The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy is an in depth and original look at the interlinked environmental and political problems that the world faces today. It offers a thorough critique of liberal democracy and proposes an authoritarian alternative as the only way to save the planet and humanity.
The authors begin by describing in detail the ecological issues of today- and how these also constitute a political crisis. Shearman and Smith cover food, water and energy shortages, the loss of biodiversity, ecological systems and overpopulation, giving detailed facts and statistics about each. They liken the various ecological systems which support human life, from the water supply to carbon dioxide levels to the ph balance in the soil, to the organs of the human body, which must all work in harmony with one another or the body will start to die. Shearman and Stead argue that the life support systems of the planet are out of sync and draw a vivid picture of the devastation to come as the failure of each ecological system has a knock on effect on another. Indeed, they argue that life as we know it on the planet will totally collapse and it is most likely that there will be some kind of ecological apocalypse as liberal democracies will simply ignore the problem until it is too late. In this situation it is probable that a large proportion of humanity will be wiped out, however some will survive.
After describing the urgency of the situation, as well as how liberal democracy has caused or at least failed to prevent it, they begin their critique of the paradigm with a chapter detailing the classic arguments against majority rule and participatory democracy, using the arguments of Plato as well as contemporary critics such as Wolff. Steadman and Smith then go on to propose an authoritarian solution, arguing firstly that humans are psychologically programmed to accept authority and this is simply the natural order of things. Hence, perhaps, why liberal democracy has never really worked. Secondly, they argue that only an authoritarian government can solve the problem. In a liberal democracy, personal freedom is paramount and each person holds the right to act in his own interest, even if this hurts the interests of society as a whole. Steadman and Smith also note the bizarre situation that gives corporations the legal rights of an individual, compounding the issue further. They argue that only an authoritarian government would be able to act in the interests of society as a whole, although this would necessarily involve limiting personal freedoms to a certain extent.
Steadman and Smith recognise that authoritarianism has been problematic to say the least in the past and therefore advocate a system whereby we choose our elites and train them up in “Real Universities” in the fields of ecology, science, politics and particularly philosophy in order to provide a moral education for our future leaders.
The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy is a disturbing read as it describes the impending ecological doom that awaits humanity as a result of man-made ecological failure. However you do feel that it hits the nail on the head when it places the blame on liberal democracy and it makes a lot of very good points about the ultimately self-destructing personal freedoms that it bestows upon individuals. The authors’ arguments for an authoritarian alternative are engaging and their specific proposals ambitious, even if you do feel that some of them are rather unrealistic. The book is an original take on the timely issue of environmental politics today and it refreshing in that Steadman and Smith do not shy away from tackling some very difficult questions head on in a pragmatic and engaging critique of liberal democracy.