18 October 2013

An Exchange on Scientific Authoritarianism

Last month Björn-Ola Linnér and I took part in an exchange on the pages of a major Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter. In an effort to bring the discussion to a broader audience, we now have English versions of the exchange.

Our initial piece was motivated in part by the Swedish Global Challenges Foundation which is advocating for a "global legal system" -- that is, a form of global government. Both Linnér and I are supportive of institutions of global governance. The key questions that we see involve not whether such institutions are needed (the are, and many already exist) but how they operate.

Some statements from the GCF suggest to us a need for a more in depth conversation. For instance, the GCF writes (PDF):
A global legal system also means, in principle, that the responsibility of the handling of major global problems is taken off the shoulders of national politicians. Instead, a few supranational organizations are given the mandate and responsibility to supervise mankind’s important common interests ...
 The GCF suggests a model of governance based on experts:
The organization must have the capability, expertise and sufficient resources. These, for example, would identify, analyze and assess severe global problems and risks, as well as initiate or take appropriate actions for optimal management of problems and risks.
So to help advance such a conversation we wrote up an op-ed, explicitly raising questions of governance, expertise and democratic principles (PDF):
We see however for us a worrying tendency among some scientists to use climate and other environmental science reports to advocate for more authoritarian political systems and a call for an emergency order by  emphasizing the worst case scenarios of these reports as a “trump card” in political debates.
That prompted a response from the GCF (PDF):
Linnér and Pielke seem to confuse a global legal order with authoritarianism. But creating institutions to make joint decisions on a global scale is not to restrict democracy range without expanding it.
Then a final rejoinder from us:
We are pleased that Szombatfalvy, Wallström and Rockström agree with us that authoritarian approaches must be avoided (DN-debatt 2/10). In times when commentators advocate a “climate Dictator” (Tendens 2/10), it is extremely important that the representatives of Global Challenges Foundation are clear about what they mean by a new political order.
Scientific authoritarianism does not appear to be something many are comfortable calling for, and that is a good thing.

You can read the whole exchange, including also a letter from Prof. Olaf Johannson-Stenson (PDF), here. Comments welcomed.