Climate case shows: A 4th power is needed: a ‘Tetra politica’

Society faces an immense problem, preventing catastrophic climate change in order to save itself. Which requires a huge turnaround, and choices in what can and can’t be done any longer , and all that very fast, we only have a few years to make those choices and start conjuring, to be ready in 2050, and having a CO2 neutral society established. That requires phasing out all fossil energy. Which is precisely what keep our current society running.

Well, those choices have to be made, 193 parliaments in Paris have already opted for that in 2015. We are 4 years later, and not much has happened yet. There is some subsidy here and there, but fundamental choices have not yet been made, they are not even on the agenda, everyone tries to avoid these, with a few exceptions. Consciously, such as Bhutan and Costa Rica, or unconsciously such as Cuba. The latter is about the level of prosperity that is globally sustainable, not because it has made climate choices, but because it refused to be sucked into the imperialist and capitalist growth world, with all its power dependencies. (implicitly making a choice for climate neutrality). And China limps on two thoughts. On the one hand huge growth, to pull millions out of (financial) poverty, on the other hand sustainability, with fundamental choices and huge projects. They actually get off the ground, but are still far outweighed by the traditional growth.

If we look at democracies, we see that they fail so far completely, fundamental choices have not yet been made. The verdict in the Urgenda climate case makes that clear again, That process started no less than 6 years ago. It appears that democracies are unable to take real steps. Even the judge is ignored. What must be enforced is determined by politicians, and these do not oversee the problem. Moreover, even if they would do, a well-functioning democracy is a system that is far too slow to cope with major threats. That only works if they get carte blanche in times of disaster or in times of war. Climate is (for them) not yet seen as a major threat, apparently. So it has to be done in the official way: to include a few half hearted measures as proposals in party programs, hope that they will be elected, followed by endless negotiations because majorities require 3 parties, during which everything is compromised. Because what people want is central, not nature and what it can deliver.

All that in an atmosphere in which fake information is disseminated, as well as not well informed opinions and articles (also by journalists), whereby scientific facts are again doubted, and compromise starts all over again.

Journalists, who could be seen as a kind of controlling power, are in general also poorly informed in this area. They highlight a theme, and then deal with it in isolation (and give room to deniers). Moreover, (most) journalists do not have enough baggage to ask critical questions and to puncture pertinent untruths. They too are trapped in the same sphere trapped by hypes. For example, with a full focus on energy: while all energy solutions shift the impact to resource use. The use of more technology and material is therefore rarely denounced. Even the other way around, growth and more-technology thinkers get all the space they need, because they provide journalistic stories that are optimistic. The controlling power fails because it does not know what to control.

Formally, as a parliamentary democracy, we have a legislative, executive and judicial power. The legislature does not know what choices to make or does not dare to. If she has made these indirectly and implicitly, such as with regard to CO2 treaties, then she ignores the enforcement power, the judge, if she is reminded of this. The executive power is powerless, and must follow the legislator, which leads to arresting and fining peaceful extinction rebellion protesters, and allowing farmers to disrupt society and blackmail the government. And the controlling power, reports on it, and offers a platform for emotions, about something that is not about emotions.

What then? We do not, of course, want to install a dictatorship, which could have arranged things in no time. In the long term you do not know how that will turn out, and moreover: this will also throw the controlling power overboard. The solution will therefore have to come from within the system, creating a mandate to act quickly and drastically.

The solution lies in making a distinction between two things: the people, and what they want and can do, and how they like to live together , and the system, nature, the planet, how much can be sustained bio-physically, without collapsing. Until now, mankind has put himself at the center of all, for the last 2,000 years, assuming that nature was only there to serve him or her. Even put laid down in a declaration of human rights. That is why, for example, we spend billions every year to eat, its our right, even though we are not hungry. Or buy new furniture, while we already had furniture. Etcetera. This is no longer possible, as the signals in nature show, in which we run out of drinking water supplies, ore concentrations are becoming increasingly thinner, land and soil is exhausted, and the climate is tilted, which can cost us the head.

We must therefore first determine the limits within which society can operate, before people can try to get as many wishes as possible arranged through politics. All within those limits. If these are clearly indicated, then that does not require any political discussion anymore either.

The Urgenda case judgment is based, among other things, on a declaration of human rights. The right to be protected. But that right, it has now been shown, also leads to human duties: the duty to stay within planetary limits. It is time for that to be given its own place in the political and legal constellation. Say an declaration of human duties. To stay within those limits.

In other words, the Trias Politica, which only takes into account what people want to arrange among themselves, and how they confront each other about it, must therefore be expanded or supplemented: in addition to the legislative, executive and enforcement powers, there must be a ‘limiting power’. A power that sets frameworks, the hard limits within which politics can make choices. Montesquieu could not have foreseen that at the time, but would no doubt have added it today.

The time to debate climate change for another few years is gone. A Tetra Politica, with a fourth power officially added, has to be installed soon, led by science. For this, the current scientific advisory councils must then be transformed into a power with delineating authority. For example, based on the IPCC model, but then organized and integrated on a national scale.

It then sets hard limits within which society must operate, which then yields a certain level of prosperity that can be sustained over the course of years, rather than having to exhaust all sorts of supplies and change the climate. Of course there will also be much discussion about those limits. But that is independent of political squabbling, and gives politicians the mandate, regardless of party or political color, to arrange matters within those limits. They are no longer part of a elections in which anyone can choose anything.

In fact, that limiting power is the same as the legal power: with the difference that the legal power decides on social and cultural arrangements for society in which people live together, the rights, and the limiting power sets limits on the physical environment in which life can be sustained, the duties. Currently these are united in one hand, and the judiciary can only intervene if that legislature itself has set limits. But the conflict of interests is clear: the boundaries of one, usually the physical, are stretched in favor of the other, the social urge. If the same institution has to make that decision, the tendency is to favor society, after all, that is the voter. And it is no wonder that hard science usually loses out, if you realize that there are mainly alphas in the parliament, almost no Beta’s: only 5 currently , of which only 1 biologist and 1 physicist. Out of 150! And they must safeguard the natural balance between 148 others …

Everything in this world is ultimately a personal or political choice. But assuming that we do not want to ‘exterminate’ ourselves, we can therefore also decide to add a 4th power, because , with physical boundaries, there is nothing to choose from .Maybe you could see the limiting power as a war ministry, but that presupposes temporality. While physical borders no longer going away, we have reached the limits of the earthbound system. And thus formally have to be embedded in the form of a 4th power modeled on the 3rd power, a limiting power alongside the legislature. One for humans, the other for the supporting natural system. That saves , in terms of the Urgenda climate case, at least 6 years, in response time to the ‘enemy’ ….

* in fact, for those who have read my book, this is again the R / P ratio: where the legislature deals with the P, the people, and the limiting power with the R the sources: The people-wishes versus the resource boundaries, both with their own framing power.

Author: ronald rovers