Has a reliable way of selecting a good government ever been devised? And, in the rare case of good government being achieved, is there any way of keeping it on the right course?
A quick look round the corridors of power across the world right now might make you doubt it. Then again, I don’t think right now is anything special. Pick any time and place in history and your chance of landing on an unequivocally sound government is pretty slim.
It’s not just that there may be something dodgy about those who seek power. There are decent and honourable reasons for wanting to call the shots, but there are also plenty of less worthy motivations. The worthy may or may not be outnumbered, but they are sadly likely to be outplayed by the less scrupulous.
And then, as they say, power corrupts. A saying which is true of more kinds of power than the purely political sort.
Financial power may be the greatest corrupter – or lure to the already corrupt – of all. And as for the kind of power you hook up to when you turn your key in the ignition or insert your three-pin plug in the wall-socket…
The Amazon rainforest is under threat. We all know this by now, and we probably all know several good reasons why it’s a bad thing. But what power do we have to save it?
The forest may be the lungs of the Earth, but there are powerful predators wanting to take chunks out of it.
The Brazilian government is planning right now to grant permission for 42 massive dams to be built right through the heart of the forest. What for? Well, power of course.
Power to drive an increasingly electricity-dependent society. And, inevitably, the power of big global business cash.
Never mind that flooding the forest will drown vast numbers of already endangered animals and plantlife. And deprive the survivors of livable habitat.
With each dam submerging vast areas of rainforest under deep water, hundreds if not thousands of monkeys, tapirs, anteaters and birds could perish, pushing precious species closer to the brink of extinction.
Never mind that the flooding will displace thousands of people who won’t benefit in any way from all that generated power. Though it may well force them into dependency, the newest and poorest members of a modern society they’d be better off not knowing or understanding.
That’s progress for you. That’s power.
The building of just one dam means the destruction of hundreds of square miles of rainforest. The recently-completed Belo Monte dam wiped out huge areas of forest, then failed to produce anywhere near its power targets. Once built, it wasn’t fit for purpose. But the damage done cannot be reversed.
Another 42 dams adds up to a catastrophic level of devastation. A catastrophe not just for the indigenous people and the native wildlife, but for the world.
And in a way it’s not fair to blame the Brazilian government too much. They, after all, like governments everywhere, are in the power of global corporations.
Which is to say, governed by market forces. Except that the term “market forces” is a weaselly way of making it sound like something natural, something inevitable.
Taking the spotlight off the powerful people who call the shots. The faceless men (they’re mostly men) in international boardrooms who care a lot about their own money – their own power – and not at all about the jaguar, the toucan, the tapir, the princess flower or the forest people.
A spirit-crushing prospect for the environment
Brexit, we keep being told, means Brexit. Which means what, exactly?
I’m fairly sure nobody voted for a concerted attack on the environment. But among many things we stand to lose by leaving the EU are decades of hard-won progress on clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat.
One pro-Brexit Tory, George Eustice, called European nature protections “spirit-crushing”. Which is itself a pretty spirit-crushing thought.
From the day of the vote, all kinds of undesirables have taken it as a licence to emerge from the cupboard. We’ve heard about the racists, we’ve heard about those who want to rid us of human rights and decent working conditions. Now it seems there’s even a climate sceptic group called “Clexit” that wants to abandon last year’s Paris agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.
You’d have thought by now that the climate-change denier would have gone the same way as the flat-earther. Except for one thing. There’s no money in claiming the world’s flat.