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US Democracy Is Under Threat
But, not how you think it is.
Saying that the US has had a politically tumultuous time lately would be an understatement. The Capitol Riots and Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2021 election are just the tip of a deep and disturbing anti-democracy iceberg. While the US is still far from having true fascist leanings, there is a growing movement within its borders to undermine and influence its democracy. What’s most worrying, though, is that this is happening in broad daylight and being mostly unreported and unchallenged. This is remarkable, as we should have seen this coming a mile away, considering these problems were predicted hundreds of years ago.
Okay, so what is going unreported?
Well, conservative activists and politicians across the country are trying to restrict or contort the teaching of climate science in schools. By now, this might sound like par for the course these days or just an annoyance. But it is far from that.
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But what are they doing exactly? Republican lawmakers, state education officials and local school board members across the US have tried to change climate curriculum over the past year with mixed success. Legislators in Ohio are expected to pass a bill requiring colleges and universities to teach ‘both sides’ of climate change. i.e. that it both does and doesn’t exist. A member of a local school board in Pennsylvania sought to block the use of a climate-themed novel in middle school because, he said, it was “propaganda.” Meanwhile, climate change denouncing videos produced by the far-right media group PragerU, which has close ties to the oil industry, are being approved for use in schools in numerous states, including Florida. Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters recently announced that his state would approve PragerU content in the classroom. Walters said, “This is also content that will be factually based with no left-wing indoctrination. We always want our kids to know the facts.”
However, PragerU is far from factual. Climate Feedback, Reuters and the Weather Channel have found that PragerU’s videos are wildly inaccurate and make vastly misleading claims about climate change. It has also been criticised across the board for spreading false and misleading information about the Covid-19 pandemic.
You see, there is no ‘leftist agenda’ in climate change and humanity’s role in causing it. It is a demonstrably provable hard fact repeatedly shown to be accurate by a smorgasbord of scientists and institutions worldwide. Likewise, the deadly consequences of climate change are not only predictable but provable. What’s more, the children currently in schools are the ones who will have to bear the brunt of climate change more than anyone else. They will face regular lethal extreme weather, food scarcity (even in developed countries), international financial stress and even climate reparations all because of climate change.
These children deserve genuine, accurate, bipartisan information about the climate and our role within it. Only then can they engage in democracy and accurately chart a safe and prosperous passage forward. It’s like giving an incorrect map to a sailor. They will get lost at sea and shipwrecked with the wrong information.
Instead of accurate information, these children are being taught using PragerU and other anti-climate, anti-science materials. Make no bones about it: this is right-wing indoctrination and propaganda at work at the very base of American democracy. But why are they doing this? Why are they pushing it?
I can see two reasons: funding and demographic shift.
The Republican Party is far more funded by oil companies than the Democrats. For example, in 2020, the oil companies spent $63.6 billion lobbying the Republican Party and only $12.3 billion lobbying the Democrats. Why? Well, the Republicans favour lower taxes and other legislation which greatly benefit the oil companies, allowing them to amass more wealth. This means the Republicans are dependent on keeping the oil companies happy. If they move against them, a significant portion of their funding will go away, giving them a vast handicap compared to the Democrats. So, they need to indoctrinate the masses into believing climate change isn’t real to pass pro-oil legislation without risking losing power.
The US also has a massive demographic split that is getting worse. More than half of the Republican voters are over 50. In fact, their voter base has aged significantly, as in 1996, only 36% of Republican voters were over 50. Why? Well, those aged under 50 (as of today) grew up being taught about climate change and tend to be in industries less dependent on oil, so they tend not to vote Republican as they understand what their pro-oil stance entails. This means as time ticks on, the Republican’s voter base ages, dies and shrinks. If the Republican Party is to stay relevant in US politics, it needs a massive injection of younger voters ASAP. PragerU and other anti-climate school materials are the key to this.
In other words, rather than changing their funding structure and using more scientifically backed conservative legislation (yes, that can exist) to attract voters, the Republicans (or at least some of them) are instead trying to undermine US democracy by indoctrinating youth through misleading schooling.
This flaw in democracy was actually first recognised and predicted by Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher. He didn’t like democracy, as the general populace was uneducated in the manners that affected them. Instead, he supported rule by “philosopher kings” who didn’t seek power but instead had the knowledge and ability to lead. He likened this to a sailing vessel. The crew couldn’t successfully plot a course democratically, as most of them didn’t know how to navigate. They also couldn’t vote for a candidate to navigate, as they are ill-equipped to figure out who has the skills to do so, leaving the door open for deceitful and manipulative people to take power. Instead, the navigator should be the one to plot the course, as, despite the fact they don’t seek power, they have the ability to lead successfully and take the boat to where it needs to go.
Now, Plato’s argument held up in the 400 BCE era, as most people were uneducated. But the reason modern democracy works is because the populace is educated. This means we have the ability and information at hand that we need to figure out who should lead us. What PragerU and the Republicans are doing is undermining that fact, purposely spreading misinformation to portray themselves in a better light to try and take power. That is, despite the fact that they have a massive climate blind spot in their navigational abilities.
Such moral corruption was also predicted, but this time by Ibn Khaldun, a Tunisian philosopher from the 1300s. He states that “governments prevent injustice, other than such as it commits itself.” Which is a statement that opens up a whole other topic of conversation. But in a nutshell, he found governments went through cycles. When they start out, they are all about justice. Then, as they gain power, they become less concerned with the well-being of their own citizens and act more in their own self-interest, exploiting people and leading to injustice. This leads to the collapse of the government and the birth of a new one. Well, America is more powerful than it has ever been and is threatened by new superpowers like China. Equally, the Republicans, until Biden was voted in, were more powerful than they had been for an awfully long time. So, if we paid attention to Ibn Khaldun’s teachings, we should expect the Republicans and the American Government in general to act in their own self-interest and not for the greater good of the people.
Does this mean we will have to wait for the Republican Party or the American Government to implode to see a more just approach to climate change?
Well, luckily not. Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, said there are regional skirmishes over how and whether to teach climate science. However, they are uneven and unlikely to find traction in much of the country. He added, “The arc is bending toward more and better climate change education nationally, and that’s going to be uneven, incremental and scattered, but that’s the trendline.” In fact, there has been massive pushback to anti-climate curriculums across the country. In Montana, a bill that would have schools teach climate science as a theory rather than a fact (which it is) died in the state legislature earlier this year. Likewise, lawmakers recently failed to replace Earth Science with a computer class in North Carolina. In Utah, the board of education stopped an effort to remove the teaching of climate science from schools. But best of all, in Indiana, new standards have recently been implemented that require a more robust and scientifically accurate climate education.
This is why Plato’s argument against democracy doesn’t hold up today. The American populace is educated enough to see what the Republicans are doing here and is willing to defend and strengthen their educational systems to ensure future generations can vote with the correct information at hand and to stop indoctrination. As long as that trend keeps going, American democracy is safe.
I will say, it is only safe if the Republican Party realises that conservative politics and climate action are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of examples around the world of right-wing or centre-right governments that don’t have a tendency to undermine science and are also making massive progress towards stopping climate change, such as the governments of Britain, Switzerland, Poland, Finland and Sweden. For the Republicans to remain a part of future American politics, they must stop their pro-oil, anti-climate stance and offer a version of conservatism that is more based on scientific reality. After all, statistics tell us that there are tens of millions of voters in the US with conservative leanings that are also pro-climate action. Surely, the Republicans can make such a shift; after all, it is in their best interests to do so.
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