next few years, the entire structure that our world is dependent on will need to change. The actions that our world leaders take now decide the future of our planet.
The relation between democracy and environmentalism is a crucial subject of argument. While some argue that only democracy can save us in a time of such a grave crisis, others have different perspectives.
Fundamentally, democracy depends on ‘political equality’. Theoretically, each citizen has an equal say in their governance. Representative democracy, a system in which people elect a representative body that decides their legislation, is the most common type of democracy. The democratic system would ideally be the most suitable to take collective action against climate change. Citizens could think of solutions together and put people who are as committed to change in power.
We face a different reality. Our democratic system is not truly democratic. A crucial feature of a democracy is fair elections. However, in practice, several polls may be corrupt. Bribery and electoral fraud are common occurrences. Another point to consider is that a large portion of some countries’ population is uneducated. They may not know the workings of the electoral system, which could prevent them from voting. An example of this is in the USA. A significant percentage of people of colour, usually from lower-income backgrounds, do not vote. They do not have equal opportunity.
Another crucial aspect to explore is the role of capitalism in politics and its relationship with environmentalism. Firstly, fossil fuels still constitute 84% of the world’s energy. Large industries use fossil fuels for their businesses. The transfer to renewable energy would be detrimental to these companies. The firms that work in the fossil fuel sector are exceedingly wealthy. Five fossil fuel firms, including companies such as Rockhopper and TC Energy, recently sued governments from across the world for 13 billion pounds, because their environmental policies caused a decrease in profits for these businesses. They can have immense political influence. They also donate enormous sums of money to support political parties that protect their interests. Joe Manchin, an American Senator who is part of the Democratic Party, raised 1.6 million dollars for his election campaign. Manchin has millions of dollars worth of stocks in the coal industry. Some of the most prominent donors included Pioneer Natural Resources, ConocoPhillips and Energy Transfer Partners. Manchin’s staunch opposition to President Biden’s Clean Electricity Programme prevented it from being implemented. This programme would have prompted the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Another issue with several countries’ electoral systems is the electoral threshold. This threshold is the minimum number of votes that each party or candidate needs to receive, to gain seats in the parliament. If a citizen votes for a party or candidate that they believe in, but that entity does not pass the threshold, then all the votes that it received will be proportionally distributed to the entities that did qualify. This can result in citizens' votes becoming beneficial to a party that they do not support. This could be one that does not believe in climate action.
An essential group of people to consider when discussing environmentalism is the youth of our world. This group constitutes more than a quarter of the world’s population. In the majority of countries, those who are under 18 are ineligible to vote. Yet, it is this group whose lives will be most affected by climate change. A study of voters in Australia, during the 2019 federal election, showed that those who are part of younger generations are 50% more likely to vote for parties or candidates that support change in environmental policies. The voting age should be lowered to allow younger voices, especially since it is their futures at stake.
In conclusion, democracy is not the problem. It is the flaws in the democratic system which need to be rectified immediately. The more stable a democracy is, the more suitable collective environmental action can be taken, reversing the catastrophic effects of climate change. However, this is far from sufficient. Amending the democratic system is only one challenge amid a much larger, much more testing attempt to combat global warming and save our planet.
Written by Ishana Kandhari
Illustrated by Anannya Pincha
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