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Home | 2015

Rousseau in Nature

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-10-15 14:12.

Following a recent sighting by a number of independent observers collected on this site here the latest sighting of our house zombie, pauvre Jean-Jacques Rousseau, comes from the always watchful Bishop Hill blog.

Jean-Jacques (decd.) has put in an appearance in a paper letter in the 'leading' 'science' journal Nature:

Decision-making based on social-justice principles could be more effective than democratic efforts against climate change…

Yes, that's definitely our zombie.

Correction 17.10.2015

At Bishop Hill, commenter Russell adds a useful clarification to the story. The offending text is not from an article in Nature, but a letter to the Editor in response to an article in the journal.

The original piece was an article by Nick Stehr published in Nature on 22 September 2015 entitled 'Climate policy: Democracy is not an inconvenience'. The strapline of the article was:

Climate scientists are tiring of governance that does not lead to action. But democracy must not be weakened in the fight against global warming, warns Nico Stehr.

The argument of the article as far as we can tell (the journal is paywalled) would be endorsed on this blog. It was so praiseworthy, in fact, that it provoked the following letter from three 'general will' fans in Denmark:

Climate change: Climate justice more vital than democracy

Decision-making based on social-justice principles could be more effective than democratic efforts against climate change.

Democratic decision-making involves multiple stakeholders, and democracy emphasizes the mutual roles of actors: all preferences are treated as equal. In many regions of the world, however, the results of democratic choices can be strongly influenced by power relations and inequitable social arrangements, owing to differences in economic development, access to technology and knowledge.

Elites may use democratic processes to entrench their status or encroach on other social goals. This can lead to incremental or undesirable results, which might explain why large democratic nations such as the United States continue to oppose progressive climate legislation.

In our view, sound climate and energy planning should not treat all stakeholders in the same way. Instead, preferences and roles should be weighted to consider criteria related to equity, due process, ethics and other justice principles. This would ensure that stakeholder discussions and resulting policies serve to eradicate, rather than exacerbate, socio-economic vulnerability to a changing climate.

[Signed] Jingzheng Ren, Michael Evan Goodsite, University of Southern Denmark; Benjamin K. Sovacool, Aarhus University, Denmark.

The sighting of our house zombie Jean-Jacques therefore took place not in the offices of Nature but in two Danish academies. Which is a slight improvement, but only very slight.

Thanks to commenter Russell at Bishop Hill for finally doing the leg work we should have done at the beginning.