Climate and democracy are what I call meta-issues – issues which impact virtually every other issue and therefore, I believe, have priority over all other issues. This is a controversial assertion. But I want to stress that it comes not from denial of the importance of other issues, but from caring about them from a big enough perspective to see that they can’t be successfully addressed in isolation from these two all-pervading issues which have the power to make or break everything else we are doing.
After receiving my last message, an organizer for Sunday’s mega-People’s Climate March in NYC (and elsewhere) asked me what I thought of it. [Note: This post was written after the subsequent post about research and polarization, but mistakenly posted before it.]
While urging anyone who feels called to attend this important mega-demonstration to do so if they can, I want to give a more nuanced response to the organizer who wrote to me, and to share it with you here.
It has been joked that all people are equal but some are more equal than others.
In a similar vein, I would suggest that all issues are important and interconnected, but some are more important and interconnected than others.
Take climate and democracy.
Climate disruption will negatively impact virtually every issue I can think of. Extinction of species (including the prospects of human extinction) might well top the list, along with the concomitant degradation of ecosystems from drought, fires, floods, violent storms, damaged nuclear facilities and spreading toxics, etc. Then there are wars (often over resources, but also instigated by demagogues and elites manipulating struggling populations), social disorder, and migrations which will stimulate more social disruption. WIth increasing climate disruption we can expect increasing social injustice and intolerance (due to scapegoating to distract from the real causes of climate change and its correlates), poverty, unemployment and wealth inequity as wealthy people try to protect themselves from climate consequences and poorer people struggle to survive in a disrupted economy with food prices soaring from drought, floods, and the spread of pests – and housing and other property being destroyed by violent storms, war, and abandonment. Of course there is the spread of diseases caused by changing microclimates disrupting ecosystems and causing migrations of disease-bearing mosquitoes and other pests, as well as injuries and disruption of health services and infrastructure by violent weather and overwhelmed government budgets and non-governmental public service organizations. I mean, climate is such a basic stable backdrop that once it is disrupted, the fundamental ground of society – and nature as we know it – gets shaken, generating repercussions that magnify problems in every aspect of life that we want to improve and undermine resources that could and should serve our various interests. So of course it impacts every issue. And climate would not have gotten so out of hand had we had wiser democracies at work around the world and especially in the U.S.
So we need to attend to politics and governance where, after all, most of the rules and resourcing of our common life are decided upon. (I am tempted to add our economic system as a top-priority concern here, but its rules and structures are determined by governance, so I’m choosing to focus on that latter system instead.) If we could count on a dictatorship or oligarchy being wise, perhaps such centralization would serve in a time of profound challenge such as that presented by climate disruption (and its complementary crises like peak resources – passing the limits of fossil fuels, fresh water, arable land, fish populations, etc.). But not only are there no guarantees we would ever have a wise benign authority, but the complexity of our modern world and the converging mega-crises we have generated demand a level of distributed, parallel, and self-organized responses that relegate centralized authority to a role of convening diverse parties into productive collaborations and juggling the meta-collaborations needed to make all that diversity productive at higher levels of organization – rather than trying to run the whole show from the top down. So we need not only democracy, but a democratic culture that becomes sophisticated about how to gather together the relevant diversity in the most productive ways to generate and implement wise policies and projects at every level of society and in every sector. This wiser form of democracy would be radically different from the adversarial battle-for-power approaches that govern most of our current political and governance systems. But to the extent we create such wiser democracies, EVERY public issue would be handled better than it is now. And to the extent we don’t create them, EVERY public issue will continue to be dealt with inadequately, counterproductively, or disastrously, if at all.
So without radically altering the current trajectory of climate disruption, the prospects for democracy are slim. And without altering the current trajectory of democracy, the prospects for surviving climate disruption are slim.
To the extent social change agents don’t see the connections between these two and their priority among the vast field of legitimate concerns extending to hundreds of other issues, neither of these meta-issues will be adequately addressed… with fairly dire and predictable consequences.
I have written extensively about both these meta-issues in my messages here over many years. There are ample rationales and resources to combine them effectively as one coherent concern.
So I urge those attending the People’s Climate March (and every other demonstration on this and every other issue) to press for the kinds of democracy which can address our endangered climate… and for those attempting to promote more democratic and wise political and governmental systems (and those concerned with every other issue) to realize that climate trends are rapidly creating conditions that will undermine everything they are trying to do.
I can’t think of any other issues that are more important than these. Although all issues are connected, some are more connected than others.
I know these assertions can be challenged and I invite your debate about them in the comments section on my blog.