Friday, 2 March 2007

Climate Change and the Democratic Imagination

I've been rambling on here about climate change as a challenge to the imagination, rather than simply a technical problem in need of solutions. Now openDemocracy have published some of my more considered thoughts on the subject - in particular, on the visions of an authoritarian future I've noticed over the last year or so.

Here's a taster:

When Tony Blair told a reporter he was "still waiting for the first politician who's actually running for office who's going to come out and say" that we need to fly less, the headlines that followed were a measure of the way the debate over climate change has shifted. In 2005, similar remarks the British prime minister made to a parliamentary committee barely touched the news agenda. But in that time, the media here have moved on from debating the reality and the seriousness of climate change, to predicting how bad things will get and asking what needs to be done.

After years in which no BBC report on the subject was complete without airing the views of climate-change sceptics, this is progress. Where business leaders and politicians gather, there is talk of momentum, a tipping-point, history in the making. Yet behind this confidence, the fear remains that our democratic structures will not be up to the task: that the boundaries of what is politically "practical", in Blair's language, will not accommodate the kind of measures required to prevent runaway climate change.

It is this fear which feeds the visions of an authoritarian future which have begun to enter the debate from more than one side. The fact that few informed observers believe individual restraint and technological innovation will generate the necessary cuts in emissions, so that a significant increase in government intervention in individual behaviour is to be anticipated means such visions deserve to be taken seriously. They suggest that it is time to consider tackling climate change not simply as a technical problem but as a challenge to the democratic imagination.

Read the rest here.

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