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  • Robert Hinkley

Thought for the Day

11/27. Democracy is designed to protect people’s freedom. It allows the people and institutions it governs to engage in any behaviour unless the elected representatives of the people have already passed a law specifically prohibiting it. This is why it’s called liberal democracy.

An interesting aspect of this arrangement is that laws prohibiting behaviour tend to get passed only after the behaviour proves itself to be harmful to the public interest. In other words, democracy works by containing harmful behaviour once it shows itself. Most of the time, this strategy is effective and the damage inflicted is kept to a minimum.

Photo by Richard Miller

A weakness of this arrangement is that the passage of new laws is subject to politics and politics can be manipulated by vested interests, money, and misinformation. The passage of new laws restricting behaviour can be delayed and sometimes frustrated altogether. This can become a real problem when the harm is widespread and severe, and the parties causing it are disinclined to stop (i.e., self-regulate), before a new law can be passed.

This is where we find ourselves concerning the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by big corporations. These companies are endangering the Earth and our survival. The world has known about this for more than thirty years.

There’ve been twenty-seven Conferences of the Parties (COPs) where the nations of the world came together to try to do something about the problem. They pledged to each other that they would pass new laws curtailing emissions, but when they returned home, those pledges went unfulfilled. Restrictions on emissions weren’t enacted. The problem grew more dire.

There is another solution, make it a duty of company directors to prevent their companies causing severe harm to the environment. Under existing law, they are encouraged to allow the company’s destructive behaviour to continue.

As far as I am aware, it’s the only law where government encourages people to continue harming the public interest. It should be changed. Doing so should have widespread public support and run into less opposition than trying to pass laws that restrict emissions. Tomorrow we’ll discuss how and why.

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