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Peak oil, climate change and democracy: Do they mix?

Winston Churchill once noted, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” But have the pressing problems facing us today — looming peak oil, climate change, the still-strangled credit markets — given other forms of government an edge over democracy?

Perhaps not surprisingly, Chinese climate scientists like Qi Ye think so. During last week’s State of the Planet 2010 forum, he noted that the US hasn’t been able to pass meaningful legislation on climate change because “the democratic system is broken.” Could it be he has a point? Sure, China has surpassed the US as the world’s top producer of greenhouse gases, but it’s also taken the lead in developing renewable energy.

The “democracy-and-green-energy-revolution-don’t-go-together” philosophy isn’t limited to just developing nations, though. Just ask James Lovelock, developer of the “Gaia” theory and a brilliant thinker with strong views on energy, climate and humanity. In a recent interview with The Guardian’s Leo Hickman, Lovelock puts the blame for climate inaction squarely on the shoulders of modern democracy.

“Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being,” he said, adding that the state of the environment today could prove to be just as serious an issue as war.

Certainly, even a glancing look at the dysfunctional working of the US political system can make one ask whether democracy as we know it is up to the challenges of the 21st century. Faced with a crushing recession, high unemployment, rising energy costs, and years-long military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other issues, one of the country’s two political parties has instead chosen to focus on the “tyranny” of President Obama’s recently approved (solely by Democrats) health-care reform and minimising references to climate science and Thomas Jefferson’s influence on Enlightenment thinking in school textbooks.

Is there hope for democracy in a century being shaped by unprecedented environmental, resource and financial stresses? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.


  • tankthink
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 2:49 am

    What was the global population before fossil fuels really started to be used?

    Global population 1803: 1 Billion
    Global population 1999: 6 Billion

    When will we reach 7 Billion: 2011 (only twelve years after 6 Billion was reached)

  • tankthink
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 2:43 am

    Since we are moving into brand new territory, nobody knows if Democracy will make it.

    It is for sure that the world’s current global economic models, that are based on exponential growth, clearly cannot continue.

    If you look at human population growth over the past 10,000 years, there are only a few times (like during plagues and wars) where the growth turned negative. However, those dips were tiny and short-lived.

    Economy and population follow energy. You can’t support life without energy, just look at any long-term graph of energy production vs. population (it will open your eyes). This graph will also make it clear that population growth continue, even with ever increasing energy production, unless you enjoy the close proximity one feels in a crowded elevator or passenger train.

    Thus, we sit in a very unique situation. One thing is clear, if we can’t continue to strip mine the world of ever increasing amounts of resources then we must face the reality of population decline.

    Humans will eventually learn to plan much more carefully so that we can have a balanced ecosystem; one where Mother Earth is allowed to sustain herself.

    What is that eventual population and level of global control? That is what we are going to find out.

  • mel
    Posted March 29, 2010 at 7:21 pm

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