Tag Archives: Global Warming

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


Governments on trial for the destruction of the earth? – Creating democratic policy making systems for a new age

 Imagine, 5 young people, a couple of parents, and two childrens’ organizations in the US – Kids vs Global Warming and the Wild Earth Guardians – are suing the mighty U.S. government.[1] The case is of the utmost relevance to all of us, all citizens of the world, wherever we might live. And actually, it should be brought forward against all governments on earth, if only to raise awareness of the issue: The young people want to force the U.S. government to immediately implement policies which stop the destruction of the earth from global warming. More concretely they demand policies which reduce annual CO2 emissions, so the world is maintained at current temperatures.

Defendants in the case are various top members of the U.S. government including the secretaries for the interior, for energy, and defense, and the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Amazingly and probably for legal reasons, the President himself has not been charged, even if in the eyes of society the head of state of a nation certainly is the main person responsible for government policy making.

In the first round of litigation the case was dismissed by a court in Washington D.C. The plaintiffs filed for appeal of the decision in the U.S. court of appeals in June 2013. At present the case is gaining more and more support by experts and organizations within the U.S. Key scientific advisers for the plaintiffs are a team of scientists around the reputable U.S. climatologist James Hansen including the economist Jeffrey Sachs. The team puts severe considerations forward suggesting that the current climate goal pursued by the international community, the aim to limit the temperature rise at 2ᵒC, more than twice the amount of global warming already incurred over the last 100 years, is far too dangerous and irresponsible[2]. All in all, the situation is even far more critical than these numbers suggest, since it is by no means certain that our international governments will even achieve the more lenient target set by them.[3]

So how should we judge the case against the U.S. government?

Increasing public perception on the facts of global warming

First of all we have to highly welcome the litigation, because it generates publicity for this issue of the highest relevance to all of us and of even existential importance for future generations.

Many, if not most of us, have not realized it yet or still have doubts, but all evidence, generated by the probably largest and most comprehensive research effort the world has ever jointly undertaken, confirms: Our behavior, billions of people around the globe relentlessly burning fossil fuels, is, with all likelihood, causing the destruction of the earth. A report written by more than 250 scientists from 39 countries around the world which took into consideration more than 50000 publications and commentaries from scientists all around the world confirmed those risks in September 2013.[4] Our behavior threatens to increase global temperatures by about 5ᵒC by the end of the century, it is in the process of changing weather patterns and living conditions all over the world, it is causing desertification, and floods, as well as the rise of the sea level in the world, which could well increase by 20 meters over the coming centuries or millenia[5]. If we allow this to happen, the sea will flood large parts of the earth, land and urban agglomerations, directly affecting the life of a large share of the global population and indirectly the entire global population. Finally the warming caused by us threatens to extinguish up to 50% of all species on the earth already by the end of this century, which, because of the interdependence of all life on earth, must have gravely deleterious impacts on the quality of human life on earth as well.

If we still do not believe that this is the case, we are not entitled to rely on random newspaper publications to inform us. If some of the most acknowledged scientists in the world tell us that we are causing the destruction of the earth and that urgent action is necessary to protect it, we must take such a statement extremely seriously. We are obliged to our children and to future generations to examine it ourselves and to establish for ourselves, what the truth is. We are responsible to demand a clarification from our governments. Their proposition that the information “is available” is not good enough. They must present the information in a manner understandable by all people. They must ensure that people know what is happening, just as they ensure that drivers know the traffic rules.

(Note: For more information on the basic facts on global warming and what we have to do about it, please, see https://optimizingdemocracy.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/global-warming-facts-and-assessment-compilation-february-2014-optimizingdemocracy.pdf)

Copying the litigation in other countries

One prime disadvantage of the case brought forward in the U.S. is that it is in fact only brought forward in the U.S. Even if the U.S. are a major contributor to CO2 pollution of the atmosphere, they are by no means the only ones. [6]All people and countries on earth need to co-operate in stopping global warming and the destruction of the earth. Organizations working to stop global warming in any nation should consider following the example of the young people who are suing the U.S. government, so that necessary actions are not delayed in any country.

 The effectiveness of the litigation

While the litigation, while raising public awareness, and moving the policy issue to the top of our agenda are steps of prime relevance to protect the earth against the risks of global warming, we should be aware that the litigation will not in itself achieve that effective policies are put into place. Whatever the outcome of the litigation will be, we still need effective policy making systems to design and to implement the best policies we can only conceive.

One fundamental problem, which the case seems to suffer from and which delays an adequate outcome, is that the issue is being squeezed into a set of legal concepts partly deriving from Roman and medieval times[7]. Yet never before in the history of mankind has the earth been at stake. Old legal concepts, it appears, cannot do justice to such an existential issue of a new kind and of completely new dimensions. Allowing a solution to be slowed down by a discussion of all kinds of legal aspects, such as whether dealing with the atmosphere as a public trust domain is a case of state or federal law, appears to even be inadequate given that allegedly the fate of the earth is at stake and delaying suitable measures to protect it will make saving the earth more and more difficult.

Does it exist, our obligation to protect the earth?

Since the whole issue is novel and of unprecedented character we should perhaps use common sense to guide our decision making on the case, rather than relying on pre-cast historic legal concepts. If we think in problem solving-oriented, constructive terms, the prime question to answer is likely to be: Are we obliged to protect the earth for future generations or not? Even if a court should decide that such an obligation exists for reasons of the law, the success of a national and global program to stop global warming will depend on whether the wider public also subscribes to the duty to protect the earth.

In conversations many people, even if they might have grown up children and become grandparents in a few years, give in to the perception that it could well already be too late to take co-ordinated action, that the support for any program would probably not be wide enough and that, looking at the history of the earth, it might rather be a normal process for a species like man to become extinct. In accepting these as “unalterable developments” they ignore that the destruction of the earth will be a long disastrous process for the nine billion people forecast to live on the globe in the near future. To convince wider society that we indeed must protect the earth and that as a consequence a substantial change in our style of living is necessary, will require outstanding leadership, even if the outcome of the litigation should confirm such an obligation.

A next question to answer will be, which priority policies to stop global warming must have in relation to all other policy issues. The answer to be suggested by common sense will with all likelihood be: The highest priority, since maintaining the earth is the pre-condition for any life and activities on earth. All other policy issues, even those of maintaining jobs and providing good health care are of adjunct, secondary importance compared to protecting the earth, it cannot be the other way around. That is what our governments do not seem to realize and this is one reason why this court case is so relevant.  (The scientists supporting the case highlight that efforts to stop global warming will not necessarily hamper economic development, but is actually likely to create jobs. Stopping emissions will protect the health of human beings.)

As the judge dismissing the case in the first instance points out, however, and rightly so: Courts cannot decide what the best action in a specific policy issue such as global warming is.[8] What a court could possibly do is to enforce that governments follow a certain “governance code” in policy making, prescriptions on best-practice processes and procedures in policy making. But then such a code would have to exist and it would have to contain a set of regulations suited to lead to effective policy making.[9]

Even if researchers like James Hansen are convinced that certain steps are urgently necessary to stop global warming, they will concede that a government must adhere to certain procedural standards: Government must examine and confirm the nature, the magnitude, and the urgency of the problem, it must –  to start with – establish a consensus on the obligation to preserve the globe in the nation, it must identify the very best strategy against global warming – one which as a secondary condition does not stop the functioning of our economies and societies. Government also must have or establish the capacity to implement these strategies as effectively and efficiently as only possible.

In the end, the plaintiffs can at best expect that the Court of Appeal decides that there exist justified grave concerns that the world is at risk from global warming and that it orders the government to assess the matter and to take the necessary steps to protect the earth as soon as possible. The scientists cannot presume or demand that the government and its responsible agency comes to the same results as they did. But if they have worked correctly and if the government establishes the best decision and policy making capacities, then the result should be the same, at least roughly.

The parameters deciding on the success of the initiative

What is necessary then to ensure that government policy making is “as effective and efficient” as only conceivable in the fight against global warming and that it arrives at the best policies in the shortest time frame possible?

We suggest the first overall precondition for arriving at optimal measures against the threat of global warming are optimal decision and policy making processes in the overall policy making system.

The establishment and implementation of processes of such prime quality depends on:

  •  Optimal know-how
  • The optimal qualification of policy makers
  • The motivation of policy makers to exclusively serve the common good or public well-being (or: the exclusive focus of policy makers on the common good)
  • The power of policy makers to implement  policies serving the common good.
  • The quality of control over the policy making processes by the stakeholders, by wider society.
  • The resources available for policy making (design and implementation).

As we said these observations will be of the highest relevance for the parties suing for an injunction to make the government design and implement the policies required to stop the destruction of the earth: Only if the mentioned parameters are in place will the government have the necessary qualities to cope with global warming effectively. The stakeholders interested in protecting the earth including the persons bringing the court case against the US government forward must ensure that the policy making bodies have those qualities. Otherwise their endeavors will not generate the required success.

Qualification of politicians and strategy making competencies

One central aspect on which we, as citizens, are just too lenient is that our governments and politicians may simply lack the required qualification and strategy making competencies to manage a complex policy issue like global warming appropriately.

The following statement from an official report by UK parliamentarians examining the strategy making capacity of the British government in the year 2012 articulates those crucial deficits lucidly and even with express reference to climate change (we have underlined the most critical passages) [10]:

 “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. Policy decisions are made for short-term reasons, little reflecting the longer-term interests of the nation. This 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…”

The statement could well have been written by parliamentarians in any democratic nation, simply because fundamental processes and structures are similar in all democracies and lead to comparable outcomes. The fact that we, as citizens, accept deficits in the quality of policy making processes like these and the lack of qualification of the people establishing those processes is one cause which could lead to the destruction of the earth.

Motivation, Focus, and Power

The “motivation”, the exclusive “focus” of people involved in the policy making process on the common good is of equal relevance for effective policy making against global warming and in other policy areas. What prevents politicians in democracies from directing their actions to the well-being of wider society may be the desire for maintenance of power, the looking-out for votes and voter reaction, and as a consequence the concentration on more noticeable issues of more immediate relevance to society. Also career considerations or personal interests will distract politicians from focusing on the common good and, of course, corruption and nepotism are detrimental issues in many democracies, diluting or even destroying the effectiveness of policy making for the common good.

Furthermore politicians must not only have the capacity and the motivation to work for the common good, but also the power to implement optimal policies. Everybody behind the litigation will be aware that there are gigantic and even understandable global corporate interests against stopping the burning of fossil fuels. Those interests will do everything possible to prevent policy makers pursuing what must be their primary goal in the interests of this and future generations, the protection of the earth, so future generations can live on it. As odd as it may sound, government may even have to examine possibilities for compensating investors in fossil fuels, to bring them to support policies to protect the earth. Those investors might claim to have invested “in good faith”.

The decisive role of control by citizens

 The support of the courts will in any case not be sufficient to overcome such inertia or outright resistance against policies to protect the earth. As Lincoln states, ultimately democracy is government also by the citizens. In order to ensure that our policy makers focus on the common good and have the power to implement measures serving the common good, wider society must both control and support its politicians, it must endow the power of wider society on them so politicians can withstand the pressure of select interest groups.

 We as members of society cannot rely on our representatives in parliament to exert effective control over our policy makers on our behalf. One key statement in the report on the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was: “In short, it took a catastrophe to attract congressional attention.”[11] What this statement means is that also our parliamentarians do not have an effective process to identify risks for the well-being of society and to ensure government policy making is effective.

The persons and organizations behind the court case on global warming do not only want to win the court case, ultimately they want to ensure the best measures are taken by the government to stop global warming in the shortest time frame possible. They will only arrive at this goal, if they themselves exert constant and effective control over the entire policy making process required to protect the earth and if they rally as much support as possible behind their case.

Procuring the necessary resources for effective policy making

 Governments finally often fail in their policy making because they do not have the resources necessary for effective policy making.

As the report of the commission inquiring the causes for the Deep Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf found out, this was the case for the government agency supposed to control deep sea oil drilling and one reason why the disaster happened. The report states: “But over time, (the agency) increasingly fell short in its ability to oversee the offshore oil industry. The agency’s resources did not keep pace with industry expansion into deeper waters and industry’s related reliance on more demanding technologies.“ [12]

Many people in the U.S. aim to reduce the role of the state by “starving the beast”. This is the wrong approach, if we want to preserve public wellbeing, as the Deepwater Horizon case demonstrates.

In a time when technologies in many areas advance and have more and more decisive effects on our environment and lives, in a world of now seven billion people with ever more complex policy issues it is essential that our policy systems have the resources to fulfill their tasks. Rather than reducing the funds we provide to our public policy systems we may have to enhance them. The people driving the court case and generally anybody interested in stopping global warming must aim to ensure that government has the resources and the capacities necessary to design and implement the required policies to stop the destruction of the earth.

Other existential threats to the well-being of future generations

As necessary and valuable as efforts like the court case against the U.S. government on the issue of global warming are, the problem is: They neglect that other issues of “existential” character threaten the well-being of this and future generations as well. This will be of particular relevance also for organizations aiming to protect the rights and the future of children such as the plaintiffs in the court case, Kids vs Global Warming and Wild Earth Guardians.

In his book “The Future”, published in the beginning of 2013, Al Gore presents a substantial discussion of a number of present critical threats to humanity[13].  One of them appears to be at least of the same magnitude as global warming: With the help of biogenetics and largely unnoticed from the wider public we, humanity, are actually in the process of changing life on earth as we know it, human and animal life.[14] Biogenetics will enable us to extinguish many hereditary genetic diseases. At the same time biogenetics will soon allow us to create designer-babies, whose traits parents or, perhaps at some point in time, society will select. We might turn to throwing away millions of embryos with genetic defects.  At the same time we are also changing the life of other creatures:  Does humanity really need goats which produce spider silk? Are we going to be able to control the new technologies and their effects? Aren’t we going to create chaos, if we interfere into even the design of life?

As Al Gore points out, society across the globe does not discuss these questions of existential relevance, we lack adequate leadership by our political leaders and we don’t steer. In our terms: We lack effective policy making systems.

A further threat to humanity is the increasing surveillance by governments and corporations. On the internet, “I read and I am being read”, formulates the editor of a leading German newspaper[15]. More and more observers see us approaching the scenarios of “Brave New World” and of “1984”, the scenarios described by Huxley and Orwell in which human beings have no freedom whatsoever, in which they are subjects controlled, manipulated, and perhaps even bred by their governments.

A next problem is that advancing technology such as robotisation and 3D-printing combined with the global transferability of production via the internet threatens to cause the loss of more and more jobs also in industrialized countries and even already in newly developed countries like China.

Not only Al Gore highlights the growing imbalances in wealth, income distribution, and the outright poverty also in the West as a result of these developments as well as the ensuing risks to peace and social stability. In 2009, twenty years after the Berlin wall came down and in the light of the increasing disparities between the rich and the poor in the world, Mikhail Gorbachev already demanded that we need to redefine global democratic capitalism, if we want to avoid social destabilization, conflicts, and terrorism.[16] The renowned British-American historian Tony Judt warns that the increasing economic and social imbalances would cause collapse and brutality in our societies resembling the break-down of societies before WW II.[17] In his 2010 book ”Time for Outrage” (“Indignez-vous” in the original French title) and at already 93 years of age, Stephane Hessel, a WWII concentration camp prisoner, French resistance fighter and former diplomat also expressed his distress with the new extreme discrepancies between the poor and rich and the resulting threats for peace and democracy. In the light of the failure of the leaders in governments and society to cope with these issues he called on the young people of the earth to take charge of the creation of just and social democracies.[18]

Another concern for our earth is that we are already severely over-exploiting the resources of our planet with a population of seven billion estimated to approach nine billion by the middle of the century. Al Gore mentions that even such basic critical resources as water and topsoil, necessary for securing food for the global population, are getting sparse and increasingly become a cause for migration and conflicts, problems which will be exacerbated manifold, if we do not stop global warming. We are also polluting our globe, allowing for example that carpets of plastic garbage the size of parts of Europe are already covering our oceans. Fragments of this garbage even threaten to enter the human food chain

While all of these developments are going on, global power is “in the balance” as Al Gore emphasizes. There presently is no clear leadership structure in the world anymore. Generally, nation states are more and more powerless against large global corporations. Furthermore their influence is diluted by ethnic allegiances of people exceeding the boundaries of nations.

The need for policy making systems of the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency

Fighting against global warming probably must have the highest priority among all the urgent policy concerns humanity is facing at present. But if we want to maintain the globe, humanity, and our societies in a sound and healthy state for future generations, if we want to maintain peace and well-being in the world, we have to address all the issues threatening the globe and humanity effectively at the same time. Directing energy exclusively to global warming appears as if we wanted to plug one large hole of a leaking barrel, while water comes running out of six or more other big holes. Keeping the water in the barrel requires a comprehensive and highly coordinated effort.

It is obvious that we cannot address all the pressing issues in the world of today by first having to go to court on each issue. The process takes too much time and, as the scientist Hansen points out, comes also too late:  Had our governments initiated reductions of CO2 emissions already in 2005 decreases of only 3.5% per annum would have been necessary to maintain global temperatures at present levels, now we need to reduce CO2 emissions already by 6% per annum. If we wait until 2020 a reduction of 15% per annum will be necessary.[19] What this would mean for our economies we can perhaps grasp, if we imagine we personally would suddenly have to put aside regularly 15% rather than 3.5% of our monthly income for some expense which we did not anticipate at all.

Wasting time can “cost the earth”, the stability of our nations, and millions of human lives. Instead of society having to engage in a court case against their governments possibly over various competing policy issues, so they take long overdue action, our policy making systems need to be so effective that they take the necessary steps by themselves for each policy issue at the earliest opportunity. We as citizens must find ways and means to ascertain that our governments operate so effectively.

An initiative for optimizing the policy making system in the U.S.

All in all our world and humanity of now seven billion people appears to enter a new age with technological possibilities and opportunities, with systemic challenges and threats of a new dimension of interdependence and complexity –while many old problems such a large scale poverty and hunger also persist.

A new age, a new situation requires from us to rethink our conceptions and patterns of behavior. Our only chance to tackle the various existential problems threatening humanity  simultaneously at the present time is by reviewing the capacities of our policy making systems and by ensuring that they perform at the highest degree of effectiveness and efficiency possible.

So far most of us living in democracies have taken this advantage for granted. So far we have relied on our governments to handle public policy for us. What the many failures of our governments show us, is that we cannot afford to be so indifferent about government policy making anymore.

Our ancestors fought with their lives for freedom and democracy. We, the citizens of, democratic countries must realize again that living in a democracy is a privilege and an obligation and that we personally, not our governments, are responsible for maintaining the earth. We personally are responsible to ensure that the way we manage our society and our world is effective. We as citizens are responsible to establish effective governments and policy making systems.

To ensure that our governments cope effectively with the challenges and threats of our time, we as citizens need to be effective ourselves. We need to create a strong joint citizens’ initiative to ensure the effectiveness of our policy making system across the board. In the U.S. such an initiative might be called “Optimizing Democracy USA”. Of course, similar organizations are required in all democratic nations. Their task is to make sure that our policy systems are equipped with the parameters necessary for their effectiveness.

Let us come back to the court case against the U.S. government. If we realize, that in a democracy, we the people are ourselves responsible for governing the world, it follows that it is ultimately us, ourselves, who should be sued, not our governments, if we fail to protect the earth. Our politicians think, are trained, and operate within the confines of the political system we (or our ancestors) have established. If the policy making system doesn’t generate the results we require, we are obliged to look for ways to make it able to cope with the challenges and threats of our time.

Global warming and the other policy issues mentioned are of the greatest urgency. If we want to guarantee the well-being of and protect the earth for future generations, we cannot delay our efforts in making our governments and policy making systems as effective as required.

[2]James Hansen, Pushker Kharecha, Makiko Sato, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Frank Ackerman, David J. Beerling, Paul J. Hearty, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Shi-Ling Hsu, Camille Parmesan, Johan Rockstrom, Eelco J. Rohling, Jeffrey Sachs, Pete Smith, Konrad Steffen, Lise Van Susteren, Karina von Schuckmann, James C. Zachos, Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature, PLOS ONE | http://www.plosone.org 1 December 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 12 | e81648

[3] Christina Figueres, Head of the IPCC, formulated at the end of the international Climate Conference in Warsaw in November 2013: “The conference has brought us closer …to an agreement in 2015. It does not put us on track for a 2 degree world.” cf. UNFCCC closing press briefing Saturday 23 November at http://unfccc.int/meetings/warsaw_nov_2013/meeting/7649.php.

It is furthermore disconcerting that scientists put the probability of achieving the temperature limit of 2ᵒC with the current strategy of limiting the total CO2 content in the atmosphere to 1000 Billion tons at somewhere between 66 and 100%. (cf. IPCC WGI AR5 SPM p. 20). In other words it is even by no means certain that the temperature target would be achieved with the current strategy, even if the international community were to ultimately comply with it. The current strategy could well lead to even higher temperatures than an increase of 2ᵒC.  A more conservative approach as suggested by Hansen appears justified for a number of critical aspects.

[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis; http://climate2013.org/

[5] By the end of this century The IPCC expects a maximum sea level increase of .82 m (top of the “likely range” in the worst case scenario), at, however, increasing rates of sea levels rise. (IPCC, WG1 AR5, SMP. p 20, p. 25, p.35). The IPCC writes: “There is high confidence that sustained warming greater than some threshold would lead to the near-complete loss of the Greenland ice shield over a millennium or more, causing a global mean sea level rise of up to 7 m”. The IPCC also states there is high confidence that sea levels in the Pliocene with temperatures between 2ᵒC to 3.5ᵒC higher than pre-industrial levels did not exceed 20m above present.(WG1 5AR, Fin.Draft, Techn. Summary p. 12). Hansen et alii state that in the Eemian, when temperatures were about 2ᵒC higher than in the Holocene, the age of mankind, sea levels were about 9 meters higher, in the Pliocene, with temperatures about 3ᵒC warmer, sea levels were about 15-25 meters higher than today. As Hansen points out, the problem is less to assess which sea levels ultimately correlate with which temperature, but rather at which speed sea levels adapt to higher temperatures. He writes that some researchers suggest a multi-meter sea level rise could already occur this century. (Hansen at alii, p. 6).

[6] According to joint research by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) China emitted 29% of the global CO2 emissions in 2012 (fossil fuel and cement production)m the U.S. 15%, the EU 27 11%, India 6%, the Russian Federation 5%, and Japan 4%. (Source: Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report, p.8). The largest contributors to CO2 emissions per capita are: Luxembourg 21. 75 tons/cap, Australia, 18.77, Kazakhstan 16.44, the U.S. 16.36, EU(15) 7.49, China 7.09 (Source European Emission Database EDGAR http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2ts_pc1990-2012&sort=des9

[7] United States District Court For The Court of Columbia, Memorandum Opinion, Case 1:11-cv-02235-RLW Document 172 Filed 05/31/12, p.3

[8]Ibid., p.10

[9] The fact that a court case is necessary to increase the attention of the government to a matter of existential relevance for the earth like global warming and to point out that a present policy might destroy the earth, appears to indicate that such an effective governance code does not exist.

[10] 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, p.3

[11] Deep Water The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future  of Offshore Drilling, Report to the President, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon  Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, January 2011, p. 289

[12] Ibid., p.68

[13] Al Gore, The Future, Random House 2013

[14] Ibid., p. 204

[15] Frank Schirrmacher, Politik im Datenzeitalter: Was die SPD verschläft (Politics in the age of data: What the social democrats fail to notice ), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 25 September 2013

[16]  Mikhail Gorbachev, The Berlin wall had to fall, but today’s world is no fairer, The Guardian, 30 October 2009

[17] Tony Judt, I’ll fares the land, A treatise on our present discontents, Allen Lane, 2010

[18] Stéphane Hessel, Time For Outrage, (French Original: “Indignez Vous!”), 2010, Indigène Éditons, Montpellier

[19] James Hansen at alii, 2013, p. 10

Optimizing Democracy – The Sequence of Steps

Whichever way we may be aiming to contribute to improving policy making, be it by wanting to influence an individual policy area only or by improving the overall policy making system, given the size of the policy machines in democratic countries we must maximize the effectiveness of our own action, if we want to have any success.

The graph Optimizing Democracy – The Sequence of Steps describes how making a contribution of such a quality should be possible.

Presently there are many movements for better policy making in various countries: Better government initiatives, movements for direct democracy, initiatives to enhance transparency in policy making etc.

Competition and independence of thinking is necessary to allow the best ideas to come forward. But in order to move ahead effectively, agreeing on a plan and combining energy around its implementation is required. Any plan to make democracy better necessitates the approval of and legitimation by wider society anyway. If the initiatives to make public policy better cannot agree on the “best plan” to move forward, how should society then be able to support a particular concept? Initiatives working for an improvement of democratic policy making should jointly aim to present the best plan to wider society. This does not mean they should agree on the handling of concrete individual policy issues, but simply on the concept for generating the most effective policy making structures and processes.

Deciding on an effective way forward requires agreeing on a specific goal in the wider scope of “enhancing the quality of policy making”. Some people concerned about the state of our democratic countries propose concentrating on urgent individual policy issues, such as employment and social stability only. But what about global warming, the most severe threat for humanity as others suggest? How can we establish with greater certainty how large the threat truly is and what we must do concretely to fend it off? What also about health, about establishing international peace and understanding and avoiding further unnecessary deaths in lingering or new international conflicts? If we succeed in reducing unemployment at the present time, global warming might shatter any advancement in the well-being of society based on such success completely in the next twenty years or so, if we neglect doing something about it.

Given this interdependence of policy issues we suggest a comprehensive approach to making our policy making systems better. In the light of the relevance of our policy systems for our countries and in fact the management of the entire globe, we suggest not to settle for “improvement” as a goal but for “optimization”. As also mentioned in the graph, aiming now for setting up the best democratic policy making structures and processes will furthermore contribute to maintaining the best quality of policy making in the future. This might become important, if let us say in ten or twenty years from now, discontent with established parties were to increase to such an extent that more extreme parties came to power. To have mechanisms which even in such a scenario were to contribute to sound policy making would not be bad.

Once we have agreed on a specific goal, the graph suggests as a next step to analyze the parameters affecting the achievement of this particular goal achievement. It should be useful to insert at this point that the suggested steps here are a rudimentary application of a systemic problem solving methodology suggested by Hans Ulrich and Gilbert Probst in their book “Anleitung zum Ganzheitlichen Denken und Handeln” (Translates roughly to: “Guide To Interconnected Thinking and Action”), Haupt publishers, Berne 1991, a book which unfortunately does not appear to have been published in the English language so far.

The key factor of relevance for the quality of our democratic system as a whole will be the effectiveness of each individual step in the process of policy making, from identifying public policy issues, to prioritizing them, determining the best ways to tackle them, and attributing the required public resources to the solution of each policy issue. A rather intense debate on the role of the state has been led in the United States for some time. Many people demand the government’s “downsizing”. What democracies should have is a highly effective system to define the tasks of the state.

We suggest that the quality of each of these individual steps and of the processes to manage individual policy issues depends on five factors:

• The available know-how on optimizing the performance of policy making systems and processes
• The qualification of politicians and civil service employees
• The motivation of politicians and civil service employees
• The adequacy of resources to allow each system to achieve its purpose.
• The quality of control over each system.

In order to optimize democratic policy making, the initiative would have to ensure that those parameters are in place and optimized for each individual step in the policy making process itself, and also for each policy area. Systems thinkers suggest rightly that also communication between system, sub-systems, and stakeholders is of relevance for its output. We propose here that effective control will also take care of setting up effective communication systems and processes.

Control as the key parameter for success will also ensure that the other four factors mentioned are in place. It will ensure that policy makers and civil service employees have the optimal qualifications for their tasks, it will identify the best processes to check that both, politicians and civil service employees work only for the common good, beyond a fair salary, rather than for their own interests. It will arrange for an optimal match between the goals and tasks of public policy and the available resources.

In another part of this blog we emphasized the importance of know-how next to control. The first know-how element of importance is how to set up an effective control system over policy making as a whole. Once this know-how and an effective overall control system is established, this top level control system should set up a system to establish the optimal know-how for all detailed elements of the entire policy making process. As we also pointed out the support of wider society is required for establishing the optimal know-how for all of these processes.

An initiative which goes through all of the steps suggested exerts control over the policy making system. In the course of its work the initiative will realize that the aim must be to constantly ensure the optimal operation of the democratic policy making system. It becomes clear that a permanent citizens’ organization needs to be established to take on this responsibility. Last not least an initiative to optimize our democratic policy making systems would also have to examine the proposals made here.

How to optimize democracy? – Organizing the debate

Presently many proposals on improving democracy are discussed nationally and in the international public domain. The problem appears to be: The discussion is not organized, we don’t have an overview over all proposals, and we do not have an effective system to determine what the best solution is. Maybe all proposals have advantages and draw-backs, maybe we need to combine various proposals to arrive at optimal solutions. Our greatest problem: While we do not manage to determine the best options for optimizing democracy, our actions in improving democracy are stalled. In the meantime problems such as global warming and the threats to economic and social stability get bigger and more urgent from day to day.

One of the disadvantages of our present discussion, on how to improve democracy appears to be that we all think our proposals are the best ones. Governing our world is, however, a task of such complexity, that our individual knowledge does not suffice to establish what the best way forward is. To move ahead we, therefore, very urgently need to establish a highly effective system to analyze and evaluate all proposals which are presently “out there” in the public domain and to shape and determine the best solutions.

If we were to agree on this approach the questions remains, however, who precisely must take this action? Who must install such a system, before it is too late?

Democratic governments in this world should go ahead and establish already know-how systems to optimize decision and policy making in public policy, so we do not lose time. The final conclusion will, however, be that we, the citizens ourselves, as the ultimate stakeholders in democratic nations, must take the initiative to establish an effective organization which takes these tasks on.

What we as citizens would need to know or figure out is, how to set up an effective organization to fulfill this purpose. In addition we need to gather the resources to set up an effective organization, an organization outside of the established policy making systems working directly on behalf of citizens to optimize the policy making systems.

The main issue is to get started on making democracy effective and to then jointly determine the most effective way in going ahead. For this we need to take any suggestion for the most effective way forward on board to be sure we do not miss the best option.

Why optimize democracy?

Many regions in the world and the world as a whole are facing severe actual or potential crises:
1. Global warming could well turn into the most existential crisis for human beings across the globe the world has seen so far.
2. The West has been seeing increasing gaps in income and wealth and wide unemployment, especially also among the young generation, already dubbed the “lost generation”.
3. The Arab countries are struggling to build effective democracies which help to secure fair opportunities and balanced well-being for all its citizens.

In addition the fight against global poverty remains a gigantic task after more than 60 years of international development corporation. We see conflicts in many parts of the world over matters of religion, land or resources which urgently need to be resolved in order to avoid further unnecessary bloodshed. Pollution affects the state of the globe everywhere. Our oceans are covered with carpets of plastic rubbish the size of central Europe, rubbish which also threatens to enter the human food chain. No individual human being would approve of such pollution, but the policy systems we have in place do not prevent it. At the same time the expected steady increase of the global population to 9 billion by the year 2050 continues to add to the pressure on the resources of the globe year by year. Finally, as a completely different problem largely unnoticed by the public in the light of these more imminent challenges, advances in biogenetic medicine could well endanger even the dignity of human life. Our policy making systems would have to keep us updated on those developments and, next to the benefits, the risks for humanity involved in them.

Democracy as we operate it does not appear to be able to cope with these challenges.

It has a number of inherent deficits which need to be fixed. One of them is that it forces politicians to look out for the next day’s headlines and for votes in the next elections, rather than for long-term and sustainable problem solutions. Another problem of democracy is corruption, more generally the tendency of many politicians to put their own benefit above their work for the common good, a problem widespread in many countries. Those deficits severely affect the capacity of democratic policy making systems to cope with the economic and other challenges of our time.

As a consequence of the ineffectiveness of democracies in dealing with the problems especially in the area of economics we have seen and keep seeing uprisings in many countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, as well as the rise of the Occupy movement in the US and Europe. Also the London riots of 2011 have been attributed to the lack of opportunities for the young generation and the fact that, as a consequence, many young people do not have a stake in society.

Since the pressure on employment and income in the West is likely to rise with ongoing globalization, some observers consider it highly likely that the number of protests and riots will increase. They warn against a potential outright economic and social collapse of the old industrialized societies in the years to come. The distinguished British-American historian Tony Judt writes: “ Few in the West today can conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter disintegration of the democratic consensus. But what we know of World War II – or the former Yugoslavia – illustrates the ease with which any society can descend into Hobbesian nightmares of unrestrained atrocity and violence”.

Our only chance: Optimizing the performance of democracy

All problems mentioned above, global warming, pollution of the globe, unemployment, global population growth and establishing balanced well-being in a world in which 80% of the people live in so-called developing countries are problems of the highest complexity and urgency. Many of those issues are interdependent, such as reducing poverty, creating peace, establishing strong economies, and effective administrative systems. Also in our interconnected world the economic development in other countries is likely to affect employment and well-being in our own country.

Dealing with such interdependence and complexity, fighting those challenges and avoiding crises potentially arising from them, requires the most effective and efficient use of our resources. We have to get our priorities right in the way we spend our resources and we must learn, how to achieve our goals in each policy area with the minimum amount of resources necessary, so we can free resources up for other tasks. Achieving these goals requires the most effective policy making systems conceivable.

The goal of only “enhancing” the performance of our democratic policy making systems is not enough in the light of these challenges and the existential risks connected with some of them. In a highly competitive sport athletes will tickle every bit of reserve out of their bodies. They will optimize any element of their preparation from training to nutrition and mental fitness to enhance their competitiveness. For democratic states the complexity of the challenges and the highly competitive nature of the world today mean that also their national and international systems must perform to the highest standards and make the best use of any resources available to them. On the international level we must jointly create the very best systems and procedures to handle the problems our globe is facing.

Optimizing Democracy, setting up a competent and fair policy making system of the highest standards, is also of relevance for countries which try to build sustainable and strong democratic systems, for example Egypt, countries which need to provide fair and equal chances and balanced well-being to different ethnic, cultural and religious segments in their societies in order to establish and maintain peaceful and productive co-existence between these segments.