The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy
by David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith
August 2007, 208pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-34504-3
$65, £50, 57€, A90
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Blames the operation of liberal democracy for its inability to make the tough decisions necessary to stabilize climate change and provide a sustainable society.

This provocative book presents compelling evidence that the fundamental problem behind environmental destruction—and climate change in particular—is the operation of liberal democracy.

Climate change threatens the future of civilization, but humanity is impotent in effecting solutions. Even in those nations with a commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions, they continue to rise. This failure mirrors those in many other spheres that deplete the fish of the sea, erode fertile land, destroy native forests, pollute rivers and streams, and utilize the world’s natural resources beyond their replacement rate. In this provocative book, Shearman and Smith present evidence that the fundamental problem causing environmental destruction—and climate change in particular—is the operation of liberal democracy. Its flaws and contradictions bestow upon government—and its institutions, laws, and the markets and corporations that provide its sustenance—an inability to make decisions that could provide a sustainable society.

Having argued that democracy has failed humanity, the authors go even further and demonstrate that this failure can easily lead to authoritarianism without our even noticing. Even more provocatively, they assert that there is merit in preparing for this eventuality if we want to survive climate change. They are not suggesting that existing authoritarian regimes are more successful in mitigating greenhouse emissions, for to be successful economically they have adopted the market system with alacrity. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that an authoritarian form of government is necessary, but this will be governance by experts and not by those who seek power. There are in existence highly successful authoritarian structures—for example, in medicine and in corporate empires—that are capable of implementing urgent decisions impossible under liberal democracy. Society is verging on a philosophical choice between liberty or life. But there is a third way between democracy and authoritarianism that the authors leave for the final chapter. Having brought the reader to the realization that in order to halt or even slow the disastrous process of climate change we must choose between liberal democracy and a form of authoritarian government by experts, the authors offer up a radical reform of democracy that would entail the painful choice of curtailing our worldwide reliance on growth economies, along with various legal and fiscal reforms. Unpalatable as this choice may be, they argue for the adoption of this fundamental reform of democracy over the journey to authoritarianism.


"For those wanting to think outside the square on climate change issues, this book is indispensable."—Bob Birrell, Director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University

"This is a provocative book. Many will disagree with its conclusions, but the dilemma it points to is real and cannot be ignored."—Dr. Katharine Betts, Associate Professor Sociology, Swinburne University of Technology

"Warnings of a pending environmental crisis are no longer the prerogative of solitary prophets. They now reflect the consensus of the scientific establishment. But how radical a change in established political thinking do they require of us? This volume makes a powerful case for the view that taking environmental crisis seriously implies a radical critique of democracy itself, and a willingness to accept government by qualified expertise rather than popular election. If political thinking at its best makes the pressing questions of the day an occasion to revisit cherished fundamentals, then this book qualifies."—Gordon Graham, Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminar

"Arriving at a time when governments, corporations and consumers are bragging about their voluntary emission reduction steps, this book judges current and pending efforts as failures, and moves the discussion to the next phase. For conversion to sustainable societies, liberal democracy must give way to a form of authoritarian government by experts which the authors sketch out at the end. This is an argument-moving book, a fresh and audacious contribution to the climate change debate."—Otis L. Graham, University of California, Santa Barbara (Emeritus)

"The partnership of philosopher and ecologist Joseph Wayne Smith with emeritus professor of medicine David Shearman has produced an analysis that covers the gamut from governance in a liberal democracy to a treatise on banking institutions. The authors conclude that the environmental goods necessary to sustain civilization will collapse unless humanity's loving marriage to economic growth can be sundered."—Virginia Deane Abernethy, Emeritus Professor, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
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