In her lead article, Ulrike Rheinard wonders whether democracy is a guarantee for climate protection policies. From a Moroccan perspective and with the above story in mind I can say:
– The example of the Moulouya disaster shows that when a political system is centralized, and when economic and industrial players are tightly bonded with media and policy-makers (or are themselves policy-makers) rather than media and policy-makers being closely connected with citizens and NGOs, there are big risks for the environment. Media which should act as a catalyzer for citizen awareness becomes a cosmetic tool for industry or policy-makers or both.
– My personal answer to Ulrike Reinhard’s question would be a nuanced ‘yes’. Environmentally harmful policies are more flagrant and less subject to accountability in dictatorships. For example in the 20th century, under Stalin the USSR built several closed cities for nuclear projects where only workers for nuclear programs lived. As a pay off for accepting the health risks, the citizens were provided with much better living conditions than the other soviets – good schools, more comfortable houses and so on. These closed cities are still radioactive and classified as state secrets. The Bhopal catastrophe in India and French nuclear tests in Algeria are other examples of dictatorships exposing citizens to hazardous environmental conditions. In all these examples we see that environmental threats can hardly be averted by pressure from the people when a lack of accountability makes it impossible for them to question policy-makers.
– In western liberal democracies, though, the media still sometimes play an harmful role by spreading preconceived ideas or by giving “climate skeptics” or “renewable energies skeptics” more coverage than what their point of view really represents in the scientific community. At the 2010 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum on “The Heat is on – Climate Change and the Media” I had the opportunity to attend the workshop on “Coverage vs. Advocacy” where this issue of balancing media coverage was discussed. I will come back to this in a later post. The key point, though, is the citizen’s right to neutral information. If this right were given and used, the risk of manipulation as in the debates on nuclear energy or prejudices about some forms of renewable energy like photovoltaic power (solar energy) would be reduced.
To go back to my initial question of whether a democratic Morocco would be more sustainable, my viewpoint is that even if an advanced democracy were established in Morocco, and even if the level of accountability among policy-makers were increased