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The Future of Politics

The Future of Politics

How will climate change and increased scarcities of food, water and other survival basics affect politics around the world?  People often act effectively when their survival is threatened, and climate change will produce severe stresses which threaten large groups of people.

One optimistic answer is that humanity will move quickly towards world government. Climate scientists know that the Chinese coal-burning power plant which lights Chinese homes, the Indonesian farmer who destroys a rain forest to plant his crops, the mother in Nigeria who produces seven children, and your middle class American consumer all contribute to climate change and  deterioration of Earth’s natural systems. Economists talk of externalities – bad effects from activities which the doer does not pay for. The Chinese manufacturer does not compensate anyone for his plant’s greenhouse gasses and their harmful effects on everyone’s climate. The plant’s pollution is “external” to its balance sheet, and is not paid for unless governments impose taxes on such pollution.

A world government’s core mission could be to stop acts, wherever they occurred, which unreasonably changed the biosphere – whether air, water, or land – and therefore diminished everyone’s chances of a long, healthy life. Nations might accept world government out of desperation as leaders saw civilization around them dissolving in heat, drought and toxic waters brought on by climate change.

Unfortunately the more likely political result of the radical stresses which will come as more and more millions of people lack the basics – food , water and breathable air – is dissolution into small warlord-led units. As in past millennia, tribal groups would then compete aggressively, violently, with each other for  basics necessary to sustain their members. We see some early cases of nations dissolving – think Somalia – and central authority disappearing. Personal and family survival becomes the dominant issue where there is severe scarcity, and civilization’s extras like civil liberties, the rule of law and personal freedom become less important.

This process will become clear to most observers in about 20 years as the positive feedback loops already operating – warming oceans, melting permafrost and so forth – become stronger and civilization’s glue becomes weaker. For now,  there is very little constituency for a world central authority that would limit each person’s rights and ability to consume beyond his fair share of a sustainable world carbon, pollution and natural resource budget. No one has a feasible, politically-doable plan which would slow, then stop, our collective descent towards a different, less-friendly Earth. We lack  commitment to solving humanity’s core problem of too many people consuming too much.


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