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“Today's democracy cannot save us from the climate crisis”

We need a third alternative between democracy and eco-fascism, says philosopher Odin Lysaker. In a new book, he advocates ecological love.

Photo of people holding plants
"It is important that both politicians and citizens are aware that there is a golden middle way when it comes to representative democracy and saving nature," says Odin Lysaker. (Image illustration: iStockphoto)

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are facing an ecological crisis. The planet is warming, sea levels are rising, and weather patterns are becoming more severe.

But are we using all the tools available to us in a democracy to address the issue?

No, according to philosopher Odin Lysaker. He is a professor at the University of Agder and author of the bookEcological Democracy. There he outlines, with cautious optimism, ways out of the predicament humanity has put itself in.

Non-representative democracy 

Foto av Odin Lysaker

"I am curious about how citizen councils can supplement democratic elections," says philosopher Odin Lysaker – a topic he writes more about in his book Ecological Democracy.

"There is a mismatch between the extent of the nature and climate crisis and how many voices are being heard in democratic elections. Small island nations in the Pacific, where sea levels are rising, are not being heard. Neither are children and young people under the age of eighteen. Refugees without citizenship cannot express their opinions," he says.

Lysaker argues that our representative democracy does not give sufficient representation. He believes that we should think beyond our usual frameworks when considering which voices are not being heard.

Omslaget til boken Ecological Democracy

The book Ecological Democracy: Caring for the Earth in the Anthropocene is available as open access from Routledge.

"The rivers that are being acidified and the air that is being polluted, for instance, also have their perspectives. It may sound cryptic to some, but it comes down to recognising how we are all affected by pollution and figuring out a way to give everyone a voice, from endangered species to vulnerable groups," says Lysaker.

Citizen councils can create meeting places 

The concept ‘ecological democracy’ in the book title has roots that go back several decades. It started as an attempt to combine Arne Næss' deep ecology with Jürgen Habermas' theories of democracy.

"When faced with nature and climate issues, we often encounter the argument that we should avoid eco-fascism, where a strong state intervenes and overrides democracy. Surprisingly few politicians are aware that these questions have been discussed for many decades by renowned political scientists," Lysaker says.

He believes that citizen councils can supplement the right to vote. This would serve to strengthen democracy and create more meeting places.

"The members of the council could be chosen by lottery, across political divides, gender, and age. Perhaps those are exactly the ones who need to meet in order to create change, take each other seriously, and listen and learn from each other," he suggests.

Emotional involvement 

In his book, Lysaker uses the concept of ecological love as a common thread.

"Everything that exists has intrinsic value and should be protected just like us humans. Ecological love is one way of practicing this ideal. It is a love for everything that exists," says Lysaker.

The philosopher believes that by practicing ecological love, it may be easier to get emotionally involved and to open up for political action.

"We should not think of emotions as something to be expressed only at home. Emotions are also related to politics. We are ourselves all the time, with all our senses and emotions," he adds.

The first step towards developing such love is to pause, he says.

"It is important to sit down, breathe out, and slow down. Go outside into nature, touch the trees, walk backwards into the water. Have concrete experiences of nature encountering us and being there together," he says.

The book Ecological Democracy: Caring for the Earth in the Anthropocene is available as open access from Routledge.