What are the political views of Yuval Noah Hararis

Whether corona or climate crisis : Are Democracies Reacting Too Slowly?

A few days ago, US President Joe Biden said in his speech to Congress: “Things in science and technology (...) are changing so rapidly in the world that the question arises: Can you do it in a democracy that is so perfect? like ours, to establish consensus in a time frame that can keep up with an autocracy? ”In other words: is democracy too slow to react to crises?

The institutions of modern democracy, as well as the idea of ​​representativeness, for the most part date back to the 18th century, a time when dispatches were still carried by stagecoach. News of the murder of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 took 12 days to reach London. After the first working Atlantic cable was laid in 1896, it took just two minutes for a telegram from the Washington correspondent to reach the London Times office. Democracy not only survived technological progress in the decades that followed, it made it possible in the first place.

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As is well known, the mills of the administration grind slowly

The great inventions of mankind - be it the steam engine in England by James Watt or electricity in the USA by Thomas Edison - took place predominantly in democratic systems. In a democracy one does not have to research at the behest of an absolutist ruler - the spirit can develop freely. A condition that is indispensable for the progress of knowledge and the production of knowledge.

Historically, democracies have never been fast. As is well known, the mills of the administration grind slowly, and it can sometimes take a few years before a law is passed. Veto players such as trade unions or citizens' groups can block or torpedo projects. The structural inertia of democratic processes has so far done little harm to the political system. In a pandemic, however, it becomes a problem.

Technical progress has decoupled

On the one hand, the virus circulates and mutates at breakneck speed, so that the epidemiological situation can change every hour. On the other hand, demands rattle on the political system every second that it can hardly process: tweets, Facebook posts, protest selfies. The number of strokes has increased massively.

The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari writes in his book "Homo Deus" that the changed conditions for data processing could make democracy disappear. "As both the volume and the speed of data increase, time-honored institutions such as elections, parties and parliaments could become obsolete - not because they are immoral, but because they do not process the data efficiently enough." decoupled from political processes.

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When it comes to coping with the climate crisis, observers attest democracy to a competitive disadvantage compared to other forms of government such as autocracy. The cycles of democracy, so the argument goes, are incompatible with those of climate change. Politicians are only interested in short-term and not long-term goals. In the ten years in which, in the opinion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is still time to act and global warming could be stopped, democracy is unable to make decisions. Climate change is not waiting, they say.

[Read here at T-Plus: In the self-blockade - Germany is paralyzed by its bureaucracy.]

"How environmentally friendly is democracy and how democracy-friendly is climate change?", Ask Claus Leggewie and Harald Welzer in their book "The End of the World as We Knew It" (2009). The mantra that liberal democracies solve environmental problems better and more effectively than autocracies no longer seems to apply unreservedly. So is democracy leading straight to climate catastrophe? In the end, can climate protection only be achieved with an ecological dictatorship?

Autocracy is not exactly conducive to environmental protection

A dictator could decree the construction of wind turbines and the restriction of air traffic overnight. While immission control is still being discussed in a democracy, there are already a few more wind farms in the authoritarian system. If you look at China, where new coal-fired power plants are built every year, the autocracy is not exactly conducive to environmental protection. Techno-authoritarian control may even accelerate the climate collapse. On the other hand, democracy does not slow the world down when it comes to climate protection, on the contrary.

Comparative studies in political science show that democratic systems do better than autocracies when it comes to environmental protection through appropriate protective regimes and regulations - which makes the stability of democracies all the more important. Conversely, climate change can even stabilize authoritarian systems and make them more persistent.

After cyclones, the suppression increases

The economist Mehmet Ulubasoglu has shown in a data analysis that after extreme weather events such as cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes, political repression increases and governments tighten the thumbscrews. In island nations such as Haiti, Fiji and the Philippines in particular, natural disasters have cemented authoritarian structures. The researcher speaks of "storm autocracies".

Of course, it's not that hurricanes are simply sweeping democracies away. The fact that democracy is so difficult to gain a foothold in these countries is also due to socio-economic reasons such as poverty and poor education. The emission of greenhouse gases is harmful for two reasons: Firstly, it has irreversible consequences for the global climate, some of which cannot be corrected for up to 1000 years.

Karlsruhe has erased climate protection

Second, it encourages autocracies that practice poorer climate management. The time paradox of the climate crisis is, on the one hand, that measures can only be taken when it is actually too late. On the other hand, that inaction limits the political room for maneuver for decades.

The Federal Constitutional Court has only just referred to this delimitation in its ruling on the Climate Protection Act by recognizing violations of fundamental rights even if their restriction lies in the future. Or put another way: protecting the environment is tomorrow's freedom.

And that leads again to the corona pandemic, which is also related to climate change: When forests are cleared, animals lose their habitat and move to populated areas, where they come into contact with people and transmit pathogens. The more we destroy nature, the greater the risk of zoonoses and the more likely it is that we will be in the next lockdown. So it's not about speed, but about the durability of political decision-making power. If autocrats were to set the course, we would end up living in a warmer world with fewer freedoms and more pandemics.

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