Not too long ago, a question was posed of me by an acquaintance via email. The question was regarding my opinion on our democracy and its impact on the United State’s response to the global environmental crisis. Below is our brief but intriguing correspondence. Names have been removed to protect the privacy of individuals involved.
The E-mail –
So was watching “the hunt for black gold” and came to realize that democracy is a poor system for dealing with oil or any for the greater good projects. Abu dabai (sic) is currently constructing a renewable city but we have to such programs or the necessary drive to in the US. I see this as a failure of maintaing the power of the senate as created by the founding fathers. They originally elected the Senate by elected officials, separating decision makers from the general population. This could be bad in that senators are not directly accountable for their actions and good in that they are not susceptible to whims of their constituents. A more powerful, less accountable system could ignore public sentiment and trigger change. Thoughts?
My Response –
You bring up an interesting point and yes I agree, it is significantly more difficult to enact serious change in our representative democracy as opposed to the likes of the theocracies and monarchies of the middle east and other areas. That being said however, even if the senate had remained a non voteable body in regards to the general populous, the system was still designed to move slowly and deliberately hence the checks and balances of the three branches of government.
I cannot speak to the exact reasoning behind the founding fathers decisions surrounding the constitution, there are many people far more qualified to do that than myself (I specialized in east asian history). But if you look at a comparison of governmental stability say between ourselves and France you’ll notice that though it may take us longer in some cases to enact reform and change, when it does finally occur it tends to come with significant public support and even a sense of permanence.
I would argue that the accountability found in our legislature and executive branches is a good thing for it affords the public an opportunity to make the noted changes above on their own. And lest the tyranny of the majority tries to take control, there is the supreme court which ideally is beholden to no one but the law. In the supreme court, we have seen many of the changes of which you might describe as the “significant” changes you want being enacted against the will of a greater number but in most cases for the greater good of the nation (which this case would certainly apply). Perhaps we should look to this avenue for challenging the status quo on the environment here in the states?
His Response –
The power of lawsuits has certainly been the avenue of most environmental control, and has been used both by environmentalists and industry to secure their interests. However this role of the courts, now cemented by precedent was not originally granted to the courts. Was it John Marshall that ruled on the (sic) a law as unconstitutional giving the power to the supreme court to veto laws? I believed he ruled that the northern states could not refuse to return slaves to southern owners, a momentary set back against black freedom but would later secure minority rights during the civil rights movement. I support your opinion that the court remains the campion (sic) of the minority, for better or worse. I hope that the best science is presented and not tainted by industrial campaigning.