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Do I now have to glue myself to the doors of Extinction Rebellion?

I just received a mail from XR rejoicing that MPs will on Wednesday vote on the declaration of a Climate Emergency…and now another one informing me of upcoming meetings with government officials.

Hi there“, states the first mail,

This Wednesday MPs will vote on whether to declare a national climate emergency.

After months of grassroots actions across the country from school students striking to Extinction Rebellion mobilising thousands across London, politicians have now begun to react to the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis…

Again, such a vote appears to be a folly, like much of what we have seen in Brexit. On which basis are the MPs to decide?

One leading MP and former Secretary in the UK government ( I will not mention the name) confided to me in a personal conversation that he had read “a couple of books on climate change”, an that he did “not believe in it”. (It is one of the candidates who vied for the job as PM, can you believe it?). Before going into a vote on the declaration of a “Climate Emergency”, wouldn’t it make sense even for Extinction Rebellion to re-confirm what the data are and to create a “joint understanding of the problem situation” in Parliament? We cannot afford another chaotic policy making process, certainly not on an issue of existential relevance for humanity.

So here now, is my sort of protest against Extinction Rebellion, in the form of an open letter. (Unfortunately they neither reacted to my three mails sent to them nor to the two suggestions for a “constructive approach” published on this website – are they any better than the government they criticise?)

…………………………………………………………………………

Hey guys,

The key appears to be negligence. “My generation has done terrible things”, says David Attenborough. Michael Gove now admits: “We (i.e. the government including himself in the first place) “have not done nearly enough” to stop Climate Change.

You will agree, we all and our governments have been negligent by not putting effective processes in place to stopping Climate Change. Yes, you accuse the government of negligence and incompetence in dealing with Climate Change. It is clearly necessary for us to look into where the deficits are and how to fix them.

But the question I am asking me now is:

How negligent is Extinction Rebellion? How negligent are you?

Do I now have to sit down with my lonely placard opposite of the headquarters of extinction Rebellion and protest against the negligence of Extinction Rebellion, the very same negligence you accuse the government of?

Or are you going to listen and engage in a constructive discussion? Perhaps before you go into a meeting with the government officials?

Are you going to act responsibly?

Some questions:

  • Is Extinction Rebellion even less effective and efficient in their approach than the government they criticise for being negligent?
  • What is effectiveness and efficiency in policy making at all? 
  • How do we ensure the utmost degree of effectiveness and efficiency in policy making?
  • How to choose the very best problem solving approaches? 
  • Which role does analytical competency play in solving the greatest problem humanity has ever faced? 
  • Which role does know-how in problem solving methodologies play in this respect?  

You accuse the government of negligence (rightly so, in my understanding).  

  • Is Extinction Rebellion negligent as well?
  • Don’t you have to examine the foundations necessary for an effective problem solving process before you design one? 
  • Or ask people, who might have relevant know-how is such areas? (such as experts in problem-solving methodologies at universities?)

I sincerely and honestly praise you for bringing the issue of Global Warming on top of the agenda. People have complained about the protests. Yet, they clearly have been necessary, just as the protests of the young people following the example of Greta Thunberg.

But there is a difference between “raising attention to a problem” and “solving a problem”. You very effectively and with perseverance managed to raise attention to the problem of Climate Change. But is this sufficient to also solve the problem effectively?

Stopping climate change is a gigantic task, larger than anything the world has ever seen. Solving the task appears, if not impossible, so at least, close to impossible.

What we need to do now is to create “the most effective and efficient process only conceivable” to address and solve the problem.

The first step in problem solving is “the creation of a joint understanding of the problem situation” …in the beginning at least among the policy making institutions, then also in the entire population. If I am not mistaken, this is actually what Extinction Rebellion rightly suggested as the first necessary step.

So, why not follow through with this proposal and now take step two ahead of step one???? – Again, many people will not understand, why we should declare a Climate Emergency now. But we must create their understanding and support.

Yes, maybe your demand to create a Climate Emergency now serves as a further impulse for re-assessing the facts and for making people recognise and admit that Climate Change truly is a problem of “existential relevance” we are facing.

Still, in order to solve the problem we won’t get by the first necessary step: Creating a joint understanding of the problem situation.

What would be the sensible thing to do now? ( yes, it is my opinion, but it appears to be your obligation to engage in a constructive debate on it)

  1. Meet with the government officials.
  2. Agree to put a work group together which determines the most effective and efficient way forward (open the process up to the public to be sure the path chosen for coping with the problem is the most effective process conceivable – we sort of need to find the very best path through the Himalaya to get across, it is a significant loss of energy to go into the wrong  direction first and then having to see one must return)
  3. That work group must, in my opinion, use the systemic problem solving steps I suggested on my website and in my other letters to you.
  4. As mentioned that work group would as a first step create a joint understanding of the problem situation in government and society (as XR also rightly suggested – sorry if I repeat myself – just to present the necessary sequence).
  5. The first consequence of this joint understanding might then be: The declaration of a Climate Emergency.
  6. The other consequence will probably be that the UK (re-) establishes an independent Government Department For Climate Change Policy.
  7. The new Secretary for Climate Change Policy then develops the most suitable strategy together with all parties interested and concerned (complete transparency and involvement of the public – that is what you rightly request.)
  8. Is a Citizens’ Assembly truly the most effective and efficient way for moving forward – or is it a waste of valuable time and funds, and even worse, does it put the process for addressing Climate Change into an ineffective direction, will we eventually have to turn back and select another strategy?
  9. To insist on a Citizens’ Assembly without making sure what the most effective and efficient approach might be appears not diligent and, therefore, negligent as well. (am I right or wrong – we are obliged to examine a fundamental “hypothesis” of such critical relevance – are there better processes to involve the public, is a crucial question ).
  10. And generally: Is it negligence or not to not include someone in the problem solving process who has a website called “optimizingdemocracy”, has twenty years of experience in thinking about the effectiveness and efficiency of policy making and has even studied Operational Research and Systemic Problem Solving Methodologies? (yes, I am obliged to suggest I have highly relevant qualifications – check it out, verify, you are obliged to check the veracity of this “hypothesis” as well, you ar obliged to listen (one failure of government is that it does not listen and does not examine relevant proposals on how to make government effective.)
  11. I am also trying to get the government to understand this. So far they failed.

The fundamental starting point we must agree on is this one in my opinion:

We must agree on the crucial need to find “the most effective and efficient way forward”.

 That is a question of methodology.

Do you think it would be necessary to include someone who has substantial knowledge on such issues and has spent twenty years tackling such questions in your work group and in the talks with government?

What must I do, to convince you that focusing on “maximum effectiveness and efficiency” is of decisive relevance now.

You want to declare a “Climate Emergency”. If the problem is of existential relevance for humanity then not focusing on “absolute effectiveness and efficiency” is absolutely negligent.

Do I have to glue myself now to the doors of XR to bring this message home, or are we going to talk?

In 2016 protesters suggested: “Climate change department closed by Theresa May in ‘plain stupid’ and ‘deeply worrying’ move” (The Independent). They were right. It was wrong. The fault is connected with fundamental deficits in government strategy making detected by Parliament already in 2012 (!!) and which have not been fixed by now (Another matter of substantial negligence in government – and Parliament? Of relevance for all of policy making including Climate Change – the Parliamentarians themselves mentioned it in 2012, but did not fix the problem! We must now.)

XR is going to talk with a government which appears “not capable” of effective policy making (to use a more neutral word than “stupid” – analytical competency is crucial in government – how do we make sure we have analytically competent leaders – see also the horribly chaotic Brexit process)

The crucial question is: How do we make sure the policy making process is as effective and efficient as only conceivable?

Should we include people with know-how in the creation of effective processes or not?

With kind regards, from a supporter and member of XR,

Hans Peter Ulrich

 

P.S.: Sorry the letter is a bit long. But it took you also a couple of days to get the government  to communicate.

It might, as a final point, be of interest to you that I also wrote a nine page letter and a two page letter to Theresa May on the issue, and a letter to Michael Gove. (Yes, you are right, persistence is necessary.) Both have not replied, even if the issue I discuss in the letter are of central concern, the effectiveness and efficiency in policy making. In Ireland observers  blame the tense situation there on the “complacent stupidity” of some parties involved (The Week, April 27th). In America, a public report identified a “culture of complacency” as the key reason behind the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. If we are to solve the Climate Crisis at all, we need to establish the highest analytical competency in government and we all need to act with he highest degree of diligence and commitment. Otherwise, overcoming the problem of Climate Change will not be possible.

“Why people keep electing idiots?” – Constructive action by citizens required

“Democracy v Psychology: why people keep electing idiots?”

The language which Dean Burnett uses in his article in the Guardian may be somewhat provocative, but it certainly gets a point across: We actually do not make sure that our politicians are qualified for the job. That makes us as citizens culprits, if things with our nations and world go wrong.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2015/apr/02/democracy-psychology-idiots-election

It is greatly amazing: Everybody in their professional life needs to prove they fulfil a specific set of qualification requirements, any hair stylist, any sales manager, and any doctor. Just our politicians don’t, even if the fate of our entire countries, of our entire world, to a large degree our lives and the lives of future generations depend on their professional qualification.

In democracies, it is us, the citizens, who govern. Not making sure that our politicians are qualified for the job is actually irresponsible. It will have effects on jobs, the stability of our nations, on international co-operation and peace, on how we handle the globe, even on the future of human dignity.

So we, as citizens, must make sure politicians have the required qualifications for their tasks.

What is the solution?

  1. We the citizens must take charge of our democracies.
  2. We must ensure they work properly.
  3. To do that we must establish an organisation: Citizens Controlling Democracy UK, for example.
  4. This organisation must write a precise job description for our politicians.
  5. It must identify clearly which specific qualifications are necessary to fulfil this task.
  6. It must make sure that each and every politician standing for election fulfils the specific qualifications required for their job.

Our world of seven billion people cannot afford words only, it cannot afford cynicism about democracy and the “idiocy” of our politicians only.

We must take constructive action.

So who will join Citizens Controlling Democracy UK?

Many cooks, no dish – Without sound project management the UK will not get a new Constitution and a policy making system of the quality it urgently requires.

The UK debate on democracy, political and constitutional reform is multifaceted, and long-standing. Some strands of it, such as the reform of the House of Lords, have been going on for years. The discussion is driven by actors from various reaches of society and state, including parliament, academic institutions, think tanks, and civil society, by actors departing from different starting points, with different perspectives, and interests.

Contributors to the debate publish books, essays, assessments, commentaries, and opinion pieces. They organize conference, talks, party initiatives for more voter engagement, and parliamentary hearings on the issues. Following the Scottish vote on independence many participants in the debate presently push for a Constitutional Convention. Writers and activists increasingly use the new media. They write blogs (like this one), sometimes there are replies, but even two weeks later the author of a blog might not even be aware of it.

The problem is, while some of the participants in the debate even suggest that the UK urgently needs a completely “new system of politics for the 21st century”, so far there is no dish, no comprehensive result, no product.[i]

The reason for the failure to generate a product of the highest quality conceivable appears to be that the talks are not structured. They are not managed effectively and efficiently in a joint effort. After years of debate there still is no joint perception even on the need for a new Constitution, no joint goals have been defined, consequently no joint diagnosis of the parameters affecting these goals has been carried out, and, as a result, no systems and processes have been designed to ensure that the goals connected with a new Constitution are achieved.

What has to happen?

  1. Greatest urgency: People have to realize that setting up a new Constitution is a matter of the greatest urgency. There is no time anymore for activities which are not driven by the goal to generate a comprehensive result definitely fulfilling its purposes. The Citizens expect the political system to deliver. They are becoming impatient as the increasing support for protest parties shows. Any effort on the issue must be designed in such a way that it contributes without doubt to generating the very best Constitution and political system for the UK as soon as possible.
  2. Clear goal – clear deadline: People convinced of the need for a new Constitution must set themselves a clear goal and feasible deadline, such as drafting a new Constitution for the UK of the highest quality conceivable within a maximum of two years’ time (to suggest a concrete, potential goal).
  3. Joining of efforts necessary: People must realize that setting up a new Constitution and improved political system in a nation of 60 million people with many different concerns, views, and expectations is a gigantic, highly complex project which requires immense manpower and millions of pounds in financial resources. Individual persons, research institutes, or charities cannot accomplish the project in an adequate fashion by themselves. They need to join efforts and resources to generate a Constitution of the quality required.
  4. No adequate product without the very best problem solving and project management skills: People must realise that generating a new Constitution and overhauling the entire political system (while certainly maintaining what is good) is a highly complex task requiring the very best problem solving and project management skills. If people taking the initiative and wanting to drive the project forward lack these specific qualifications, the project is likely not to generate a product of the quality the Nation urgently requires.
  5. A “Peoples’ Commission on the UK Constitution”: To move the project forward the people concerned with issues of political and constitutional reform should, therefore, as soon as possible set up a joint working group, an independent “Peoples’ Commission on the UK Constitution” equipped with the necessary skills for managing the project. Parliament and its Political and Constitutional Reform Committee should help to set up this Commission, politicians should provide support and advice to its work where required. Since the work of politicians and the systems and processes within which they work will be under review, the politicians themselves, however, will not be able to lead the review process. The Commission must work directly on behalf of UK society and largely independently of the present political establishment.

Success Factors

The key success factors for the project, as partly already indicated, appear to be:

  1. Independence: The Commission must operate independently from the present political system and only be responsible to the people.
  2. Best methods: The Commission must identify and be equipped with the best problems solving and project management know-how available.
  3. Best know-how: The Commission must solicit the best know-how available in the country and in the world to identify and recommend the most effective policy making systems and procedures, beginning with the assessment of and with recommendations on the voting system. It must operate in a completely open fashion and use “crowd-sourcing” as a means to identify the very best know-how available, right from the beginning of its work, in principle even already on the issue of what the best methods for tackling the task are.
  4. Creating joint perspectives: To generate the required support for the project in society the Commission must start by creating a joint perspective on the need for a new Constitution and on the various goals to be pursued by its review.
  5. Involvement of the people: Considering the increasing discontent of the people, it must be highlighted that the review of the UK Constitution and the work of the Commission provides people with a novel and far-reaching means to get involved in shaping and controlling their political system. They can take ownership of it. Involving the public thoroughly in shaping “their democratic policy making system” will reintroduce vitality into the democracy of the country and offers a valve for channelling discontent and potentially disruptive action into constructive contribution.
  6. Resources: Since the people are the highest sovereign in the nation and shaping their policy making system in the best way conceivable ultimately is their own concern and project, they basically must pay for the work of the Commission. Conveying this thought and the relevance of the project to the wider public is likely to take some time, however. The government and individual sponsors should, therefore, finance the work of the Commission to begin with (without compromising its independence in any way). Endowing the project with the necessary funds from public resources appears appropriate even in times of tight budgets, since the work of the Commission provides the foundations for maintaining the nation and the world in a sound state. Cost-benefit considerations will highlight that perhaps no other investment into the future is of greater relevance. Mechanisms offering the public the possibility to contribute required resources to the operation should, however, also be set-up from the beginning. Failure by Parliament (and/or Government) to establish the Commission on behalf of the people would risk contributing to the destabilisation of society, to the destruction of the world, and could well cause grave harm to the nation and its people.
  7. Long-term citizen control: In order to equip people with a long term means to take ownership of their democratic policy making system and of controlling its performance, it is necessary to establish a permanent “Citizen Control Association” (independently of the progress or result of the review process). The tasks of the Association will be to ensure that the policy making system operates as effectively as only possible, to review policy making structures and processes from time to time, and ultimately, that new constitutional regulations and procedures are implemented and adhered to, once they have been decreed. A model of the proposed long-term system of citizen control over policy making can be found at https://optimizingdemocracy.org/the-model/
  8. Education: Once the new Constitution has been designed and officially put into operation people need to be educated on how it operates and which means it offers for engaging with policy making in the nation. All in all citizen education needs to be stepped up to highlight the relevance of civic engagement in protecting freedom and human rights.

Why a new Constitution? – Discontent, Underperformance, Creating a Coherent and Sound Society

Back to the fundamental question, whether the UK actually needs a new Constitution and a new, refurbished democratic policy making system. Some readers may still have doubts whether the proposed procedure is necessary at all.

In my view a new Constitution appears urgently necessary for three key reasons:

  1. To assuage the discontent of the population with present democratic policy making by opening up new ways for citizens to engage constructively in the policy making process. Creating such a possibility for citizens involvement in policy making will contribute to ensuring the long term social stability of the country.
  2. A second purpose of the review process is to ensure the very best performance of the policy making system, so that it is capable to deal with the highly critical challenges of our time. The present policy making system contains severe systemic deficits compromising its performance. In 2012, as a crucial example, Parliamentarians diagnosed that the strategy making capacity of government, a central element of government policy making, is greatly defective, a factor, which in their view “has led to mistakes which are becoming evident in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier policy), energy (electricity generation and renewables) and climate change…”. [ii] It will, in other words, affect the quality of policy making of government in most areas.In 2013 Anthony King and Ivor Crewe from the universities of Essex and Oxford published an in the meantime probably well-known book with the title “Blunders of our Governments”, a book which illustrates the consequences of such deficits in “real-life”. The book describes in detail how British governments since Margaret Thatcher have squandered billions of pounds on major projects and not achieved distinct policy aims. King and Crewe also suggest that the present government is by no means better qualified than the previous ones. The fact that all governments of the present and recent past commit such blunders correlates with the observation on the lacking strategy making capacity of government y the Parliamentarians and highlights the systemic nature of the deficit. Designing processes to eliminate this and other potential shortcomings in the policy making system would be of the greatest relevance for the economic and political stability of the Nation and for the well-being of its citizens.
  3. A new Constitution finally appears to be required as the foundation to re-build a coherent, sound, and strong society capable to protect well-being, freedom, and human rights in a time of ongoing globalization and technological change. Over the last decades Western democratic societies including the UK have turned into highly multicultural societies. Due to this development and to more liberal views on life in western nations in general the cohesion of society around shared values has greatly declined. Protecting well-being, freedom and human dignity in a thoroughly changing world as ours at the beginning of the 21st century will, however, demand great energy and ample resources, factors which only a society can muster in which citizens co-operate for the maintenance of these goals. Formulating the fundamental principles guiding society in a new Constitution will help building a society of the strength and resilience required to deal with the challenges of our time and the future. This is an aspect emanating already in the debate, but which, just like the other elements of writing a new Constitution, must be led to a defined result.

A final word on “muddling-through”. Frequently one hears in the debate that the political culture in the UK would be bent on “muddling-through”, rather than on establishing purpose-made, effective processes for generating high quality results. Whether one believes this proposition to be true or not, given the increasing discontent with the present policy making system, the risks for the social and political stability of the Nation, the extraordinary challenges for humanity at the beginning of the 21st century, in any case by no means there appears to be any more scope for muddling through. We are obliged to preserve the Nation and the world in a good state for future generations. Given the complexity and urgency of the threats and challenges in the world of today, aiming for establishing the most effective and efficient policy making system conceivable appears to be the only permitted way forward.

[i] One the need for a “new system of politics for the 21st century” cf. point 20 in the written evidence submitted by Prof Martin J. Smith and Professor David Richards to a parliamentary enquiry on “voter engagement” at http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/voter-engagement-in-the-uk/written/6886.html

[ii] House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Strategic thinking in Government: without National Strategy, can viable Government strategy emerge?, Twenty Fourth Report of Session 2010–12