I came across this audio clip among the online media for the 2009 International Climate Conference ‘4 Degrees and Beyond’. Professor Bertrand Guillaume of Troyes University of Technology presents ‘Avoiding a 4+°C world: a challenge for democracy’.
Drawing on the Stern Review, he outlines the current state of the Earth’s climate, before addressing the scale and timing of mitigation necessary to stabilise greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million.
The biggest stumbling block to successful mitigation, he insists, is the human condition: people value smaller rewards soon over larger rewards later, and perceive the future as ontologically weak; unreal. Neither convincing scientific evidence, nor unprecedented levels of public awareness of climate change, will necessarily overcome our mitigation inertia, he warns.
Most interesting for our work on ‘the future of democracy in the face of climate change’ are Professor Guillaume’s closing remarks on the challenges for democracy. Even if climate change mitigation were to be achieved, he argues, there is no reason to expect it to drive democracy.
Enforced war-style rationing, for instance, could reduce not only our emissions, but also our civil liberties. Moreover, an immoderate reliance on technology to combat climate change could engender, as Professor Guillaume puts it, a ‘hubris-inspired radical technocracy’.
In sum, we need to find ways of tackling climate change without sacrificing democracy.