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Making decisions

The other day, a friend of mine asked me if I leaned more toward pluralist or majoritarian policies. I’d never heard of this dichotomy before. Apparently, this is something of a major theme in American politics, which explains my lack of awareness. Basically the difference is as follows: majoritarianism is a fancy way of saying “majority rules.” If 51% of society agrees on a certain issue, then that becomes the law. Pluralism, on the other hand, is the philosophy that smaller groups deserve a voice and should be allowed to lobby for the changes they want to see happen.

The word I’m talking about is “lobby.” Because we all know what happens when small groups are allowed to grease the wheels of politics to get what they want at the expense of everybody else. So, when asked the question of which side of the line I fell on, the only answer I could come up with was “Well… neither.”

This is indicative of a flaw in modern political thinking in both Canada and the US. – mainly, the unspoken assumption that if everyone gets a say, the result will be a situation that most people can live with. Not necessarily. Sometimes, giving everyone a say results in a situation that no one can live with. Simply put: our current political philosophies are too focused on who gets to make decisions and not on how decisions get made.

Take global warming.

To date, the scientific consensus on the subject is over 99% in favour of human-caused global warming. (I’ll just leave this here.). Based on rigorous, peer-reviewed studies, the scientific community has reached the conclusion that the evidence reflects a rapid rise in Earth’s temperature and that CO2 emissions are the culprit. This is a hard, physical reality that won’t go away no matter how many of us choose to ignore it.

But that sure doesn’t stop us from trying! Here’s an excerpt from the blog of a climate change denier. “The claim arises from this June 2010 PNAS study. Read it if you have the time and stomach, but the bottom line is that about 97% to 98% of climate researchers (if not more) are paid by the government and climate interest groups to support and to advance the global warming hypothesis and, guess what, they do.”

So, to clarify, this man’s hypothesis is that the “97% of scientists” – who come from just about every country on this planet – are all taking bribe money by “the government” to produce results that support global warming. Using just Occam’s Razor, tell me which is more likely: that 97% of scientists should agree on something or that 97% of scientists should be part of a vast global conspiracy to spread misinformation with the sole purpose of raising taxes.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it were just a fringe of nutjobs on the Internet. But this very debate goes on in the circles of government and the vast majority of MPs – even if they accept the existence of global warming – choose to do nothing about it. Does anyone remember ten years ago when Canada made a big deal about how committed it was to following the Kyoto Protocol?

Yeah well...

“Environment Minister Peter Kent said staying in Kyoto would force Canada to spend about $14-billion buying carbon credits abroad because the country is so far behind in meeting its targets. He blamed the previous Liberal government, saying it agreed to targets without a plan to achieve them.

‘Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,’ he said, confirming that the government would invoke its legal right to withdraw from the agreement. He predicted other countries will follow suit.”

So, let’s review.

We set targets for emission reduction, did nothing to meet those targets and then said “to hell with this!”

If you follow the global warming literature, you’ll realize that failure to address this problem will almost certainly result in a severe reduction in habitable land, massive food shortages, increased disease and possibly even societal collapse. The Southern United States, for instance would become completely uninhabitable as temperatures will reach highs of 170 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s me being conservative and restrained in my “doom and gloom.” A very plausible outcome of Global Warming is the extinction of the human species.

If we’re going to address this, we need to take a hard look at how we make decisions. Do we accept truths we don’t like based on the available evidence. Do we squeeze our eyes shut and hope the bad news goes away? We need to take a hard look at what we prioritize. Stephen Harper has claimed that trying to address global warming will make Canada less competitive. Is that more important than preventing a global catastrophe. We need to embrace what I call the Principle of Disinterest.

_______________

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