Political systems and the challenge of climate change

10/9/2021 - written by Philipp

TL;DR: We did a workshop together with the Icelandic students where we put authoritarian governments and democratic societies to the test: Who is more effective to fight climate change and is effectiveness the only thing we should care about?

The debate has been unsettling and interesting at the same time!

On Friday, 10 September 2021 our time in Reykjavík was almost over. We decided to meet one last time at Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð to have a final workshop revolving around the topic of climate change and our ways of coping with it on the (inter-)national level.

Our hosts prepared the following question:

How can democracies handle climate change (better than authoritarian states)?

All students were then devidided into two groups. The task was now for each of that groups to imagine a hypothetical political system. One had to be a strict dictatorship and the other one had to be an ideal democratic society (e.g. without corruption going on).

Some shocking ideas:

The dictator of the future could make use of the following ideas to protect the environment:

  • limited vouchers for buying unnecessary consumer goods in special stores only
  • police making regular raids of peoples homes to prevent their consumerism getting out of control (possessing too many objects)
  • sending people to "climate education facilities" if they did something wrong

Of course those measures seem crazy, especially for people at our age - but if we take a look back at our history or at current authoritarian governments, these ideas could sadly be implemented one day if things go wrong.

Why do we call those ideas wrong?

This is because we agreed on important democratic values like freedom or human rights which would be violated on a large scale with these actions. The only advantage of a dictatorship might be its consistency as there are no electoral cycles that could interfere with long-term plans. But also, such government could not be regarded as legitimate because it would ignore individual standpoints in the absence of regular elections.

The more pleasant (and more realistic) ideas:

In contrast, a democratic society could deal with climate change in the following manner:

  • allowing people to educate themselves, not restricted by some kind of propaganda
  • allowing innovation to design tools and products that could be less harmful to the environment or even carbon-neutral
  • cooperating on an international level together with other democracies

Especially the last point is important because, well, CO2 won't ask for permission to cross the borders between countries. However, the most important aspect in a modern democracy should be proper education. What do we mean by that? All people (not just students) have to be educated to learn about the "meta" of science. We noticed that hard facts are not the most important thing anymore. Instead, it is crucial to "learn how to learn", how to make your own discoveries and how to tell fakes and facts apart.

If you want to enhance your skills in that regard, please have a look at our leaflet that we have prepared as a guidance for handling modern media:

Fact-Bias-Preview-20210510.pdf (12,3 MB)

The overall conclusion?

For our generation and the battle against climate change we had the following realization:

- We have to be inconvenient! -

That means, on the one hand, to resist being driven by the "daily doses of dopamine" that consumer markets are offering everywhere. Instead, environmental impacts should always be taken into account as a No. 1 priority even if that requires extra steps to get things done.

On the other hand, we (and politicians) have to be inconvenient in our public democratic debate, e.g. to be tenacious when we call for compliance with the Paris Agreement.