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Can democracy cope with climate change?

Eminent climate scientist, James Lovelock, has claimed that humans are too stupid to deal with climate change and argued that we may need to put democracy “on hold for a while” to deal with it. In an interview for the Guardian, Lovelock argues:

"What's the alternative to democracy? There isn't one. But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

However, putting democracy ‘on hold’ would place the burden of climate change exclusively on political leaders when in fact effective solutions require the involvement of all parts of society. Climate change is a long-term problem which will continue to develop, change and be redefined over time – there is no ‘for the time being’. Strategies for action to prevent disastrous impacts from climate change therefore need to be both ongoing and long-term oriented. Putting democracy on hold for a while may sound like a quick win but is short sighted and would probably cause more problems than it solves.

The Sciencewise-ERC-funded DECC public dialogue programme Low Carbon Communities Challenge is a project which seeks to understand what works in mobilising communities to take action in cutting carbon emissions. Whilst Lovelock sees the political and scientific establishments as the only actors who can act against climate change, this programme looks to local solutions and over the next two years will engage the public in designing, implementing and learning from low carbon initiatives: we will discover if devolving power to communities really works, and how central government can best support local level action.