David Schlosberg on Democracy and Climate Change

SEI Director David Schlosberg in conversation with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens on the RN podcast The Minefield.

Image by Georgi Petrov, via Unsplash

The podcast aired in conjunction with the ABC’s publication of an essay by Professor Schlosberg, An ethic of ecological justice for the Anthropocene.

RN’s summary of the episode, which aired last week:

There are two competing trends that are becoming increasingly apparent in modern democracies. On the one hand, climate change is gaining real purchase as an electoral issue — as is evidenced by the strong performance of Green parties in recent European parliamentary elections and in the recent Australian federal election. Likewise, and the policy platform of ‘the Green Left’ of the Democratic Party in the US is growing popularity, influence and articulacy. On the other hand, far-right, nationalist, populist and otherwise carbon-committed parties did better in the EU elections, and were a seismic political force in rural NSW Wales and throughout Queensland in the Australian federal election.

This points to a near permanent and unbridgeable political divide, and the likelihood that, should one elected government pass legislation to assist the transition to a low-carbon or zero-carbon future, it will be undone by a future incoming government who campaigns on ‘jobs, growth and fewer taxes’.

Given democracy’s tendency to prioritise the short-term and appeal to voter self-interest, and given its inherent anthropocentrism — that is, its inability to accommodate the non-human world, except as a resource for humans — and with disillusionment with democratic politics at historic levels, it’s no wonder so many are wondering whether the extent of our ecological crisis requires less democracy … or at least, warrants bypassing democratic procedures. But is the solution in the other direction: more, participative, everyday democracy?

The podcast can be downloaded from the ABC Radio National website or through iTunes.

David Schlosberg is Professor of Environmental Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, and Director of the Sydney Environment Institute. He is the author (with Luke Craven) of Sustainable Materialism: Environmental Movements and the Politics of Everyday Life.