Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 21 October 2006, p. 39.
Do you ever get the feeling that we are at a pivotal point in the history of the world? Just to list the issues which face us is confronting enough: drought, global warming, nuclear energy, terrorism, war in Iraq and North Korea’s nuclear bomb. Only the first of these is primarily a local issue, though all have domestic implications. Even the drought, if it is linked directly to global warming, and this remains somewhat less than certain, may be part of a fundamental change in global weather patterns and not just part of the alternating cycle of good and bad seasons/years which Australia has experienced over the centuries. Other parts of the world are also experiencing greater extremes of weather variation.
It is tempting to imitate the mythical ostrich and just bury one’s head in the sand or a book or switch on the iPod and let it all wash over us. We are such a small part of the problem in Australia that anything we do cannot contribute much to any of the solutions, though we pump out more than our share of greenhouse gases. Most of the issues tend to be highly complex and your head begins to hurt soon after you start thinking seriously about even one of them, far less the whole lot taken together.
But that is not really a good response. David Suzuki, the environmental writer and activist, talked to George Negus this week and made the point that children do not have the vote, and therefore politicians cannot take account of them. So who speaks for the next generation, whose future may be totally compromised by our decisions or non-decisions today? The cynical response is why should I do anything for posterity, what has posterity done for me?
I was asked recently what is the most important issue in the world today. My reply was ‘it is finding a way to create an acceptable democratic form of world government so that global issues can be addressed more effectively. It took us several hundred years to learn how to govern the nation state, but we may not have that long to tackle world government’. At present we only have the United Nations, set up in the aftermath of the Second World War in somewhat different circumstances, though there was one super power at that point, the United States of America, and another one, the Soviet Union, which had the numbers on its side. Now we have the USA and China in similar relative positions.
The common element which links all the issues I mentioned at the start is that they require some form of effective world government for any realistic solution. Tackling any or all of them is beyond the power of any single nation, even one with as much military power and technological expertise as the United States. I have mentioned the work of George Monbiot in previous columns. He has been arguing for a democratic world government, based on universal suffrage, for some time. We agree that one person, one vote is the way to go in Australia. Should we be thinking seriously about that for the world as a whole? The most that the United States will come at when it extols the virtues of democracy is one which is confined within national boundaries.
Such a limited approach is bolstered by the belief, regularly trotted out, that some societies are incapable of democracy and require a strong dictator to keep the people in order. Alternatively it will be argued that in societies in which religious groups are powerful and backed by some particular ideologies there is no clear separation between church and state and hence no prospect of a secular democracy. So when Palestine or Iran or Colombia throws up an elected government which the United States does not like, it is denounced, denied a hearing or even destabilised. In such cases the bastion of democracy sometimes appears as its opponent.
The fundamental argument for democracy based on universal suffrage has always been that if people have a sense of ownership or at the very least participation in the political process that they will exercise that power responsibly. For all its faults, that is what Australian democracy does. Imposing democracy by force, as has been attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan, does not look very promising, but we should not give up on the search for more effective ways of achieving what may be necessary to tackle the issues which confront us and which require a common, human approach. And in the meantime use water as carefully as you can.