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What Have We Done to Democracy

Arundhati Roy, Tomgram
While we’re still arguing about whether there’s life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By “democracy” I don’t mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy?

Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It’s flawed, we say. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than everything else that’s on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: “Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia… is that what you would prefer?”

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all “developing” societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn’t meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It’s meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy — too much representation, too little democracy — needs some structural adjustment…
(27 Sept 2009)

Planetary Boundaries and The Failure of Environmentalism

Alex Steffen, Worldchanging
Planetary boundaries are the natural limits on humanity’s use of the planet. Strikingly, until recently, no one had made a serious effort to quantify these limits in measurable ways. That’s why a new report from the Stockholm Resilience Center, attempting to give hard numbers for most of these boundaries, is so crucial.

The Resilience Center focused in on nine boundaries: climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading and chemical pollution. These are each critical in their own ways:

Stratospheric ozone layer The stratospheric ozone layer filters out ultraviolet radiation from the sun. (Find more on the stratospheric ozone layer in our archives: Aura.)
“In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, it was concluded that changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history…”
(Find more on biodiversity in our archives: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios.)

Chemicals dispersion
“Emissions of persistent toxic compounds such as metals, various organic compounds and radionuclides, represent some of the key human-driven changes to the planetary environment. [Their] effects are potentially irreversible. Of most concern are the effects of reduced fertility and especially the potential of permanent genetic damage.”
(Find more on chemicals dispersion in our archives: Personal Pollution Index.)

Climate Change
“We have reached a point at which the loss of summer polar ice is almost certainly irreversible. From the perspective of the Earth as a complex system, this is one example of the sharp threshold above which large feedback mechanisms could drive the Earth system into a much warmer, greenhouse gas-rich state… Recent evidence suggests that the Earth System, now passing 387 ppmv CO2, has already transgressed this Planetary Boundary.”
(Find more on Climate Change in our archives: Zero, Now.)..
(25 Sept 2009)
related: Provocative New Study Warns of Crossing Planetary Boundaries

Will modern-day flaneurs help rebuild fragmented communities?

Nika Stella-Sawicka, The Ecologist
In the age of high-speed travel, walking – alone or in groups – is the foremost way to reconnect to cities, our environment and one another

In the 1960s, the French Situationists coined the term ‘psychogeography’ to describe a radical method of mapping cities. Through aimless walks, they would recover what was unnoticed in the urban landscape, performing a phrenology of all nooks and crannies in the Parisian metropolis. The revival we see today in the idea of the flâneur as a writer of cities – through the work of Will Self, Peter Ackroyd, Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home amongst others – should inspire us all to look at walking as a form of urban participation in greater detail. As a community activity that can be freely undertaken in groups or individually, one that raises awareness of our surroundings and fosters connections between people, walking should be seen as powerful technique for defragmenting communities that have been hijacked by mass culture and capitalism.

The joy of strolling

For me, it all began with Will Self and a trip to Paris. Sat on the Eurostar late one Friday evening, faintly aware of the blurred landscape of fields and French farmhouses whizzing past me, I found myself engrossed in ‘Psychogeography’, Will Self’s and Ralph Steadman’s collection of short pieces reflecting on the connections between people and space. My frame of reference set as I strolled around the narrow historic streets of the Marais the following day, I noted my own curiosity as to what lay behind the intricate facades and towering wooden gates guarded by lion-headed door knockers. Meandering without fixed destination and mapless, I was hopeful that the city would reveal to me some treasured secret as yet undetected on the tourist radar…
(1 Sept 2009)
Hmmh… Combining walking with a localized interest in a place and its history sounds like the perfect “holiday” to me. And for an award-winning example of this concept: Walking off the big apple-KS