Queen Elizabeth will be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years – in 2012. I can still remember the Silver Jubilee in 1977, when I was at the grand old age of 9. Mine was one of probably millions of gaudily illustrated children’s cards winging their way to her Majesty to congratulate her on her 25 years on the throne.
I remember doing an exercise at school to say what I would do if I were queen for a day. I seem to recall imposing some horrendously over-the-top punishment for dropping litter, so maybe even then I had a certain awareness of the need to take care of the Earth.
Now my decrees might be a bit different – but still mostly Earth-oriented:
– no plastic or styrofoam packaging – including takeout containers, coffee cups, and packaging on technology. ALL would have to be biodegradable – as would all doggy poop bags.
– free broadband wireless internet in every town center
– government subsidies on public transport, with schedules for trains, buses and tubes all coordinated so that it is quicker, cheaper and easier to use public transport than private cars
– massive investment in extending the network of paths for cyclists and pedestrians, so it is safe and pleasurable to use human-powered transport
– an end to global hunger, war and injustice – so we could stop fighting each other and start fighting our shared problem instead
Hmm, I think that will do for my first week in power, anyway…
From our western democratic perspective, it’s almost impossible to contemplate 60 years in power. Although 60 years of a bad ruler would obviously be undesirable, it would be interesting to see if the longer term in office encouraged a shift towards longer term thinking – in itself a kind of wisdom. We would have to think carefully how we would exercise our power if we had to live with the consequences for the next 60 years.
Our prevailing system of short term government has many advantages, but (at least) one serious flaw – it discourages leaders from addressing long-term problems. We have been aware of the possible existence of anthropogenic climate change for the last 20 years, but it was a political hot potato, being tossed rapidly from hand to hand down the years. Nobody wanted to deal with it. There was a perception that to tackle the problem would be costly, difficult, and unpopular with the electorate. So leave it to the next government.
So we are now 20 years deeper in trouble, with CO2 reaching critical levels, and still there is reluctance to hang onto the hot potato – and it’s getting hotter all the time. In Copenhagen, will our leaders finally have the moral courage to do what needs to be done for the long term future of our species – and the many other species who are suffering the side-effects of our addiction to fossil fuel? I hope so.
Public perception is changing, and decisive action on climate change would now be popular with a significant proportion of the electorate. Most people are concerned about it, and are looking for strong leadership. Although in an ideal world we would all take responsibility for going green, in the real world most people are too overburdened already. If national policy made it easier to do the right thing – to recycle, use public transport, and so on – this would be a huge step in the right direction.
Do you ever think about what you would change if you were running the world? For the purposes of this exercise in fantasy, you don’t have to get anything passed by Congress. You don’t even have to worry about whether you will be re-elected. You can choose whatever you like – a ban on facial hair, mandatory training in good manners, a three-day working week, free caramel lattes for all.
What would you do, and why?