How do corruption and climate change relate?

While corruption seemed to dominate last week’s political agenda in Spain and Australia, a study found that climate change might lead to increased violence and aggression. I believe that, rather, increased violence and climate change have some common denominators and that corruption is one of them.

Many must have shared my feelings when last Thursday, after having heard the numerous desperate, disappointed and furious speeches from parliament members who had asked for justice and consequently for Mariano Rajoy’s resignation, Spain’s prime minister had announced with an attitude of pride over his sovereignty that he will not resign, nor call for early elections. Rajoy, accused of having been involved in a huge tax fraud and a corruption scandal that probably even led to his success in the 2011 elections, didn’t seem to care what his fellow parliament representatives think. Nor did he care for the Spanish population in general. Instead, he limited himself to a very superficial speech, through which he literally rushed, probably in order not to delay his upcoming holidays.

I can’t describe the feelings of disappointment I had the moment this “no” came from Rajoy’s lips. Worse even, was the support he had from a huge number of parliament members: each time he uttered one of his superficial statements[1], they knew nothing better than to applaud. To many, who like me had been watching the debates, the applause from the parliament felt like a punch in the face. It was like they were saying: “He stole your money, so what? He’s the president and you are just citizens. You voted for us and now we are untouchable. We can do what we want, at least until our turn is over.”
In a time when thousands of Spanish citizens are struggling to cover even their most basic needs, the governing party was found to have stolen millions of dollars of tax revenues, that they are hiding in a Swiss bank account, and even if the whole thing blew up, there were no consequences besides some agitated speeches that do not even echo. Off for holidays. Chapter closed. Fin de la cita[2].

Earlier last week, a corruption scandal caused some waves as well in Australia. Might be a coincidence, but unfortunately, it’s not. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this is not an isolated case and that corruption is an institution in NSW.
The Australian Government released a report that shows that every year organized crime amounts to AUS$ 15 billion in Australia, and more than US$ 870 billion worldwide, a sum that is bigger than the GDP of Indonesia. And while also the AUS$ 15 billion in Australia are not a small sum, the government doesn’t do much about it[3].
Whoever has read the book “Blood brothers: Crime, Business and Politics in Asia” or who has spoken to drug addicts about their experiences in prisons will know that the stakes for authorities might be too high to touch the issue drug trafficking and that it might result in investigators turning themselves or their colleagues in.

While it is acknowledged that corruption exists everywhere, the questions are “how much is bearable” and “to what extend may politicians be corrupt”? When can a constitutional state still be called a constitutional state and when should a political leader step down if they are found to be involved in corruption? As much as the answers to these question might depend upon the respondent, I believe that there have always been two sorts of politicians. While some decide to choose a political life because of their fundamental believe in democracy and justice, others do so in order to gain certain advantages for themselves or for their clan. That is inherent in different cultures and has historical tradition. What might have changed in recent years it the way in which corruption affects countries that we believed to be very democratic and “just”, and as a consequence, how it changed perception and expectation of democracy as such.

More and more citizens feel excluded and alienated from the political system they live in. Even if granted the right to vote, they do not claim it, as decreasing voter participation in several countries show. Not that I agree with this attitude but considering the dimension of corruption even in constitutional democracies, I understand the feeling of resignation. Fact is that policies more and more diverge from the realities and challenges of the common population.
Various reports show that the world economic crisis has made the rich even richer. Likewise it was long ago predicted that climate change would affect the poorest most.
Yet, because some politicians are only concerned with creating personal financial advantages, they forget to work out policies that minimize disparity between rich and poor.

So, if people find that climate change leads to increased violence, then I would argue that even if there is likely a connection between the two, former must not necessary be the cause of the latter. Increasing environmental degradation and the financial crises both affect particularly the poor and poorer households. Unfortunately, governments do not take that into account sufficiently. If they were serious about the most urgent issues as agreed upon in the Millennium Development Goals, then they would fight climate change, increasing poverty and disproportionate distribution of wealth. If, instead, they mainly focus on their personal needs, then we shouldn’t be surprised about increased violence. The observed violence is first of all a reaction to increasing disappointment over our political systems and the incompetence of governments to address the majority’s needs and concerns.

Rajoy et al. should not forget that each case of corruption has fundamental consequences for people’s attitudes towards politics. Whereas no one is infallible, political leaders’ roles ask for making good examples. As such they do not only have the duty to represent the majority’s interests, but they must also act as models. If they fail, citizens lose their trust – not only in their leaders but in the political system as such, and that is what leads to increased violence.

[1] As many (see twitter #findelacita) have noted, he didn’t actually say much in his defense and instead decided to accuse the socialists in general and socialist leader Rubacalba in particular for what he they had accused him: “But you did more than I”, “You did the same.” His speech was pathetic and similar to that of a six year old boy.

[2] “Fin de la cita” translates as „end of quote“. Rajoy used it many times during his speech. Instead of giving explanations, he limited himself to a blunt “fin de la cita” every now and then. As a result of this rather grotesque behavior he was dedicated a hash tag, that stands for the bafflement of the people: see twitter #findelacita or here.

[3] Maybe the government should once explain how little of that money is made up by people that smuggle asylum seekers and in what relation the harsh punishment of the victims (resettlement of refugees to PNG and Nauru) stands to profits made with arms and drugs trafficking.


About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics were driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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One Response to How do corruption and climate change relate?

  1. Pingback: East West Link: many losers, no obvious benefits | Ideas for a greener environment, a fairer society and a future driven by sustainability

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