Will climate change destroy democracy?

That’s one way in which the wisdom of liberal-democratic government is being called into question today. As climate change and the collapse of biodiversity accelerates, leading to human suffering and destabilization, the case for keeping political power in the hands of populations that refused to address the problem when it could have made a difference (and that still succumb to bickering when attempting to fashion a response) is likely to decline, creating a hunger for extra-democratic leadership to address the consequences with wisdom and resolution.

But let’s consider another, seemingly happier possibility: a near-term future in which the nations of the world somehow come to their collective senses and embrace a combination of radical changes in energy production and consumption, agriculture and food production, and population size and growth. As a result, greenhouse-gas emissions, pollution, and other forms of environmental strain begin to recede, allowing the planet and its human inhabitants to reverse course, recover, and avert the worst doomsday scenarios.

That sounds delightful — at least until we realize that these changes could only be achieved by the implementation of significant cuts to economic growth. To slow or halt climate change, we need to get smaller — producing fewer offspring, expending less energy, emitting less pollution, consuming fewer resources.

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