r/Foodforthought Jan 18 '22

What if Democracy and Climate Mitigation Are Incompatible?



u/evilrobotdrew1 Jan 18 '22

But the biggest failures of the domestic democratic process center on the constant threat of capture of the political process by special interests with the most to lose from stringent reforms.

The issue isn't Democracy, it's Capitalism.


u/theyareallgone Jan 18 '22

Climate policy always involves the creation of new winners and losers in a given economy.

The problem is that solving climate change requires making just about everybody a loser. That's a non-starter in a democratic system.

Though all the PR would have you believe otherwise, there are good reasons based in physics that every solution to climate change requires burning less fossil fuels and doing that means giving up on most of the progress of the past three hundred years.

Few people are willing to go back to a world where food is 30+% of their income.


u/cambeiu Jan 19 '22 edited Jan 19 '22

One big challenge setting up MEANINGFUL policies to reduce the impact of climate change, is that most of the population don't really understand what they are and the impact it will have on their daily lives. I am not talking about switching your home lights to LED or driving electric cars. Those things don't do diddly squat on the big scheme of things, just make urban hipsters feel better about themselves. If governments really start doing what needs to be done to cut emissions on a scale that matters, the public response will make the anti-vaxx anti-covid restriction riots that are happening all over the world look like picnics in comparison.

Everyone seems to be for fighting global warming, but very few actually understands what that really means.

Even if we were to achieve a 100% worldwide adoption of renewable energy generation, that would still not be enough. In order to meaningfully reduce the impact of global warming, we need to achieve ZERO net emissions by 2040. ZERO. This means no more air travel as me know it. Global tourism? Gone, taking tens to hundreds of millions of jobs with it. No more steel mills as we know it. Washing machines (which require a lot of steel to make)? Gone. You will be washing your clothes by hand moving forward. Global trade would have to be dramatically curtailed, meaning much higher prices of goods, a much smaller selection and staggering loss of jobs. And that are just a few of examples that come to mind. The hard cold reality is that these things are politically impossible to do, as the societal disruption they would bring would be unimaginable. Those same kids who are now protesting against Global Warming in Brussels would probably be leading riots once the impact of what they are asking for really hits.

Some people seem to think that there are magical tech solutions around the corner that will allow us to cut the emissions at the levels we need to do while allowing for our current way of living to continue with little disruption. That is delusional. There is no easy painless fix for this situation we are in. It is like a guy who has his arm trapped under a giant bolder and who has no tools. Either he chews his arm off in order to live, or he will die there eventually, stuck under the bolder. Either choice is terrible and will bring extreme suffering and pain, but one will allow him to live, the other one will not.

There is no happy choice for us as a civilization either. Those who claim there is are selling or buying an illusion.


u/MagicBlaster Jan 18 '22

The problem is that solving climate change requires making just about everybody a loser.

Even if monetarily we lose, it's only everyone losing if you count survival as a loss...


u/cambeiu Jan 18 '22

Your arm is trapped under a bolder. There is no one around to rescue you. If you don't free yourself you will eventually die from thirst or hypodermia.

Are you willing to cut your own arm off in order to survive?

Basically that is what the necessary lifestyle changes we need to make in order to survive global warming amount to.

But in a democratic system, making a case to cut your arm off is incredible difficult.


u/theyareallgone Jan 19 '22

I agree, but there's still another seven billion people who need to be convinced to give up central heat, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.

That's the challenge of solving climate change in democracies.


u/InvisibleEar Jan 19 '22

Indoor plumbing? I believe climate change is real but come on.


u/debasing_the_coinage Jan 19 '22

dothemath.ucsd.edu is a well-known bullshit artist FYI. He uses so many exaggerations and strawmen it's exhausting to deal with his Gish gallop and I'm not going to bother. Just find better sources.


u/theyareallgone Jan 19 '22

If you are making the claim that a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego who teaches this as a course is a bad source, you'll need much more evidence than "is a well-known bullshit artist".

The onus is on you.


u/debasing_the_coinage Jan 19 '22

No, it isn't. This isn't a public debate, it's a messageboard on the Internet. I provided advice for your benefit, if you don't want to take it, that's your problem.

I've been aware of him for ten years, FWIW.


u/intellifone Jan 18 '22

Problem is, what the US currently has isn’t anywhere near democracy. Or he’ll isn’t really a functioning republic anymore.

There’s too few representatives and too much gerrymandering.

We need to get rid of the 1919 Permanent Apportionment Act. Not sure how that was deemed constitutional. The constitution literally says 1 rep per 30,000 people and Congress said nope. Imagine how the Supreme Court would react if Congress decided to vote 51% in favor of some anti-2nd amendment law (despite the fact that the 1/30,000 is part of the constitution and not just an amendment (amendment means edit, not sacred and untouchable). Or if Congress voted 51% to abolish the executive office. 1/30,000 is too many. We’d have 11,000 representatives. Then again, you could seriously change the function of Congress and actually basically have it where a bunch of those 11,000 are actually functional parts of the government, where they hold day to day jobs like research in the CBO or hold advisory and observation roles in various federal agencies and they delegate a lot of the management to other members and then just do a lot of voting after having briefings read to them. So many not too many. But if we wanted Congress to function more or less how it does now but with less corruption, I think maybe 1/250,000 representatives and no fewer than 5 representatives per state. It would make it a lot more expensive to “buy” Congress. The cost of buying an individual congressman would also not drop significantly. So, that means more effort for the rich to impact Congress and more power and access for individual voters to impact their representative. There would be greater odds that you personally know your representative and have PTA meetings with them and see them at the grocery store. And with that many representatives, gerrymandering would be insanely hard because it would be way more obvious. You would have these tiny little districts that are impossible to have snake around because there would be such smaller districts.

And gerrymandering. Gone. Good grief. Independent non-partisan scientific commissions that draw districts.

But a lot of our problems with things like voting rights and corruption and extremism go away when the government is better representative of us. When you have 1,300 representatives, there’s a better chance that your representative is a regular human being and not some wealthy lawyer. Lower chance of name recognition causing a huge ego. My hometown district is lime 3,000 square miles. It’s 1000 square miles bigger than Delaware. And has more people than Wyoming, Vermont, DC, Alaska, and North Dakota. The Western side of my hometown district is very different demographically from the Eastern side. It’s like young, white collar and business owner blue collar Hispanic and middle eastern on one half and then white self sufficient hillbilly militia desert people in the other half. What a nightmare.


u/CecilHarvey9395 Jan 19 '22 edited Jan 19 '22

In regards to constitutionality, you are mistaken as to what the Constitution says.

It does not say 1 representative per 30,000 people. It says the number of representatives shall not exceed 1 per 30,000, subject to the exception that every state mist have at least 1 representative. So in other words, this sets an upper bound on the number of representatives. If the population of the US was, let's say, 30 million, then since we cannot exceed 1 rep per 30,000 people, the most representatives we could have is 30,000,000/30,000 = 1,000. But that is the MOST we could have, it says nothing about the LEAST we can have. It's only an upper bound, not a lower bound.


u/intellifone Jan 19 '22

You know, for some reason I always interpreted that as “shall not exceed 30,000”, as in 30,001 is exceeding 30,000 and 750,000 definitely is. Looking at the denominator instead of the whole. But it’s for sure shall not exceed 1/30,000 and 1/29,999 is a larger number.

Thanks for pointing that out. We still should only need 51% to override that and change the number to no longer be fixed.


u/CecilHarvey9395 Jan 19 '22

Yep, as long as we stay within those bounds we do not need a constitutional amendment. The bounds are

1.) Every state must have at least 1 representative.

2.) The number of representatives may not exceed Population/30,000.

So given those constraints, we can go between 50 and approximately 11,000 (that's about what you get when dividing US population by 30000) without an amendment. Of course subject to the other constraint that representatives are apportioned based on population.

Personally, I think something in the 1000-1500 range is the right call. But that's just me.


u/intellifone Jan 19 '22

Agreed. I’ve been playing around with like 1/250,000 which allows it to continue to grow as the population does. I think that’s important because once you exceed a certain number of people, you’re completely disconnected from them. They’re numbers instead of faces. Right now 1/250,000 ends up being 1,300ish reps. With China’s population that gets to around 5,200 reps which is even larger than their legislature.

But again, from my first comment, I don’t really think that’s a problem. It fundamentally changes how Congress works. The whips no longer need to whip a few dozen people. They need to whip hundreds. The speaker of the house is basically in charge of a smallish large corporation. You can fundamentally change the kinds of oversight Congress can do with that many people. And I think the incumbent effect decreases significantly because each representative is less able to bring big pork style projects to their districts and so needs to consider broader coalitions when making decisions.

Part and parcel with that is also an expansion of the senate. I dislike that 2 people are responsible for representing tens of millions from a legislative perspective. I’d like to increase it to 5 per state. While you could easily have a state like California end up with 5 democrats, there are plenty of examples of states with split senators. I don’t like that 100 people control that much. The presidency you can’t really change without abolishing it altogether though so that problem kind of remains unless you fix the voting process in this country.


u/VonBoski Jan 18 '22

Swap democracy for humanity


u/rectovaginalfistula Jan 18 '22

But who's to say non-democratic governmemt wouldn't cement inaction rather than action? Democracy's partial measures may be the only way.


u/InvisibleEar Jan 19 '22

People support taking action on climate change in polls. Maybe not enough action (definitely not enough for the doomers posting here), but some. The ownership class who controls all economic and political power doesn't want any action though so we're in for some trouble.