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Breaking the deadlock in our fight against the Climate Crisis

The film “Don’t Look Up” (USA 2021), just as already the movie ”The Age of Stupid” (Britain 2009) and the global protests against the Climate Crisis are desperate calls to action to protect our world.

The critical questions are: What action exactly is required and by whom?

Summary of Proposals: The Climate Crisis appears the most complex and gigantic problem humanity has ever faced, a problem of the greatest urgency and, as it appears, of existential relevance for humanity. Presently our endeavours to stop the Climate Crisis appear not sufficient to protect our world, our nations and civilisation. As the global climate protests show they are in a deadlock.

The most basic step forward in moving our effort forward appears to be the organisation of a global conference by global civil society organisations on the very question of how to break the deadlock in our fight against the Climate Crisis.

More concretely, in the light of the enormous complexity and urgency of the problem, if we, humanity want to stand a chance to stop the Climate Crisis at all, we require governments, and more generally,  problem-solving mechanisms in our societies of the greatest capacity and performance. As we experience regularly, presently we do not have them. Our governments fail in many respects. We must investigate how to optimise the capacity and performance of our government and, more generally, how to establish effective problem-solving systems in society.

The instant responsibility in this respect falls to our politicians in charge. As the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking states, “ the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many”. Our politicians in charge must now without delay set up commissions to look into ways and means on how to make climate policies effective and how to generally optimise the capacity and performance of the strategy and policy making systems in their governments. Parliamentarians in their control function over government are responsible for ensuring that governments take the necessary measures for optimising their capacity and performance.

But ultimately, democracy is government by the people. It is our own, personal responsibility to ensure the effectiveness of the systems and processes with which we govern our societies and tackle public problems. It is us who must make sure that the problem-solving processes in our societies and our governments operate optimally. As a concrete measure to shore up comprehensive support across the world for the fight against the Climate Crisis the international climate organisations should set up an effective system informing global society concisely about the Climate Crisis and the measures necessary for stopping it.

Is humanity too stupid to save itself? This is what the film “Don’t look up” (USA 2021) seems to suggest.

In the movie a comet is racing towards the world and for all kinds of reasons society and its government fail to take the necessary measures to stop it hitting earth and extinguishing all existence. Humanity – as an entity, an organism – simply does not seem smart enough to avert the catastrophe. The movie comes along as a high-class satire, studded with film stars and brilliant acting, as it appears to me, yet it addresses a real concern of existential relevance to humanity. Director Adam McKay made the movie as a metaphor for our desperately futile handling of the Climate Crisis. During the time of its production the COVID pandemic arose, and the movie suddenly alludes to the general patterns with which our society handles crises.

Reviews in the international press scold the movie for ridiculing the inaction and inability of society. Yet, such critique misunderstands its purpose. Ultimately the film, like already the 2009 movie “The Age of Stupid” by Franny Armstrong and the ongoing protests by Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, is a desperate call for action to stop the destruction of the planet, as we know it, through the Climate Crisis. It is a call to prevent the collapse of our nations and of civilisation which, as we are increasingly warned by experts, is likely to result, if we let global warming advance significantly.

Those who see “Don’t Look Up” will wonder in how far the full-scale destruction of the planet shown in the movie is a realistic projection as concerns the Climate Crisis. To mention a few key data on our present situation: After decades of research and negotiation the international community of nations now widely agrees that 1.5° Celsius above preindustrial times is the maximum temperature increase humanity should allow, due to the devastating impacts of even higher levels.[1] Presently (by the beginning of 2022) the increase is already 1.2° C. An assessment of the latest commitments of nations around the world and their policies after the 2021 Glasgow Climate Conference concluded, however, that current commitments of reduction in CO2 emissions up to 2030 will probably generate an increase to 2.4° C by the end of the century, nearly one degree higher than the 1.5°C Limit considered just acceptable. Current policies in place, however, will even generate an increase by 2.7°C. Further commitments beyond 2030 will possibly reduce this value to 2.1°C by the year 2100, still more than the limit of 1.5°C. [2] Modelling global climate developments is extremely difficult though, the predictions are highly insecure, values can end up higher than predicted, some carry a fifty-fifty percent chance of realisation only, the ongoing rise in global temperature might also surpass trigger points beyond which further increases spiral into a self-propelling heating process. Temperature increases will make parts of the world inhabitable, large areas of the earth will become arid, food production in these areas will become impossible, other urban areas will be flooded due to rising sea levels. These developments will lead to huge migration streams, to conflicts, and to the predictions of the destruction of civilisation we are hearing. Ultimately, it seems, we, humanity, are gambling with the future of our world and ignoring the existential risks and the harm we are causing. The safe thing for humanity to do would be to stop emitting CO2 now. Yet, as Climate Policy Analysts write: ”Even with all new Glasgow pledges for 2030, we will emit roughly twice as much in 2030 as required for 1.5°”, and: “No single country that we analyse has sufficient short-term policies in place to put itself on track to its net zero target.”[3]

But while in the light of such threatening developments movies like “Don’t Look Up”, “The Age of Stupid”, as well as the international climate protests call us to action, they confront us with two decisive questions: What exactly is required and who must act?

The unprecedented dimensions and complexity of the problem

To answer these questions, we need to take a closer look at our problem situation. Why are our endeavours for stopping global warming clearly insufficient? Why are they stuck?

One reason appears to be the unprecedented nature of the problem we are dealing with.

Climate Change appears to be a problem of such gigantic dimensions, complexity, and urgency as humanity has never experienced it before. Already in 2016, the late, world-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, by many considered the second most intelligent person in humanity after Einstein, spoke of our present situation as the “most dangerous time for the planet”, in the light of not only the Climate Crisis, but also the other grave challenges humanity is facing, from the decimation of other species to poverty and global inequality, hunger and lacking food production, overpopulation, epidemic disease and the acidification of the oceans. [4]

As regards its dimensions the Climate Crisis appears to be the first major problem of existential relevance which concerns entire humanity simultaneously. The threatening destruction of the planet “as we know it” (Al Gore) and the probably ensuing collapse of civilisation, as experts now warns us, will leave no nation unscathed. Some nations may hope they fare better than others. To which extent this is true we may need to investigate further. But generally, such thoughts  appear to be misguided. Today everything on the planet is more or less connected. If we destroy the planet as we know it and if all nations and civilisation break down, all people on earth will suffer. (The movie “Don’t look up” identifies the idea of a rich elite escaping destruction as stupid.)

While we may not have a complete picture yet about how humanity can stop the Crisis exactly, it  appears to be clear that measures with far-reaching implications will be necessary:

  1. We, i.e., the currently eight billion people on earth, must stop emitting CO2 (and maybe even clean already emitted CO2 back out of the air).
  2. To stop emitting CO2 we must change the way we produce things, from energy to steel, concrete, and any other material, to food.  We must also change the way we live, the way we build, heat, cool, and insulate our homes. We must change the way we commute and transport things in our nations and across the globe.
  3. To achieve these changes we must make huge investments in research, technology, and infrastructure to make the necessary adaptations possible.

In the eyes of observers, the Climate Crisis poses a problem of such overwhelming dimensions to global population that overcoming it requires the mobilisation of all available resources on earth. The Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration Melbourne, Australia writes in 2019: “To reduce such risks and to sustain human civilisation, it is essential to build a zeroemissions industrial system very quickly. This requires the global mobilisation of resources on an emergency basis, akin to a wartime level of response.”[5] Likewise, economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz formulates also already in 2019: “The climate crisis is our third world war…almost surely there will have to be a redeployment of resources to fight this war just as with the second world war…” [6]

Hawking emphasises the urgency of international co-operation: “Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it. To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations”. He also underlines the need for sharing and moderation: “…with resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present”, and that we had “to learn above all a measure of humility”. [7]

If all resources on the world are required for stopping the Climate Crisis, the need for sharing becomes obvious. Those who possess the necessary resources must pitch them in and pay for the necessary adjustments in order to save the planet, as we know it, and to protect civilisation. This is valid both for individual persons as well as nations. To stop the Climate Crisis especially those of us who are better off may also have to be more modest in their demands and reduce their consumption.

The major problem to be overcome probably is that those demands for sharing and modesty stand against ingrained human behaviour. On an individual level they contradict the free market-based idea that we can keep everything which we have gained for our personal benefits. As regards nations, the need for sharing stands against the natural competition between nations for resources, for economic and ensuing military and power advantages in order to protect or enhance the freedom and the well-being of their citizens. To overcome these obstacles we, humanity as a whole, need to shift the focus of our philosophies from individual and national advantages in wealth and power to considering humanity as an organism of which we are a part and which we jointly need to protect. For nations to give up economic and power advantages and share their wealth would require the creation of a new balanced global political architecture which protects the interests of nations in a more equal world.

The need for an effective system to solve the problem.  

A next perspective onto reality concerns the instruments we have for coping with a global crisis of the enormous scope and complexity of the Climate Crisis.

It appears obvious that we, the people around the world, only then can handle a problem of such dimensions and urgency effectively, if we possess national and international problem-solving systems and processes of the highest capacity and performance.  In the light of the planet and civilisation being at stake, settling for less-than-optimal problem-solving mechanisms in our nations and the world would seem utterly irresponsible.

What exactly do these problem-solving processes need to do?

Problem-solving methodologies tell us the following key steps are required in the process of solving a problem such as also the Climate Crisis. They appear imminently clear:

  1. Information and Communication: The generation of a joint understanding of the nature of the problem and the entire problem situation among the people concerned. As a first condition, people will only then be ready to agree on the necessary steps, if they have a similar understanding on what the problem at hand is. Since the Climate Crisis concerns eight billion people, we somehow need to have a system in place which makes sure that eight billion people – especially those whose behaviour has an impact on the problem, those who emit most of the CO2 – understand what the problem is.
  2. The setting of joint goals.
  3. The identification and analysis of parameters influencing the achievement of the goals and affecting the potential solution of the problem.
  4. Based on that analysis: The design of potential strategies or strategy packages to stop the problem.
  5. The implementation of the strategies.
  6. The assessment of their success and the identification of potentially necessary improvements in the strategy, taking us back in a loop to step 1.

The failing of our governments

As the protests by Friday for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and movies like “Don’t look up” or already “The Age of Stupid” by Franny Armstrong emphasise, we are so far failing in taking the necessary steps to stop the heating of the planet and to protect our planet and civilisation. Evidently, we do not have suitable systems and processes in place which are capable (or willing) to take us through the necessary steps described above and to solve the problem of the Climate Crisis.

Stephen Hawking is crystal clear about the performance of our governments so far. He suggested already in 2016 that if we want to have a chance of stopping the Climate Crisis, “ the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many.”[8] As Hawking confirms, if the Climate Crisis indeed destroys the planet as we know it and civilisation with it, then our leaders so far carry a major part of the responsibility.

Polls show that our governments are failing already in the first step required to generate the necessary action against the Climate Crisis, in creating a joint understanding of the problem situation in our societies and across the people of the world. Too many people still either do not have a clue what is going on, or they doubt that the Climate Crisis is a real threat and man-made. The quality of the information provided by our governments on the Climate Crisis clearly is insufficient and faulty. Because of these deficits a first demand of the climate organisation “Extinction Rebellion” is for governments to “tell the truth”.[9] Despite this demand, they don’t. One interesting aspect as regards the lack of information on the Climate Crisis appears to be that the majority of the people around the world has not seen the movies “The Age of Stupid” or “Don’t Look Up”, even if they illustrate the severity of our situation in an enlightening way. Clearly, we do not want to create a panic with providing information on the seriousness of the situation the world is in, but we need to enhance the readiness of everyone to take action against the Climate Crisis and to share their resources.

Governments are also not informing people on what is necessary to stop the Climate Crisis, they do not inform the people of the need to share due to the existential threats to humanity. They also fail with the perhaps greatest challenge, the implementation of an international system of burden sharing between nations together with a new system for maintaining a balance of power, peace, and stability in the world.

Our political leaders might suggest that such thoughts are unrealistic, that the problems simply are too difficult to solve and that the competition between nations for economic and power advantages presents an insurmountable obstacle to implementing a suitable system for burden sharing. They might also contend that they cannot put too high demands for sharing and restraints on consumption on their citizens, because this would endanger the stability of our nations. Any instability in nations arising over objections against burden sharing must indeed be counterproductive to the fight against the Climate Crisis itself.

All these arguments present without any doubt obstacles of the greatest difficulty which need to be overcome if we want to stop the Climate Crisis. Many people and politicians may in fact have concluded already in secret that overcoming the competition between people and nations and arriving at a suitable system for sharing and co-operation is impossible. They may have given in to the idea that the Climate Crisis leads to absolute mayhem, Armageddon, the survival of the fittest.

A consistent pattern in human history, however, is the fact that regions which used to battle for competitive advantages have later formed political unions and nations when it made sense to pool resources and power for protecting society. Now it is the Climate Crisis which calls for such a combination of resources and energy among humanity as a whole.

Shortcomings in strategy and policy making in our governments

For some people solving a task, such as moving a big rock, is impossible. Others invent a better tool, a better system, a better process to arrive at a solution, and it works. If governments suggest that the problems we are facing are to complex and that they cannot be overcome, then this may have to do with their lack of capacity and performance.

From our daily observation we know that our governments do not function as well as they ought to. They fail in many policy areas, the term of “government failure” is in frequent use. Paul C. Light analyses forty-one major government failures in the United States in the time frame from 2001 to 2014 including the handling of the Hurricane Katrina in 2004, of the financial crisis in 2008, and the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010.[10]  In a comprehensive review Anthony King and Ivor Crewe analyse the many “blunders” committed by British governments over several decades from Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s to the Blair/Brown and David Cameron governments ending in the year 2016. [11]

Such blunders do not happen by chance. A 2012 report by UK parliamentarians on the strategy making capacity in government is scathing about the underlaying, unprofessional way in which the government executes its strategy making function.

The report states: “We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach, itself informed by a coherent assessment of the public’s aspirations and their perceptions of the national interest. The Cabinet and its committees are made accountable for decisions, but there remains a critical unfulfilled role at the centre of Government in coordinating and reconciling priorities, to ensure that long-term and short-term goals are coherent across departments…” [12]

“Little confidence” in polite political parlance in truth means the greatest doubts in the systems and processes in government. A government which executes its strategy and policy making in such a dismal fashion simply cannot succeed in fighting the Climate Crisis successfully. The problem is that the parliamentary report is from 2012. By 2022, ten years later, the deficits in strategy making in government have not been fixed! Governments in other nations operate in comparable ways, they will suffer from similar performance deficits.

If we want to stand a chance to deal with such a gigantic problem as the Climate Crisis our leaders must not only “fix”, but they rather must optimise the performance of the strategy and policy making systems in government. Politicians often operate in a bubble. They are hooked in their own thinking about politics and government and do not know how to mend deficits in strategy making processes and in the policy-making capacity of government. To optimise the capacity and performance of government they must incorporate all know-how available in society on this matter. If they miss out on any relevant knowledge, they must fail. Organisations in several nations have already been suing politicians for their failure to take adequate action against the Climate Crisis.

Optimally performing strategy and policy making systems are a precondition for our ability to handle the Climate Crisis. Politicians in charge who do not optimise the performance of their policy making systems are guilty if the consequences of the Climate Crisis destroy our planet, as we know it, and civilisation.

The failure of governments to preserve peace

One specific failure by governments around the world which impedes the fight against the Climate Crisis and which we should mention is their failure to preserve peace. Governments all over the world threaten other nations and lead wars, for all kinds of irrational and egotistical reasons. Such wars distract from the prime problem at hand for humanity, the threating destruction of the planet as we know it.

As we said above, stopping the Climate Crisis requires co-operation of exceptional quality between people and nations and the joint mobilisation of all global resources. Yet, such conflicts and wars tie down and destroy millions, if not billions of resources.

Our global leaders need to know: Who wages war instead of fostering peace and co-operation, allows the Climate Crisis to proceed and destroys humanity. We cannot afford conflicts between nations anymore, all people in the world must focus on fighting the Climate Crisis as a joint threat to humanity. Certainly, in a world threatened by the Climate Crisis, we also cannot afford people diverting millions or billions of resources through corruption.

Civil Society – Our own failures

But not only our governments fail in the fight against the Climate Crisis. We ourselves including all global organisations active in the fight against the Climate Crisis are failing so far.

The issue we, humanity around the world and especially those presently involved in the fight against the Climate Crisis, very obviously fail in, is putting a viable and effective problem-solving process in place for stopping the Climate Crisis.

We realise that the steering and government processes around the world are not working properly, and that they do not deliver the results we require, we protest against our governments and demand that they take effective action. Yet, since our governments are either not capable or not willing – or a combination of both – to conduct an effective problem-solving process for the Climate Crisis, our protests lead to nothing, they do not generate the effective problem-solving processes we require.

As we know, democratic governments do not want to lose elections. They are restrained by the limited readiness of people to carry additional financial burdens in connection with most any policy issue, including so far also the Climate Crisis. As sort of a fix, Extinction Rebellion asks for “Citizens’ Assemblies” to be called in,  conventions of perhaps one or two hundred more or less randomly selected citizens who get together over a limited period of time, to get adequate problem solutions moving[13]. Such assemblies might indeed help, anything moving a solution for the Climate Crisis forward must be considered beneficial.

Above we have described, however, the entire problem-solving process necessary for solving the Climate Crisis, from creating a joint perception on the problem, ideally around the world, to the setting of joint goals, the design and implementation of strategies and their evaluation. For each of these steps we need systems and processes of the highest degree of capacity, research systems, information and communication systems, systems for involving all citizens, strategy making systems, co-ordination and implementation systems.  Citizens Assemblies may be suitable as a part of the entire problem-solving process, they may be able to generate some basic concepts for the problem solution, they will, however, not be able to manage and co-ordinate it, they will also not have the detailed modelling and strategy making capacity at hand to design the thousands of strategic building blocks required to stop the Climate Crisis.

As the Climate Crisis touches on our entire lives, coping with it will require systems capable to co-ordinate all policy making in a nation and the world. A crucial problem is that governments may not feel bound at all by the suggestions arrived at by Citizens’ Assemblies, the measures proposed by them may not go forward.

The most fundamental problem with Citizens’ Assemblies so far appears to be that the demand for  their creation does not get enough support by the citizens and that governments refuse to call them in. To the contrary, rather than engaging and communicating with people concerned about the Climate Crisis and its probable existential consequences for humanity, even in an established democracy like the UK, the government in 2021 introduced a new “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill” whose adoption appears to have made protests demanding effective climate policies largely impossible. In 2022 the House of Lords fortunately stopped the bill. Also in Germany a heated debate on the appropriateness and legality of disruptions to public life by climate protesters has begun. Here a government minister offered to enter into a constructive debate with the protesters on how to solve one specific problematic issue, the climate effects of food waste.[14]  If the planet as we know it is at stake, the protesters have a case. Effective communication between governments and society on how to address the issue is required.

The necessary actions

As the film “Don’t Look Up” and the ongoing protests for more effective climate policies reveal, our policies against the Climate Crisis in essence are in a dangerous deadlock. Global governments so far do not manage to put policies into place which ensure with certainty, not with some sort of questionable probability only, the preservation of the planet in a habitable state.

What is necessary to break the deadlock in our endeavours to stop the Climate Crisis?

  1. International Civil Society Organisations: A conference on “Breaking the Climate Deadlock”

As the most basic but necessary step forward in breaking the deadlock in the fight against the Climate Crisis I would suggest for the international organisations engaged in the fight against the Climate Crisis to as soon as only possible organise a joint conference on the very subject of how to break the deadlock in the fight against the Climate Crisis.  Such a conference appears indispensable as a step for identifying the way forward.

One element appears of central relevance for generating an effective way forward in such a conference, the inclusion of people familiar with problem solving methodologies. If we want to be successful in our fight against the Climate Crisis, we need to identify our goals and the crucial parameters for success clearly and make sure they are “in place”.

Our overall goal is to stop the Climate Crisis. If we think through the general parameters necessary to achieve that goal, building zero emission societies, huge investments, burden sharing, the fact that all aspects of our societies will be affected by stopping the Climate Crisis, it becomes obvious that optimising our problem-solving processes is the central precondition to achieving our goal.

  • Optimising government processes: The prime responsibility of our politicians

The urgency of the Climate Crisis does not allow for any delay in ensuring the greatest effectiveness of our problem solving and policy making systems. The first responsibility to create such high performing problem-solving systems falls on those currently in positions of power and responsibility, our politicians in government and our members of parliament. Governments must accept Hawking’s critique that they have failed and must investigate how they can fulfil their obligations towards their societies and humanity.

The politicians in charge in our governments need to see that government failures and blunders consistently harm and weaken society. When the world is at stake, we cannot afford such underperforming government systems at all and the waste of resources and opportunities ineffectiveness causes. It is the obligation of politicians in government to make their policy making systems perform optimally.

As mentioned, governments often operate in bubbles. To ensure their policy making systems work optimally, any endeavours to this respect must involve all know-how distributed in society and the world on the matter.

  • The responsibility of parliamentarians

In their control function over government much of the responsibility in making governments work at the highest degree of capacity and performance falls to the members of our parliaments.

It does not suffice for parliaments to identify deficits in government strategy making, as happened in the UK in 2012, and to note that such deficits have led to “mistakes which are becoming evident in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier policy), energy (electricity generation and renewables) and climate change…”[15]

Parliamentarians must ascertain that the politicians in government take the necessary steps to ensure the optimal performance of the strategy and policy making systems and processes.

  • Our responsibility: Optimising problem-solving processes in society

In a democracy we, the people, govern. This means that the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the problem-solving processes in our societies work properly and are capable to handle the Climate Crisis falls on us, the people.

If our governments fail in the fight against the Climate Crisis this, lastly, is our own fault.

What the deadlock in the fight against the Climate Crisis highlights, is that demonstrating against governments is not enough. We must rather analyse why exactly they do not provide effective solutions for a problem especially such as the Climate Crisis and take effective action to make sure that the necessary public problem-solving processes in our societies function properly, or in the light of such an existential and urgent problem as the Climate Crisis, even optimally.

Systems Thinking tells us that every project needs a driver taking action to ensure its success. This means, that in order to ensure the optimal performance of our government systems, we, as society, need to join and form an initiative for making sure that our “normal” problem-solving system, our government, works optimally. We need, what one might call a “Citizens’ Initiative for Effective Government” or “Effective Democracy”.  

While we naturally look to our governments for identifying and coordinating the necessary measures to stop the Climate Crisis, it is necessary, however, for us to recognise that the need for “problem-solving processes” does not necessarily have to be tied down to “government processes” only. If our governments do not function effectively, we may have to examine other potential options for establishing effective democratic problem-solving processes regarding the Climate Crisis. We, the people and the organisations concerned about the Climate Crisis, may have to create processes which operate parallel to or in combination with government processes to move the necessary solutions forward.  

  • Creating the necessary global information system: A task for global civil society

As our problem-solving methodology tells us, the starting point for all action must be the creation of a joint understanding of a problem situation though effective information and consultation processes.

If our governments fail in creating a joint understanding of the problem situation regarding the Climate Crisis, then the international civil society organisations involved in the fight against the Climate Crisis can fill this gap. They can create a global information system on the Climate Crisis which enhances the understanding in the public for the threats caused by the Climate Crisis and which generates the support for necessary measures to avert its consequences.

Presently, we appear to have all kinds of websites hosted by governments, international organisations, and climate initiatives around the world with their individual approaches and individual recommendations. While we basically need all people on earth to get involved, especially those who contribute primarily to the global CO2 emissions, the present websites reach only thousands, perhaps a couple of million people. What seems to be missing is a central website and information system informing the global population about the nature, implications, and urgency of the Climate Crisis, and, moreover, about a feasible way forward for stopping the destruction of the planet as we know it through the Climate Crisis. People need to know how what they need to do in order to contribute effectively to solving the Climate Crisis.

  • The obligation of those who have the time and capacity to get involved

Finally, it needs to be highlighted that, if civilisation is at stake, generally each and every one of us needs to engage and should have a chance to do so.

Yet, many people in our world are busy with simply making a living or with making ends meet. As long as this is the case, the obligation to get involved, therefore, falls primarily on those with the necessary resources, capacity, and time available. So far, we all seem to be busy with all kinds of things of greater or lesser importance. But when the planet as we know it and civilisation is at stake, we must change our habits and, if only possible, make the necessary time available to get involved. Why not, when this is “the most dangerous time for our planet”, as Hawking puts it, take one day a week, if we can afford to, to educate ourselves about the problems we are facing and the necessary systems, processes, and parameters for solving these problems?

Do we stand a chance at all to succeed in the fight against the Climate Crisis?

The greatest problem to be overcome in the fight against the Climate Crisis may well be the competition in humanity over limited resources, in the case of the Climate Crisis the limited ability to emit CO2. It may be the competition of nations in economic, military and political power. Many people appear to already be cynical and to have given in to the idea that humanity will fail to overcome these obstacles and consider it doomed. They will suggest that human nature stands in the way of the sharing required for solving the Climate Crisis.

Yet, in the course of history people have always fought over resources and for comparative advantages in their power. Often prompted by external circumstances societies realised that co-operation was better than competition and fights, they formed states and political unions in order to join their forces and capabilities and to protect themselves.

When humanity understands that personal and national egotism in handling the Climate Crisis will lead to existential catastrophe for everyone, then nations and people will hopefully realise that co-operation and sharing is better for everyone.

Ultimately the choice seems to be co-operation or destruction. Co-operation appears the right choice. 


[1] Cf. Somini Sengupta and Jason Horowitz, G20 leaders send a symbolic message on a key climate target, New York Times, 31 October, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/world/europe/g20-climate-temperature-rise.html

[2] Data from: Climate Action Tracker, Glasgow’s 2030 Credibility Gap, net zero’s lip service to climate action, Warming Projections Global Update, November 2021, https://climateactiontracker.org/documents/997/CAT_2021-11-09_Briefing_Global-Update_Glasgow2030CredibilityGap.pdf

[3] Climate Tracker, November 2021

[4] Stephen Hawking This is the most dangerous time for our planet, The Guardian, 1 December 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/01/stephen-hawking-dangerous-time-planet-inequality?mod=article_inline

[5] David Spratt & Ian Dunlop, Existential climate-related security risk: A scenario approach, MAY 2019,  Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration, https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/_files/ugd/148cb0_90dc2a2637f348edae45943a88da04d4.pdf

[6] Joseph Stiglitz, The climate crisis is our third world war. It needs a bold response, The Guardian, 4 June 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/climate-change-world-war-iii-green-new-deal

[7] Hawking, The Guardian,  2016

[8] Hawking, The Guardian, 2016

[9] Cf. https://extinctionrebellion.uk/the-truth/

[10] Paul C. Light,  A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It, Brookings Institute, Centre for Effective Public Management, July 2014

[11] Anthony King and Ivor Crewe, The Blunders of Our Governments, London 2013

[12] From the Summary of: House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?, Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12 Volume,  House of Commons, 24 April 2012

[13] Cf. https://extinctionrebellion.uk/go-beyond-politics/citizens-assembly/

[14] “Aufstand der letzten Generation”, Kritik an Blockaden durch Klimaaktivisten (“Upheaval of the Last Generation”, Critique of Blockages through Climate Activists, Tagesschau News, 15 February 2022, https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/blockade-autobahnen-reaktionen-101.html

[15] House of Commons, Public Administration Select Committee, 2012

Year in, year out the same political theatre

Government and parliament in the UK are not doing their duty and consistently weaken the nation. They must be overhauled without delay.

Both government and parliament in Britain are negligent in the execution of their duties towards society. As a result, they consistently weaken the nation. Government has ignored substantial calls for a fundamental overhaul of its operations for nearly a decade. And parliament in its function as control institution over government on behalf of the people fails to ensure the effectiveness of government operations.

Take a look at the following three incidents:

Already more than eight years ago by now, in 2012, at the time of the Cameron government parliament found that the strategy making process in government was, let me call it, “completely unprofessional”, and would harm the nation seriously in all kinds of policy areas including, as parliament wrote in its report, “strategic defence and security review, energy and climate change, child poverty targets and economic policy”. We can take this enumeration of examples to mean all policy making.

One has to take in practically every word of the observations by parliament to realise the severity of the warning: “We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach… there remains a critical unfulfilled role at the centre of Government in coordinating and reconciling priorities, to ensure that long-term and short-term goals are coherent across departments… Policy decisions are made for short-term reasons, little reflecting the longer-term interests of the nation.” [1] A shattering verdict on the quality of government operations and their effects on the UK.

Even if such a stark warning on substantial deficits in central policy making processes in government would have warranted an immediate major review and correction of the observed deficits, over the years nothing has happened, neither government nor parliament in its supervisory role since took the responsibility to fix the operational deficits identified at the heart of policy making. Now the Johnson government appears to function even more irrationally and erratically than the Cameron government. It, moreover, is repeatedly accused of operating in an ethically questionable way, to say the least, more sharply, in a sleazy, if not corrupt fashion.

In the year 2013, by now also already seven years ago, two UK professors, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe,  published a substantial book with the title “The Blunders of our Governments”, describing major failures by UK governments and their causes over several decades. One example is the poll tax under Margaret Thatcher.

In an article on the book with the pointed title, “Why is Britain badly governed?”, a title which in a way warrants a closer look at the operations of the British political system by itself, Igor Crewe writes in 2014: “Almost all of the blunders were gestated largely in-house, within the executive branch… Government did not engage in serious deliberation.” On the work of parliament he observes: “Parliament turned out to be an irrelevant spectator in the policy blunders we examined…On all essential points the members of the governing party in the Commons did little more than support their ministers’ legislative proposals.”

Crewe recommends as a solution “Institutional reforms should be designed to inject a larger measure of formal policy deliberation outside the executive, including pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament and formal public consultation of organised interests and expert individuals.”

In other words, also King and Crewe in 2013 and 2014 recommended a major overhaul of processes in government, and implicitly, moreover, in parliament. Parliament, Crewe writes, was an “irrelevant spectator” in the policy blunders they examined. Guess what government and parliament did over the last seven years in terms of the requested restructuring.

Example three: Concerned about low voter turnout in recent UK elections – from a high of 83.9% in 1950 to a low of 59.4% in 2001 and around 65% in the 2010 election –  in 2014 parliament conducted an inquiry into how to improve the situation. In an evidence of exceptional frankness professors Martin J. Smith from the University of York and David Richards from Manchester University pointed out that the problem had far less to do with political apathy on the side of the voters largely assumed as a given by the authorities than with the traditional, elitist, disconnected, and unengaging style of policy making by the political system.

They suggested a fundamental approach was required to fix the problem. They wrote: “There is a need to rethink both the nature of institutions and the mechanisms of political participation,” and further, “The emphasis has to be on building structures and mechanisms capable of harnessing the energy and enterprise of the civic arena, or else the sense of drift in the public’s dislocation and alienation from traditional forms of politics will continue.”[2]

Again, an utterly sincere and urgent call for a significant overhaul of government operations was issued. Guess what happened over the last six years, since 2014. You are right, again nothing.

Interestingly, parliament in its report on voter engagement went as far as even venting the idea of a “Commission for Democracy”. If the independence of the organisation is assured, it could well provide the best way forward to ensure the highest degree of professionality and effectiveness in the political system and to ensure satisfactory involvement of the public in political processes. Yet, ever heard of the commission? Also to call on parties, as parliament did in the report, to develop plans for improved voter engagement and to suggest it was ultimately up to voters to “dictate” their preferred approach to the parties at the ballot box appears more than unrealistic, especially taking into consideration that the very problem to be addressed by the inquiry was the fact that 40% of the people did not vote. It is the government which must design effective ways and means to reach out to the people and implement them.

The failure both of government and of parliament to initiate a comprehensive review of government systems and operations on all three occasions in a timeframe of nearly a decade can only be called appalling and irresponsible. Who, in government or parliament, one wonders, does their duty to the nation?

Present government operations appear to be worse than ever before, determined by personal whims and ambitions, they involve bullying, sleaze, if not corruption (questionable consulting and purchasing contracts on health sector equipment, unlawful granting of a development permit in East London). Can Britain really afford to have governments of such quality?

In the light of the infighting and chaos we just witnessed surrounding the departure of Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the communications director Lee Cain, MPs are now calling for “order” in government operations. That call appears faint and fuzzy, in comparison to the rather precise demand for a fundamental overhaul of government operations issued by parliament itself already in 2012 and subsequently by others as well. What is “order” in government operations supposed to mean precisely?

What we seem to witness over the years is always the same political theatre, without any improvement in the way things work. Government conducts policy making on the hoof, according to the headlines in the newspapers, as parliament commented in 2012, without any recognisable structure, while parliament complains, without, however, ensuring any substantial and lasting improvements in the way government operates.

But then, yes, one would like to suggest, that the nation, the people, and the world finally after nearly a decade of calls for it, desperately require sincere leadership and a comprehensive systemic overhaul of government operations in Britain. At the same time, however, one wonders in how far the present government is at all interested in doing its duty and in taking the necessary steps to ensure the utmost quality of its operations. Zero chance, one might assume witnessing the erratic way in which the present government conducts its business. Does the UK, like the US, need as a first step to sound policy making a shift to a government of high integrity? Does the Johnson government fit the bill at all?

Clearly, this is the test:

If the Prime Minister truly wants to serve the nation and wants to create trust in his operations, he must now without delay install the fundamental review of government operations demanded  over and over from different angles since 2012. If he does not do it, he fails the nation and cannot be in office. To make the process effective, he must keep it absolutely open for public deliberation and include the widest scope of perspectives, as also King and Crewe demand for the process of policy making.

And evidently, if parliament as the supervisory institution over government acting on behalf of the people does not ensure that Boris Johnson now initiates this review and adopts its findings in the way he runs government, it lets down the nation and its people profoundly. It also does not do its duty.

Looking at the way government operates and the urgency of the matter, parliament as the supervisory body over government should probably take matters in its own hand. It should initiate a parliamentary inquiry on the subject of how to ensure optimal government operations and also on the question of how to optimise citizen involvement in political processes. Ultimately, as the control institution over government, parliament itself must have a well-grounded foundation on which to judge and ensure the soundness of government operations, a foundation which the inquiry will provide.  

One fundamental question which also needs to be clarified is, why, over the last decade or so, parliament failed to ensure that government conducts its business in an effective way serving the nation. One factor appears to be that parliament does not have a clear idea at all on how to control government operations effectively. It deeply engages in the debate on select individual policy issues, but neglects ascertaining the overall performance of government. A second reason for the ineffectiveness of its control over government is likely to be the lacking independence of parliament from government. With the majority of parliamentarians being in the same party as government, parliament is reluctant to fire a government which does not perform. Issues like these need to be addressed as well. Society needs an effective control organisation over government.

Presently the world is facing the most complex problems it has ever faced, even of an existential nature to humanity. In such a situation a democratic nation like the UK by any means requires a government which employs optimal systems and processes in the way it runs the nation. If the two key elements of the political system in the UK, government and parliament, do not do their duty and do not operate at the highest levels of performance conceivable, the nation is in serious trouble. Then it is time for society as the ultimate stakeholder and the highest sovereign in democracy to take action on its own, to form a suitable initiative, to overhaul the operations of its political system and to ensure its optimal performance on its own.  If parliament does not establish a “Commission for Democracy” the public itself must do it.

In any case, democracy cannot mean a free hand for an elected government to operate as it pleases. Being elected still entails the obligation towards the nation to ensure the optimal performance of government operations. Parliament as the control organisation over government must ensure that government employs optimal systems and processes in its policy making.


[1] House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge? Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12 Volume I: Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence, HC 1625 Published on 24 April 2012 by authority of the House of Commons London: The Stationery Office Limited file:///D:/Documents/JOB/A%20%20%20Democracy%20Book%20%20Back%20Up%20Information/Z%20%20%20Countries/UK%20Back%20Up%20Gov%20Eff/UK%20gov%20Strategy%20Making/strategy%20making%20report%202012.pdf

[2] House of Commons, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Voter engagement in the UK, Fourth Report of Session 2014–15 Report, together with formal minutes relating to the report, Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 10 November 2014, Published Written evidence submitted by Professor Martin J. Smith and Professor David Richards, Item 39 [1](VUK 42)

The US – Renewal of Society – Renewal of Democracy

A proposal

This morning I got a phone call from a friend in Asia: Hans Peter, there is a great need for ideas on democracy in the US. What do you do about it?

Basically, I am in the process of writing a book about democracy. But work on it is not going forward as planned. It might take months or years before the book is ready for publication.

Since the US is very evidently in dire need of a renewal of society and democracy (more so than any other western nation presently), I decide to put my suggestions forward in a short statement. The call for concrete support instead of “love” texts by a black writer addressed to his white friends in the New York Times a couple of days ago provides an additional impulse.

So here my attempt for constructive support:

  1. The US evidently with the highest degree of urgency needs a democracy which serves the well-being of all people in the US.
  2. Solving highly complex problems such as “renewing democracy” requires a suitable problem-solving methodology. I suggest “Systems Thinking” as a foundation.
  3. It tells us that no system works effectively without effective control by the stakeholder, in the case of democracy, the people.
  4. The US will not get a functioning democracy serving all people without a powerful and  effective driver, a “Society for Effective Democracy”.
  5. To make sure it serves all people, each and every person interested in renewing US society must join in and support the work of this Society.
  6. Democracy is an extremely complicated system. Renewing US democracy, therefore, requires know-how of ultimate quality. The Society must collect this know-how.
  7. On the basis of this know-how, the Society must prepare optimal concepts for the renewal of the US democracy.
  8. With the right money by donors the Society can be up and running in three months’ time.
  9. It can have first major proposals on the table a year later.
  10. It can have a more comprehensive concept for a renewal of the main pillars of US democracy on the table in three years’ time.
  11. Involving the people in such a powerful and credible drive to renew US democracy will enhance confidence in society for the future and create stability.  
  12. Voting for suited politicians is a first step. Yet, individual politicians simply cannot renew democracy and society. It takes a powerful driver.
  13. It takes a Society for Effective Democracy driven and carried jointly by all decent citizens in the US.
  14. Start now.

Do I now have to glue myself to the doors of Extinction Rebellion?

I just received a mail from XR rejoicing that MPs will on Wednesday vote on the declaration of a Climate Emergency…and now another one informing me of upcoming meetings with government officials.

Hi there“, states the first mail,

This Wednesday MPs will vote on whether to declare a national climate emergency.

After months of grassroots actions across the country from school students striking to Extinction Rebellion mobilising thousands across London, politicians have now begun to react to the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis…

Again, such a vote appears to be a folly, like much of what we have seen in Brexit. On which basis are the MPs to decide?

One leading MP and former Secretary in the UK government ( I will not mention the name) confided to me in a personal conversation that he had read “a couple of books on climate change”, an that he did “not believe in it”. (It is one of the candidates who vied for the job as PM, can you believe it?). Before going into a vote on the declaration of a “Climate Emergency”, wouldn’t it make sense even for Extinction Rebellion to re-confirm what the data are and to create a “joint understanding of the problem situation” in Parliament? We cannot afford another chaotic policy making process, certainly not on an issue of existential relevance for humanity.

So here now, is my sort of protest against Extinction Rebellion, in the form of an open letter. (Unfortunately they neither reacted to my three mails sent to them nor to the two suggestions for a “constructive approach” published on this website – are they any better than the government they criticise?)

…………………………………………………………………………

Hey guys,

The key appears to be negligence. “My generation has done terrible things”, says David Attenborough. Michael Gove now admits: “We (i.e. the government including himself in the first place) “have not done nearly enough” to stop Climate Change.

You will agree, we all and our governments have been negligent by not putting effective processes in place to stopping Climate Change. Yes, you accuse the government of negligence and incompetence in dealing with Climate Change. It is clearly necessary for us to look into where the deficits are and how to fix them.

But the question I am asking me now is:

How negligent is Extinction Rebellion? How negligent are you?

Do I now have to sit down with my lonely placard opposite of the headquarters of extinction Rebellion and protest against the negligence of Extinction Rebellion, the very same negligence you accuse the government of?

Or are you going to listen and engage in a constructive discussion? Perhaps before you go into a meeting with the government officials?

Are you going to act responsibly?

Some questions:

  • Is Extinction Rebellion even less effective and efficient in their approach than the government they criticise for being negligent?
  • What is effectiveness and efficiency in policy making at all? 
  • How do we ensure the utmost degree of effectiveness and efficiency in policy making?
  • How to choose the very best problem solving approaches? 
  • Which role does analytical competency play in solving the greatest problem humanity has ever faced? 
  • Which role does know-how in problem solving methodologies play in this respect?  

You accuse the government of negligence (rightly so, in my understanding).  

  • Is Extinction Rebellion negligent as well?
  • Don’t you have to examine the foundations necessary for an effective problem solving process before you design one? 
  • Or ask people, who might have relevant know-how is such areas? (such as experts in problem-solving methodologies at universities?)

I sincerely and honestly praise you for bringing the issue of Global Warming on top of the agenda. People have complained about the protests. Yet, they clearly have been necessary, just as the protests of the young people following the example of Greta Thunberg.

But there is a difference between “raising attention to a problem” and “solving a problem”. You very effectively and with perseverance managed to raise attention to the problem of Climate Change. But is this sufficient to also solve the problem effectively?

Stopping climate change is a gigantic task, larger than anything the world has ever seen. Solving the task appears, if not impossible, so at least, close to impossible.

What we need to do now is to create “the most effective and efficient process only conceivable” to address and solve the problem.

The first step in problem solving is “the creation of a joint understanding of the problem situation” …in the beginning at least among the policy making institutions, then also in the entire population. If I am not mistaken, this is actually what Extinction Rebellion rightly suggested as the first necessary step.

So, why not follow through with this proposal and now take step two ahead of step one???? – Again, many people will not understand, why we should declare a Climate Emergency now. But we must create their understanding and support.

Yes, maybe your demand to create a Climate Emergency now serves as a further impulse for re-assessing the facts and for making people recognise and admit that Climate Change truly is a problem of “existential relevance” we are facing.

Still, in order to solve the problem we won’t get by the first necessary step: Creating a joint understanding of the problem situation.

What would be the sensible thing to do now? ( yes, it is my opinion, but it appears to be your obligation to engage in a constructive debate on it)

  1. Meet with the government officials.
  2. Agree to put a work group together which determines the most effective and efficient way forward (open the process up to the public to be sure the path chosen for coping with the problem is the most effective process conceivable – we sort of need to find the very best path through the Himalaya to get across, it is a significant loss of energy to go into the wrong  direction first and then having to see one must return)
  3. That work group must, in my opinion, use the systemic problem solving steps I suggested on my website and in my other letters to you.
  4. As mentioned that work group would as a first step create a joint understanding of the problem situation in government and society (as XR also rightly suggested – sorry if I repeat myself – just to present the necessary sequence).
  5. The first consequence of this joint understanding might then be: The declaration of a Climate Emergency.
  6. The other consequence will probably be that the UK (re-) establishes an independent Government Department For Climate Change Policy.
  7. The new Secretary for Climate Change Policy then develops the most suitable strategy together with all parties interested and concerned (complete transparency and involvement of the public – that is what you rightly request.)
  8. Is a Citizens’ Assembly truly the most effective and efficient way for moving forward – or is it a waste of valuable time and funds, and even worse, does it put the process for addressing Climate Change into an ineffective direction, will we eventually have to turn back and select another strategy?
  9. To insist on a Citizens’ Assembly without making sure what the most effective and efficient approach might be appears not diligent and, therefore, negligent as well. (am I right or wrong – we are obliged to examine a fundamental “hypothesis” of such critical relevance – are there better processes to involve the public, is a crucial question ).
  10. And generally: Is it negligence or not to not include someone in the problem solving process who has a website called “optimizingdemocracy”, has twenty years of experience in thinking about the effectiveness and efficiency of policy making and has even studied Operational Research and Systemic Problem Solving Methodologies? (yes, I am obliged to suggest I have highly relevant qualifications – check it out, verify, you are obliged to check the veracity of this “hypothesis” as well, you ar obliged to listen (one failure of government is that it does not listen and does not examine relevant proposals on how to make government effective.)
  11. I am also trying to get the government to understand this. So far they failed.

The fundamental starting point we must agree on is this one in my opinion:

We must agree on the crucial need to find “the most effective and efficient way forward”.

 That is a question of methodology.

Do you think it would be necessary to include someone who has substantial knowledge on such issues and has spent twenty years tackling such questions in your work group and in the talks with government?

What must I do, to convince you that focusing on “maximum effectiveness and efficiency” is of decisive relevance now.

You want to declare a “Climate Emergency”. If the problem is of existential relevance for humanity then not focusing on “absolute effectiveness and efficiency” is absolutely negligent.

Do I have to glue myself now to the doors of XR to bring this message home, or are we going to talk?

In 2016 protesters suggested: “Climate change department closed by Theresa May in ‘plain stupid’ and ‘deeply worrying’ move” (The Independent). They were right. It was wrong. The fault is connected with fundamental deficits in government strategy making detected by Parliament already in 2012 (!!) and which have not been fixed by now (Another matter of substantial negligence in government – and Parliament? Of relevance for all of policy making including Climate Change – the Parliamentarians themselves mentioned it in 2012, but did not fix the problem! We must now.)

XR is going to talk with a government which appears “not capable” of effective policy making (to use a more neutral word than “stupid” – analytical competency is crucial in government – how do we make sure we have analytically competent leaders – see also the horribly chaotic Brexit process)

The crucial question is: How do we make sure the policy making process is as effective and efficient as only conceivable?

Should we include people with know-how in the creation of effective processes or not?

With kind regards, from a supporter and member of XR,

Hans Peter Ulrich

 

P.S.: Sorry the letter is a bit long. But it took you also a couple of days to get the government  to communicate.

It might, as a final point, be of interest to you that I also wrote a nine page letter and a two page letter to Theresa May on the issue, and a letter to Michael Gove. (Yes, you are right, persistence is necessary.) Both have not replied, even if the issue I discuss in the letter are of central concern, the effectiveness and efficiency in policy making. In Ireland observers  blame the tense situation there on the “complacent stupidity” of some parties involved (The Week, April 27th). In America, a public report identified a “culture of complacency” as the key reason behind the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. If we are to solve the Climate Crisis at all, we need to establish the highest analytical competency in government and we all need to act with he highest degree of diligence and commitment. Otherwise, overcoming the problem of Climate Change will not be possible.

“Why people keep electing idiots?” – Constructive action by citizens required

“Democracy v Psychology: why people keep electing idiots?”

The language which Dean Burnett uses in his article in the Guardian may be somewhat provocative, but it certainly gets a point across: We actually do not make sure that our politicians are qualified for the job. That makes us as citizens culprits, if things with our nations and world go wrong.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2015/apr/02/democracy-psychology-idiots-election

It is greatly amazing: Everybody in their professional life needs to prove they fulfil a specific set of qualification requirements, any hair stylist, any sales manager, and any doctor. Just our politicians don’t, even if the fate of our entire countries, of our entire world, to a large degree our lives and the lives of future generations depend on their professional qualification.

In democracies, it is us, the citizens, who govern. Not making sure that our politicians are qualified for the job is actually irresponsible. It will have effects on jobs, the stability of our nations, on international co-operation and peace, on how we handle the globe, even on the future of human dignity.

So we, as citizens, must make sure politicians have the required qualifications for their tasks.

What is the solution?

  1. We the citizens must take charge of our democracies.
  2. We must ensure they work properly.
  3. To do that we must establish an organisation: Citizens Controlling Democracy UK, for example.
  4. This organisation must write a precise job description for our politicians.
  5. It must identify clearly which specific qualifications are necessary to fulfil this task.
  6. It must make sure that each and every politician standing for election fulfils the specific qualifications required for their job.

Our world of seven billion people cannot afford words only, it cannot afford cynicism about democracy and the “idiocy” of our politicians only.

We must take constructive action.

So who will join Citizens Controlling Democracy UK?

Many cooks, no dish – Without sound project management the UK will not get a new Constitution and a policy making system of the quality it urgently requires.

The UK debate on democracy, political and constitutional reform is multifaceted, and long-standing. Some strands of it, such as the reform of the House of Lords, have been going on for years. The discussion is driven by actors from various reaches of society and state, including parliament, academic institutions, think tanks, and civil society, by actors departing from different starting points, with different perspectives, and interests.

Contributors to the debate publish books, essays, assessments, commentaries, and opinion pieces. They organize conference, talks, party initiatives for more voter engagement, and parliamentary hearings on the issues. Following the Scottish vote on independence many participants in the debate presently push for a Constitutional Convention. Writers and activists increasingly use the new media. They write blogs (like this one), sometimes there are replies, but even two weeks later the author of a blog might not even be aware of it.

The problem is, while some of the participants in the debate even suggest that the UK urgently needs a completely “new system of politics for the 21st century”, so far there is no dish, no comprehensive result, no product.[i]

The reason for the failure to generate a product of the highest quality conceivable appears to be that the talks are not structured. They are not managed effectively and efficiently in a joint effort. After years of debate there still is no joint perception even on the need for a new Constitution, no joint goals have been defined, consequently no joint diagnosis of the parameters affecting these goals has been carried out, and, as a result, no systems and processes have been designed to ensure that the goals connected with a new Constitution are achieved.

What has to happen?

  1. Greatest urgency: People have to realize that setting up a new Constitution is a matter of the greatest urgency. There is no time anymore for activities which are not driven by the goal to generate a comprehensive result definitely fulfilling its purposes. The Citizens expect the political system to deliver. They are becoming impatient as the increasing support for protest parties shows. Any effort on the issue must be designed in such a way that it contributes without doubt to generating the very best Constitution and political system for the UK as soon as possible.
  2. Clear goal – clear deadline: People convinced of the need for a new Constitution must set themselves a clear goal and feasible deadline, such as drafting a new Constitution for the UK of the highest quality conceivable within a maximum of two years’ time (to suggest a concrete, potential goal).
  3. Joining of efforts necessary: People must realize that setting up a new Constitution and improved political system in a nation of 60 million people with many different concerns, views, and expectations is a gigantic, highly complex project which requires immense manpower and millions of pounds in financial resources. Individual persons, research institutes, or charities cannot accomplish the project in an adequate fashion by themselves. They need to join efforts and resources to generate a Constitution of the quality required.
  4. No adequate product without the very best problem solving and project management skills: People must realise that generating a new Constitution and overhauling the entire political system (while certainly maintaining what is good) is a highly complex task requiring the very best problem solving and project management skills. If people taking the initiative and wanting to drive the project forward lack these specific qualifications, the project is likely not to generate a product of the quality the Nation urgently requires.
  5. A “Peoples’ Commission on the UK Constitution”: To move the project forward the people concerned with issues of political and constitutional reform should, therefore, as soon as possible set up a joint working group, an independent “Peoples’ Commission on the UK Constitution” equipped with the necessary skills for managing the project. Parliament and its Political and Constitutional Reform Committee should help to set up this Commission, politicians should provide support and advice to its work where required. Since the work of politicians and the systems and processes within which they work will be under review, the politicians themselves, however, will not be able to lead the review process. The Commission must work directly on behalf of UK society and largely independently of the present political establishment.

Success Factors

The key success factors for the project, as partly already indicated, appear to be:

  1. Independence: The Commission must operate independently from the present political system and only be responsible to the people.
  2. Best methods: The Commission must identify and be equipped with the best problems solving and project management know-how available.
  3. Best know-how: The Commission must solicit the best know-how available in the country and in the world to identify and recommend the most effective policy making systems and procedures, beginning with the assessment of and with recommendations on the voting system. It must operate in a completely open fashion and use “crowd-sourcing” as a means to identify the very best know-how available, right from the beginning of its work, in principle even already on the issue of what the best methods for tackling the task are.
  4. Creating joint perspectives: To generate the required support for the project in society the Commission must start by creating a joint perspective on the need for a new Constitution and on the various goals to be pursued by its review.
  5. Involvement of the people: Considering the increasing discontent of the people, it must be highlighted that the review of the UK Constitution and the work of the Commission provides people with a novel and far-reaching means to get involved in shaping and controlling their political system. They can take ownership of it. Involving the public thoroughly in shaping “their democratic policy making system” will reintroduce vitality into the democracy of the country and offers a valve for channelling discontent and potentially disruptive action into constructive contribution.
  6. Resources: Since the people are the highest sovereign in the nation and shaping their policy making system in the best way conceivable ultimately is their own concern and project, they basically must pay for the work of the Commission. Conveying this thought and the relevance of the project to the wider public is likely to take some time, however. The government and individual sponsors should, therefore, finance the work of the Commission to begin with (without compromising its independence in any way). Endowing the project with the necessary funds from public resources appears appropriate even in times of tight budgets, since the work of the Commission provides the foundations for maintaining the nation and the world in a sound state. Cost-benefit considerations will highlight that perhaps no other investment into the future is of greater relevance. Mechanisms offering the public the possibility to contribute required resources to the operation should, however, also be set-up from the beginning. Failure by Parliament (and/or Government) to establish the Commission on behalf of the people would risk contributing to the destabilisation of society, to the destruction of the world, and could well cause grave harm to the nation and its people.
  7. Long-term citizen control: In order to equip people with a long term means to take ownership of their democratic policy making system and of controlling its performance, it is necessary to establish a permanent “Citizen Control Association” (independently of the progress or result of the review process). The tasks of the Association will be to ensure that the policy making system operates as effectively as only possible, to review policy making structures and processes from time to time, and ultimately, that new constitutional regulations and procedures are implemented and adhered to, once they have been decreed. A model of the proposed long-term system of citizen control over policy making can be found at http://optimizingdemocracy.org/the-model/
  8. Education: Once the new Constitution has been designed and officially put into operation people need to be educated on how it operates and which means it offers for engaging with policy making in the nation. All in all citizen education needs to be stepped up to highlight the relevance of civic engagement in protecting freedom and human rights.

Why a new Constitution? – Discontent, Underperformance, Creating a Coherent and Sound Society

Back to the fundamental question, whether the UK actually needs a new Constitution and a new, refurbished democratic policy making system. Some readers may still have doubts whether the proposed procedure is necessary at all.

In my view a new Constitution appears urgently necessary for three key reasons:

  1. To assuage the discontent of the population with present democratic policy making by opening up new ways for citizens to engage constructively in the policy making process. Creating such a possibility for citizens involvement in policy making will contribute to ensuring the long term social stability of the country.
  2. A second purpose of the review process is to ensure the very best performance of the policy making system, so that it is capable to deal with the highly critical challenges of our time. The present policy making system contains severe systemic deficits compromising its performance. In 2012, as a crucial example, Parliamentarians diagnosed that the strategy making capacity of government, a central element of government policy making, is greatly defective, a factor, which in their view “has led to mistakes which are becoming evident in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier policy), energy (electricity generation and renewables) and climate change…”. [ii] It will, in other words, affect the quality of policy making of government in most areas.In 2013 Anthony King and Ivor Crewe from the universities of Essex and Oxford published an in the meantime probably well-known book with the title “Blunders of our Governments”, a book which illustrates the consequences of such deficits in “real-life”. The book describes in detail how British governments since Margaret Thatcher have squandered billions of pounds on major projects and not achieved distinct policy aims. King and Crewe also suggest that the present government is by no means better qualified than the previous ones. The fact that all governments of the present and recent past commit such blunders correlates with the observation on the lacking strategy making capacity of government y the Parliamentarians and highlights the systemic nature of the deficit. Designing processes to eliminate this and other potential shortcomings in the policy making system would be of the greatest relevance for the economic and political stability of the Nation and for the well-being of its citizens.
  3. A new Constitution finally appears to be required as the foundation to re-build a coherent, sound, and strong society capable to protect well-being, freedom, and human rights in a time of ongoing globalization and technological change. Over the last decades Western democratic societies including the UK have turned into highly multicultural societies. Due to this development and to more liberal views on life in western nations in general the cohesion of society around shared values has greatly declined. Protecting well-being, freedom and human dignity in a thoroughly changing world as ours at the beginning of the 21st century will, however, demand great energy and ample resources, factors which only a society can muster in which citizens co-operate for the maintenance of these goals. Formulating the fundamental principles guiding society in a new Constitution will help building a society of the strength and resilience required to deal with the challenges of our time and the future. This is an aspect emanating already in the debate, but which, just like the other elements of writing a new Constitution, must be led to a defined result.

A final word on “muddling-through”. Frequently one hears in the debate that the political culture in the UK would be bent on “muddling-through”, rather than on establishing purpose-made, effective processes for generating high quality results. Whether one believes this proposition to be true or not, given the increasing discontent with the present policy making system, the risks for the social and political stability of the Nation, the extraordinary challenges for humanity at the beginning of the 21st century, in any case by no means there appears to be any more scope for muddling through. We are obliged to preserve the Nation and the world in a good state for future generations. Given the complexity and urgency of the threats and challenges in the world of today, aiming for establishing the most effective and efficient policy making system conceivable appears to be the only permitted way forward.

[i] One the need for a “new system of politics for the 21st century” cf. point 20 in the written evidence submitted by Prof Martin J. Smith and Professor David Richards to a parliamentary enquiry on “voter engagement” at http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/voter-engagement-in-the-uk/written/6886.html

[ii] House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?, Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12