How To Bring The Wisdom Of The Public To Bear On The Climate Emergency

How To Bring The Wisdom Of The Public To Bear On The Climate Emergency Holli/Shutterstock

A new form of politics is gaining steam as a solution to the climate crisis. Six parliamentary committees in the UK are to commission a citizens’ assembly, in which randomly selected citizens will consider how to combat climate breakdown and achieve the pathway to net zero emissions.

This unexpected move complements increasing experimentation with assemblies across the world. Having struggled to realise necessary action on climate breakdown through traditional routes, citizen assemblies could well help governments kick-start the tough but urgently needed steps to safeguard a healthy and stable world.

In a nutshell, these assemblies bring together 50 or more citizens over a number of days or weeks to learn about a particular policy challenge, deliberate together and recommend how to deal with it. Citizens are selected to reflect the demographic diversity of the population. The process is typically facilitated by an independent and apolitical organisation, which brings in experts across a wide range of disciplines, as well as competing interest groups and the voices of those personally affected by the issue in question.

A growing evidence base suggests that this form of participatory politics works. The balanced and structured process of deliberation results in more informed preferences. A requirement to justify opinions, for example, counteracts the bias of prior beliefs. Opinions tend to be neither polarised nor uniform, with participants developing increased respect and understanding for opposing viewpoints.

Such a respectful and deliberative context gives rise to considered judgements that can cut through political deadlock on even the most complex and contentious issues. Most famously, Ireland used such an assembly to decide on the constitutional status of abortion. Bridging charged emotions on both sides, the assembly confidently recommended liberalisation, which was backed by a national referendum and enshrined into law.

Evidence from citizens’ assemblies and similar deliberative processes suggests that the broader public have confidence in the judgements of such bodies, especially when compared to traditional political institutions. This is true even of populist-minded voters, who appreciate that decisions are being made by citizens like themselves.

Fixing the climate crisis

As a particularly politically divisive issue, citizens’ assemblies could be vital in uniting populations around the challenges of responding to the climate breakdown – but the devil is in the detail. Past assemblies offer valuable lessons in how they can most effectively address the climate emergency.

Ireland is the only country to have already run a national citizens’ assembly that addressed climate breakdown. The assembly considered a wide and diverse range of issues from transport to peat extraction – but only had two weekends to do so. This was not enough time to consider these challenges in depth, and made it easier for the government to drop more controversial proposals, such as the significant reduction of agricultural emissions.

Given the diverse areas of policy that the climate crisis cuts across, it would be a herculean task for a single assembly to deal with. The amount of time it would take to consider issues in enough depth would place excessive demands on the selected citizens.

Aspects of the climate crisis can be treated individually, as successful citizen assemblies and other similar deliberative models in the US, Australia, Canada, and the Polish city of Gdansk have shown.

An alternative would be to run separate assemblies in parallel, each considering a digestible chunk of the agenda, with time set aside for assemblies to coordinate with each other when cross-cutting issues emerge. This has never been done before, but nor have humans ever encountered a problem of the scale of climate breakdown.

Empowering citizens

More radically, citizens’ assemblies on the climate emergency may need to be empowered to make binding decisions, not just advisory recommendations. Politicians are in a bind: they know that they need to act, but are constrained by their concerns over a public backlash and vested social and economic interests that profit from the status quo. Radical policy suggestions emerging from these assemblies are likely to be watered down – as may have been the case in Ireland, whose strong agricultural lobby cannot be ignored.

Empowering assemblies could break political deadlocks on climate. In Poland for example, activist Marcin Gerwin successfully persuaded city mayors to implement any decision supported by 80% of an assembly, with the mayor having discretion when support is below that threshold. Resulting changes have for instance helped the city respond faster to severe flooding.

Social movement Extinction Rebellion has been quick to criticise the proposed assembly in the UK for lacking such power. As it stands, the plans fall short of the direct action movement’s demand for a citizens’ assembly to have authority to tackle both the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

But the UK citizens’ assembly on climate breakdown can be seen as a positive development. The details of how focused the task will be, including whether the assembly will be empowered to consider a more demanding transition than the government’s current 2050 target, are yet to be made public. Nor do we know how much time the assembly will have to deliberate.

And while it is primarily structured to inform parliamentary committees, its high profile means it could make a real difference to climate policy. If successful, it may well give rise to the type of empowered citizens’ assemblies that bring the wisdom of citizens fully to bear on the climate and ecological emergency.

About The Author

Graham Smith, Professor of Politics, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

POLITICS

A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
image
Climate explained: how the IPCC reaches scientific consensus on climate change
by Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania
When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does…
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
by Joshua Axelrod
In a disappointing decision, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled…
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
by Mitchell Bernard
At Biden’s urging, his G7 counterparts raised the bar on collective climate action, pledging to cut their carbon…
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
by Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford
The four-day G7 summit in Cornwall ended with little cause for celebration from anyone worried about climate change.…
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
by Steve Westlake, PhD Candidate, Environmental Leadership, Cardiff University
When UK prime minister Boris Johnson took a one-hour flight to Cornwall for the G7 summit, he was criticised for being…
Nuclear industry’s propaganda war rages on
by Paul Brown
With renewable energy expanding fast, the nuclear industry’s propaganda war still claims it helps to combat climate…
Shell ordered to cut its emissions – why this ruling could affect almost any major company in the world
Shell ordered to cut its emissions – why this ruling could affect almost any major company in the world
by Arthur Petersen, Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, UCL
The Hague is the seat of government of the Netherlands and also hosts the International Criminal Court. NAPA /…

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.