Environmental politics over the long term

According to George Monbiot,

While prime ministers in Italy and eastern Europe are demanding a bonfire of environmental measures in order to save the economy, in the UK politicians from all the major parties have made the connection between environmental destruction and economic meltdown.

At any rate, both the UK and Europe are thinking longer-term than the disgracefully dawdling North America. The most disappointing result of the recent Canadian election was the public’s apparent distaste for the Liberals’ Green Shift, which would have introduced some policy foresight into the perennially myopic Canadian politics scene.

Monbiot proposes an interesting solution for overcoming the inherent tendency of politics to focus on problems that, however, trivial in the long term, affect the current electorate.

What can be done about political short-termism? With the environmental thinker Matthew Prescott, I’ve hatched what might be a partial solution. We propose a new parliamentary body – the 100-year committee – whose purpose would be to assess the likely impacts of current policy in 10, 20, 50 and 100 years’ time. Like any other select committee, it would gather evidence, publish reports and make recommendations to the government. It would differ only in that it had no interest in the current political cycle. Its maximum timeframe would be roughly the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Not a bad role for a senate-like body which, in Hannah Arendt’s analysis, has the role of maintaining the origins or foundations of a body politic. As a group that is at least formally outside the traditional, short-term political cycle, such a body would be suited to providing a longer-term vision that is increasingly necessary as societies broaden and deepen the extent to which they act on the environment.

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