The Conversation: Invest in Renewable Energy to Save Democracy
Essay by Eric Worrall
According to University of California Professor Eve Darian-Smith, more government is the path to freedom. Building more renewables would protect us from Russia and President Trump.
Rising authoritarianism and worsening climate change share a fossil-fueled secret
Published: April 27, 2022 10.17pm AEST
Professor of Global and International Studies, University of California, Irvine
In my new book, “Global Burning: Rising Antidemocracy and the Climate Crisis,” I lay out connections between these industries and the politicians who are both stalling action on climate change and diminishing democracy.
Corporate capture of environmental politics
In democratic systems, elected leaders are expected to protect the public’s interests, including from exploitation by corporations. They do this primarily through policies designed to secure public goods, such as clean air and unpolluted water, or to protect human welfare, such as good working conditions and minimum wages. But in recent decades, this core democratic principle that prioritizes citizens over corporate profits has been aggressively undermined.
Today, it’s easy to find political leaders – on both the political right and left – working on behalf of corporations in energy, finance, agribusiness, technology, military and pharmaceutical sectors, and not always in the public interest. These multinational companies help fund their political careers and election campaigns to keep them in office.
In “Global Burning,” I explore how three leaders of traditionally democratic countries – Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Scott Morrison of Australia and Donald Trump in the U.S. – came to power on anti-environment and nationalist platforms appealing to an extreme-right populist base and extractive corporations that are driving climate change. While the political landscape of each country is different, the three leaders have important commonalities.
What can people do about it?
Fortunately, there is a lot that people can do to protect democracy and the climate.
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and reducing the destruction of forests can cut greenhouse gas emissions. The biggest obstacles, a recent U.N. climate report noted, are national leaders who are unwilling to regulate fossil fuel corporations, reduce greenhouse gas emissions or plan for renewable energy production.
Why does it have to be renewables?
Wouldn’t building nuclear power plants also cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce Western dependence on hostile foreign powers?
Why couldn’t the USA copy the successful French Nuclear Programme? There is no doubt nuclear power is safe, and works, because successful conversions to nuclear have already happened. For example, in the 1970s, France replaced most of their fossil fuel plants with zero carbon nuclear power, and still get most of their electricity from nuclear power plants.
No need to rely on hostile foreign powers if you embrace nuclear – Australia and Canada are major global Uranium exporters.
But being an international studies professor, I’m sure you know all this already.
Professor Darian-Smith, if greenhouse gasses and dependence on undemocratic energy suppliers are your primary concerns, shouldn’t every possible option to resolve these problems at least rate some discussion?
I think we can all guess the answer to that question.
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