"The idea of deliberative democracy goes back to the original intent of our constitution, in many ways," says Robert Cavalier, co-director of Carnegie Mellon University's
Program for Deliberative Democracy
(PDD). "We think best when we think together, but to do that you need a conversation that is informed and well-structured."
To create such a conversation centered around what college campuses can do about climate change, the PDD is bringing students from nine other local universities to the CMU campus on Sept. 29 for a Campus Conversation on Climate Change
. The group will attempt to address a number of issues around the global problem as determined by the Pittsburgh Higher Education Consortium on Climate Change
, including what campuses can do about climate change and how campuses can better see themselves a part of larger community solutions.
The idea of an informed citizenry making informed choices is not new, but neither does it seem to be a popular way to approach political issues, including climate change. PDD is providing a 12-page document
discussing the science of climate change, backed by 35 pages of resources.
"The science part is based on the evidence found in peer-reviewed journals," Cavelier notes, which are conclusive about climate change's evidence and cause, if not all its consequences. "That stands in deep contrast to what we hear in the media and on the Web, [which] results from variations in political campaigns by those who want to cast doubts and create concerns about the issue of climate change." In our current political climate -- let's call it 'reactive democracy' -- facts and issues can be framed in any way; the aim is only to get a majority to agree. "All's fair as long as it's legal," Cavalier says. Deliberative democracy is aimed at countering the superficiality of political debates.
An additional half-dozen colleges around the country are holding their own deliberative democracy dialogs on climate change this fall. Cavalier labels our local event a beta test for a larger, region-wide discussion of climate change and public policy slated for next fall.
In the meantime, Cavalier sees interest among local legislators and city council members in using deliberative methods.
"I think you're about to see evidence that this is at least an augmentation to the other way of determining public opinion and political calculation," he says. "We're hoping to see evidence that there is a desire to create an alternative to the townhall meeting with the dreaded microphone and the angry citizen."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Robert Cavalier, Program for Deliberative Democracy