Will climate wars destroy democracy?

Every where today, freedom is under threat.

The world is bearing witness to a stunning rise in dictatorship, fascism and authoritarianism.

This move away from the rule of law and from the protection of human rights is already destroying democracy.

What will happen as the climate changes? What will happen to our political systems as the world gets hotter, and weather more extreme? A world where droughts and hurricanes are common place? Where the seas have risen three or more feet?

Will we see climate wars destroy democracy?

(1) Lack of preparation makes our politics vulnerable. It’s not just our sea levels and social infrastructure that is at risk of failure through climate inaction. Our politics — a type of social good — are also very much at risk. Most countries are just not prepared for the changes to come.

In the United States, there is not even a basic recognition that those changes are coming!

Just like anything else in life, by failing to prepare, the results will be significantly worse. And our politics will also be vulnerable.

The legal system will not be structured right to deal with climate damage, or people movement. Representatives in government will not really no what to do, if they are not ready to accept the basic science.

As hurricanes batter unprepared coast lines, or as buildings sink under rising seas, our political systems will be similarly caught up, without guard, towards the social and political effects of these extreme changes.

2) Vulnerability increases the threat of mob rule and authoritarian leadership. A public that has not been prepared to deal with climate change is more likely to panic or engage in mob practices. They may be more willing to look for “superheroes,” e.g., strong men or strong women who will insist on emergency powers to counteract the social changes.

Current people movements across borders are already being used as an excuse and as a cover for authoritarian practices, like border camps without due process. Increasing people movements may cause governments to expand political powers at the border and in other places, where there are few legal checks.

In political theory, areas where the sovereign wields extra-legal powers are called “states of exception.” Thus, climate change may see a significant increase in these “states of exception,” which chip away at democratic norms and the rule of law.

3) Dictators and authoritarians may use war as a way of dealing with problems. History reveals countless examples where leaders of failing states have used wars to rally the people behind a common cause. As social services crumble, as societies start to collapse from the strain of climate-induced problems, war is likely to be used as a theater to keep people in line. New enemies will be created and sold to a willing public looking for someone to blame.

4) Endless wars will destroy democracy. This is a truism as old as political theory.

To paraphrase James Madison, no society can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

18 years of war in the United States, through the so-called “war on terror”, have destroyed the rule of law and created the framework for strongmen like Trump to become President.

If societies start to really adopt warfare as the raison d’etre of the state, democratic norms will cease to exist.

Climate change will challenge every aspect of our lives, including our political lives. This is what makes a meaningful social response to climate change, today, so urgent.