It's a bit of conceit among the "educated left" that, "We're on the right side of history." Gender, racial and income equality. The Green New Deal. Voting rights. Community action. All these things are laudable in the context of a healthy planet, capitalist economy and an orderly set of interdependent international relationships. But in the face of a global, inevitable existential climate event, are they even remotely possible? Is democratic action the best way to forge through a crisis of unprecedented magnitude? Or will the slow wheels of compromise and consensus grind us to a pulp as our inability to act decisively brings the world as we know it to an end?
A couple of perhaps unrelated, even crackpot conspiratorial, observations: When W took over in January, 2001, there were "secret" meetings between the Bush Administration and the heads of the energy industry, the substance of which has never been revealed. The policies that came out of that meeting broke considerably from predecessor policies and the arc of history. They made little sense other than when seen purely through the lens of greed and power. The liberals among us (myself included) assumed nefarious motives and a sweetheart deal to fatten the oil barons and corporate elite. We weren't wrong. They definitely got fat. So did the military and its contractors. But what if that windfall was the byproduct of something much bigger? What if you just took the reins of power and learned definitively, that it was too late for globally scaled energy transformation, that climate change was so far advanced there was little to do in the short-term but minimize the carnage to come. You might behave as Bush and Cheney did.
First, you would try to extend the inevitable energy shortage for as long as possible by increasing/securing supply (invade Iraq, initiate fracking anywhere and everywhere). The second thing you would do is create a lifeboat for the wealthy--the ones most able to survive--through tax breaks and sweetheart financial deals. The third thing you would do would be to weaken Constitutional protections. This is the most pernicious part. In a true climate crisis, people are going to have to be moved and categorized for their survival. Our rights will need to be "adjusted" for the common good. I can't believe what I'm writing here and it's positively Hitlerian. But in the context of an extinction-level event, not all of us are going to make it and someone is going to have to make hard choices.
In order to survive the next 50 years, and perhaps as a species, we going to need highly centralized, mass action. Political movements, and ironically technology, are trending this way. Democracy is under fire nearly everywhere. In the US, in Europe, in Asia and India as populations become more restive as hammer-locked governments fail to meet the needs of their citizens. Strongmen are ascendant as people clamor for concrete solutions, no matter the social cost. Technology has converged into FAANG--five companies, all propelled by massive data that in turn will be sliced and diced into AI-driven decision engines. It's not too much of a stretch to envision a future where AI proscribes which products you can buy and at what price. Which medicines you're allowed to take and how much exercise you must have to retain your insurance policy or qualify for government health care. AI will determine where you can live so the community can equalize the strain on the supporting systems like food, water, education and transportation. It's not too much of a stretch to envision AI elections, where Big Data fields candidates vie for public affirmation, not voting as we know it now. These candidates will have been vetted based on their abilities to meet the priorities AI identifies in our society. It will be based on cold efficiency not on party, celebrity, likability or any of the other quaint parameters we use now to determine our leadership. This pursuit of efficiency will overrule everything else. Not because we want it that way, but because we have no choice.
If the scenario laid out here is remotely true, our democratic system as it has existed for the past 250+ years, sadly and ultimately won't work. It's too slow, too cumbersome and vague to meet the needs of the challenges ahead. So when we claim that we're on the right side of history, we might think again.