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Can / will democracy make progress on environmental issues?

A clip from the current one.five newsletter:

Climate and authoritarian government

More than anything else, Trump’s RNC speech seemed to reflect the president’s desire to flout rules and show that no one could stop him. He looked a lot like a would-be authoritarian leader, experts say.

This is an interesting point for academics who research governance and climate. There’s a rich set of academic literature about whether democracies can actually tackle climate change. The argument is pretty straightforward: leaders are too concerned about short-term voter concerns to make hard decisions to address problems that won’t be fully apparent for years or decades down the road. Some academics take it a step further: authoritarian regimes are best suited to fight climate change. “Democracies prioritize immediate over future experiences, simplicity over complexity, gut instinct over science,” Cambridge University Professor David Runciman explains in his book The Confidence Trap.

Trump’s policy agenda—on climate and other issues—fits Runciman’s description of populist, gut-based decision making to a tee. But the president’s brand of authoritarianism doesn’t offer a better way for climate change. In his first term, the Trump administration did everything in its power to roll back environmental rules but held back on a number of efforts to challenge their scientific underpinnings. In a second term, there wouldn’t be much to hold him back.


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