democraciaAbierta

Democracy, authoritarianism and the climate emergency

The populist and authoritarian wave that is spreading through the world is not directly responsible for the climate emergency that we are facing. But it is responsible for the collapse of the small number of measures that were implemented to help handle the crisis. Português Español

DemocraciaAbierta
18 September 2019

The populist and authoritarian wave that is spreading thorough the world is not directly responsible for the climate emergency that we are facing. But it is responsible for the collapse of the small number of measures that were implemented to help handle the crisis, something that is particularly evident in the case of Latin America.

There has been an emergence of ultraconservative leaders in key countries such as Brazil, which has sovereignty over more than 60% of the Amazon rainforest, and the United States, which is the second largest global contributor to polluting emissions.

But to what extent is the current undemocratic wave, we are experiencing, one of the big enemies in the fight against climate change?

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said recently that it is only "vegans who only eat vegetables" who care about the environmental problem.

US president Donald Trump isn’t very different. Some of the measures he has taken include the repeal of regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while advocating the use of more coal.

During the last two decades, although the world has experienced a broad consolidation of democratic systems, various experts and researchers have concluded that democratic institutions, due to their intrinsically deliberative component, lack the strength and speed necessary to face this crisis.

British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, for example, in his book 'Globalization, Democracy and Terrorism', published in 2008, criticises the idea of democracy, arguing that this form of government is inadequate to deal with global problems, particularly the climatic emergency.

That is why today, in our weekly editorial column, we will analyse the link between democracy and climate emergency.

Various experts and researchers have concluded that democratic institutions, due to their intrinsically deliberative component, lack the strength and speed necessary to face this crisis.

The destruction of the Amazon rainforests in Brazil, as well as the Chiquitanía in Bolivia and the wetlands in Paraguay, has catastrophically aggravated the rates of deforestation, which will have catastrophic consequences for the climate.

Brazil had at least 72,000 outbreaks of fire so far this year, half of which have occurred in the Amazon. The National Space Research Institute (INPE) reported that its satellite data showed an increase of 84% from the same period in 2018. The latest data from INPE also shows that from the that start 2019 until July 2019, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 278%. These figures make it hard to argue that Bolsonaro and his policies do not play a role in contributing to what is happening in the Amazon.

The Ecuadorian Juan Manuel Crespo argues Bolsonaro and other regional leaders, who despite having different political beliefs, such as Evo Morales or until recently Rafael Correa, still deny the climatic emergency, and promote anti-environmental policies. And they don’t do because of lack of though or because they want to see the burning forests. No. According to Crespo, they act on behalf of companies that benefit from “ecocide,” and who set the agenda to suit their extractive and predatory desires without any limits.

Thus, we have been witnessing a degradation of representative democracies, they have been co-opted by short-term private interests, reinforcing the system the empowers the vote and will of those who can pay more.

So, aren’t we living in illusory representative democracies? Since in reality they really "represent" the factual powers of a world-system that is moving towards the annihilation of itself and of all of us?

Thus, we have been witnessing a degradation of representative democracies, they have been co-opted by short-term private interests, reinforcing the system the empowers the vote and will of those who can pay more.

Climate change and machismo

Another way in which the climate emergency is intrinsically related to democracy and human rights is through the interactions of those who deny climate change.

The relationship between the ultraconservative wave and denialism is perfectly illustrated in those who use all their strength to make fun of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist and environmentalist As Matt Gelin argues, the news that Greta would cross the Atlantic on a sustainable sailboat was met with a surge of male anger.

These attitudes do not only come from internet trolls, who have no name or face. They come from politicians and journalists, including British pro-Brexit activist Arron Banks; former Trump administration official Steve Milloy; and the Australian journalist Andrew Bolt, among many others.

Is it just coincidence that all of these people are male and white?

Recent studies suggest that it is no coincidence. Researchers at the Chalmers Technical University in Sweden studied the link between climate denialism and the extreme anti-feminist right years ago.

The authors argue that this group of people do not see the climatic emergency as a threat to the planet. Instead they see environmental activism as a threat to the status quo; to the system and the policies that maintain their class, race and gender - upper middle, white and masculine – and therefore located at the top of the pyramid.

Meaning that, for them the threat of this climatic emergency is a threat of a more egalitarian world in which they would have to compete, on an equal footing, with people they consider inferior.

Is it surprising that this attitude is reproduced by leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro?

They see environmental activism as a threat to the status quo; to the system and the policies that maintain their class, race and gender - upper middle, white and masculine – and therefore located at the top of the pyramid.

Climate change and the immigration crisis

Internal crises generate external crises. The so-called migration crisis in Europe, exacerbated by the Syrian civil war is nothing new., It has driven far-right movements across the continent.

But what is often not mentioned is that the civil war in the Arab country was caused, in part, by climate change. A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyses the direct link between the drought that hit the Fertile Crescent from 2007 to 2010 and the civil war. According to the authors, the drought was the worst ever seen in the region since record began.

This is consistent with the scientific finding that the climate is changing in large part due to human action. The drought has destabilized the region. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, drought has had a catalytic effect, which contributed to political turmoil.

As a result of the bad governance and policies failed to help to control the climate, millions of Syrians were forced to seek refuge in Europe and elsewhere, providing ammunition for the nationalist factions of European countries, which have gained strength within politics through radical and xenophobic speeches. This highlights how radicalism and authoritarianism in a region of the world leads to radicalism and authoritarianism in the most democratic regions. The same is true, in part, with the Central American migration crisis and the xenophobic reaction of Trump and his government.

We are allowing undemocratic leaders to take charge of our democratic institutions. Among the high number of threats that this radical wave represents for our populations the loss of ecosystems is an especially significant one, and we are reaching the point of no return.

As Bolsonaro demonstrates in Brazil, the destructive power of an undemocratic leader is overwhelming. The Amazon has an immense ability to control the earth's climate, its destruction which has happened in the face of this ruthless authoritarianism, will have to be stopped with concrete actions, even though it may already be too late.

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