Sunday, December 20, 2009

Responsible leaders, unreasonable public

The BBC World Debate this week featured the heads of state of Mexico, Australia and the Maldives, plus a South African minister standing in for Jacob Zuma. Since it was broadcast from Copenhagen and not Delhi, Suhel Seth failed to make the panel.
The debate highlighted the recent split between threatened island nations and the heavyweights of the developing world, which has put a new spin on existing tensions between industrialised and emerging countries.
After an Indian-African activist in the audience condemned the baby steps being discussed at the Copenhagen conference, the presenter Stephen Sackur asked if politicians could do more than their constituencies allowed. The man replied that the public was eager, but politicians were letting citizens down. As I've pointed out in a previous climate change post, surveys tell a different story. In most countries, the majority is skeptical about anthropogenic global warming, and is willing to go along with emission cuts only if they're relatively painless.
In nations like the US and India, administrations are currently ahead of their citizens in their willingness to commit to sacrifices, small but significant, that might help contain AGW.
The presumption that common folk are invariably wiser than their elected leadership can be refuted by the recent example of Swiss citizens voting to ban the erection of minarets. It is hard to imagine a government that would enact such an idiotic measure. In California, voter initiatives have paralysed the budgetary process, leading a number of commentators to dismiss the state as ungovernable.
Despite being wrongheaded, the environmental activist's comment drew the loudest applause of the evening in that Copenhagen auditorium. Nothing gets people united like bashing political leaders. It's the default option for lazy thinkers.

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