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  2. Abstract

This paper argues that deliberative democracy is best placed to meet the challenge that climate change poses to systems of governance, although the task of implementing it is challenging. Deliberative democracy extends on the basic idea of democracy by emphasising the way in which citizens engage with issues, requiring reflection on all relevant dimensions. Where climate change is easily crowded-out in the prevailing nature of political debate, deliberation helps to make salient less tangible and complex dimensions associated with the issue. Evidence is presented in support of the capacities of citizens to deliberate on climate change, with evidence drawn from a mini-public in the Australian Capital Region. The possibilities for “scaling up” these benefits of deliberation to the polity as a whole are then discussed. Although it is not straightforward, specific mechanisms for engendering deliberation among the wider public are suggested. If successful, deliberation not only promises to transform the possibilities for action on climate change, but also to build the capacity to respond by improving the underlying conditions for environmental governance.

  • 1

    Marian Sawer, Norman Abjorensen, and Philip Larkin, Australia: The State of Democracy (Sydney, 2009); Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison, Silencing Dissent (Crows Nest, NSW, 2007).

  • 2

    John Mikler and Neil Harrison in particular note that even for corporations whose actions contribute directly to climate change, the adversarial nature of public debate is seen as an obstacle to pushing for increased technological innovation to address emissions, with companies concerned about intervening in a highly charged and bifurcated political environment.

  • 3

    Philip Kitcher, “The Climate Change Debates”, Science, Vol. 328, 5983 (June 2010), pp. 12301234.

  • 4

    Bruce Tranter, “Political Divisions over Climate Change and Environmental Issues in Australia”, Environmental Politics, Vol. 20, 1 (2011), pp. 7896; Clark A. Miller and Paul N. Edward, Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance, Politics, Science, and the Environment (Cambridge, MA, 2001).

  • 5

    Most famously captured by Schumpeter's description of the “primitive citizen” when entering the realm of the political. Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, fifth ed. (London, [1943] 1976).

  • 6

    John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Athens, OH, 1927); John S. Dryzek and Patrick Dunleavy, Theories of the Democratic State (Basingstoke, England, and New York, 2009), p.209. See also Walter F. Baber and Robert V. Bartlett, Deliberative Environmental Politics: Democracy and Ecological Rationality (Cambridge, 2005).

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    Dryzek and Dunleavy, Theories of the Democratic State.

  • 8

    John S. Dryzek, “Democratization as Deliberative Capacity Building”, Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 42, 11 (November, 2009), pp. 13791402.

  • 9

    E.g. Amy Gutmann and Dennis F. Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement (Cambridge, MA, 1996); John S. Dryzek, Discursive Democracy: Politics, Policy and Political Science (Cambridge, 1990). Bernard Manin, “On Legitimacy and Political Deliberation”, Review of Political Theory, Vol. 15, 3 (August, 1987), pp. 338368.

  • 10

    For an introduction to the concept of a deliberative system, see Jane Mansbridge and John Parkinson, eds., Deliberative Systems: Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale (Cambridge, 2012).

  • 11

    Frank Biermann, “Earth System Governance as a Crosscutting Theme of Global Change Research”, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 17, 3–4 (2007), p. 328.

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    Fergus Hansen, “The Lowy Institute Poll 2010: Australia and the World, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy” <>; Phillip Coorey, “Climate Policy Backlash Takes Shine off Rudd”, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 2010.

  • 13

    E.g. James Blake, “Overcoming the ‘Value-Action Gap’ in Environmental Policy: Tensions Between National Policy and Local Experience”, Local Environment, Vol. 4, 3 (1999), pp. 257278;James D. Gill, Lawrence Crosby and James Taylor, “Ecological Concern, Attitudes, and Social Norms in Voting Behaviour”, Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 50, 2 (1986), pp. 537554.

  • 14

    Anthony Giddens, The Politics of Climate Change (Cambridge, 2009), p.2.

  • 15

    David J.C. Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith, The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy (Westport, 2007).

  • 16

    Mark Beeson, “The Coming of Environmental Authoritarianism”, Environmental Politics, Vol. 19, 2 (March, 2010), pp. 276294.

  • 17

    John Dryzek, Rational Ecology: Environment and Political Ecology (New York, 1987).

  • 18

    Alex Lo, “China's Response to Climate Change”, Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 44, 15 (2010), pp. 56895690; Bruce Gilley, “Authoritarian Environmentalism and China's Response to Climate Change”, Environmental Politics, Vol. 21, 2 (March, 2012), pp. 287307.

  • 19

    Claus Offe, Contradictions of the Welfare State (Cambridge, MA, 1984). Richard Rose, “On The Priorities Of Government: A Developmental Analysis Of Public Policies”, European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 4, 3 (September, 1976), pp. 247289.

  • 20

    Gilley, “Authoritarian environmentalism”.

  • 21

    Ethan Leib and Baogang He, The Search for Deliberative Democracy in China (New York, 2006); Baogang He and Mark E. Warren, “Authoritarian Deliberation: The Deliberative Turn in Chinese Political Development”, Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 9, 2 (June, 2011), pp. 269289.

  • 22

    He and Warren, “Authoritarian Deliberation”.

  • 23

    See Burnell for a more complete account of these benefits, including value of human life and relatively higher status of women increasing the role of environmental values in politics. Peter Burnell, “Democracy, Democratization and Climate Change: Complex Relationships”, Democratization, Vol. 19, 5 (2012), p. 823.

  • 24

    Dryzek, “Democratization as Deliberative Capacity Building”.

  • 25

    Notable exceptions include Graham Smith, Deliberative Democracy and the Environment (London; New York, 2003) and Baber and Bartlett, Deliberative Environmental Politics.

  • 26

    John Dryzek, “Political and Ecological Communication”, Environmental Politics, Vol. 4, 4 (1995), pp. 1330; Goodin, “Enfranchising the Earth and its Alternatives”; Simon John Niemeyer, “Deliberation in the Wilderness: Displacing Symbolic Politics”, Environmental Politics, Vol. 13, 2 (2004), pp. 347372; Baber and Bartlett, Deliberative Environmental Politics; Smith, Deliberative Democracy and the Environment.

  • 27

    Peter John, Graham Smith, and Gerry Stoker, “Nudge Nudge, Think Think: Two Strategies for Changing Civic Behaviour”, Political Quarterly, Vol. 80, 3 (2009), pp. 361370.

  • 28

    Jonathan Rowson, Transforming Behaviour Change: Beyond Nudge and Neuromania (London, 2011).

  • 29

    Shawn W. Rosenberg, “Rethinking Democratic Deliberation: The Limits and Potential of Citizen Participation”, Polity, Vol. 39, 3 (2007), pp. 335360; Tali Mendelberg, “The Deliberative Citizen: Theory and Evidence” in Michael Delli Carpini, ed., Political Decision Making, Deliberation and Participation (San Diego, 2002), p.6.

  • 30

    For example, see: Claus Offe, “Micro Aspects of Democratic Theory: What Makes for the Deliberative Competence of Citizens?” in Axel Hadenius, ed., Democracy's Victory and Crisis (Cambridge, 1997), pp.81–104; Claus Offe and Ulnch Preuss, “Democratic institutions and moral resources” in David Held et al., eds, Political Theory Today (Stanford, CA, 1991).

  • 31

    Luisa Batalha et al., “Group Dynamics and Deliberative Processes: Affective and Cognitive Aspects”, paper presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Chicago, IL, 6–9 July 2012; Simon John Niemeyer, Luisa Batalha, and John S. Dryzek, “Changing Dispositions to Australian Democracy in the Course of the Citizens’ Parliament” in Lyn Carson and John Gastil, eds, The Australian Citizens’ Parliament and the Future of Deliberative Democracy (University Park, Penn., forthcoming 2013).

  • 32

    Jürg Steiner, “Concept Stretching: the Case of Deliberation”, European Political Science, Vol. 7, 2 (June, 2008), pp. 186190.

  • 33

    Nicole Curato and Simon John Niemeyer, “Reaching Out to Overcome Political Apathy: Building Participatory Capacity Through Deliberative Engagement”, Policy and Politics (forthcoming).

  • 34

    Graham Smith, “Taking Deliberation seriously: Institutional Design and Green Politics”, Environmental Politics, Vol. 10, 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 7293; Archon Fung, “Recipes for Public Spheres: Eight Institutional Design Choices and their Consequences”, Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 11, 3 (2003), pp. 338367; Simone Chambers, “Deliberative Democratic Theory”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 6 (June, 2003), pp. 338367.

  • 35

    E.g. Robert E. Goodin and Simon John Niemeyer, “When Does Deliberation Begin? Internal Reflection Versus Public Discussion in Deliberative Democracy”, Political Studies, Vol. 51, 4 (December, 2003), pp. 627649;Niemeyer, “Deliberation in the wilderness”; Niemeyer, “The Emancipatory Effect of Deliberation: Empirical Lessons from Mini-Publics”, Politics and Society, Vol. 39, 1 (2011), pp. 103140;Maija Setälä, Kimmo Grönlund and Kaisa Herne, “Citizen Deliberation on Nuclear Power: A Comparison of Two Decision-Making Methods”, Political Studies, Vol. 58, 4 (October 2010), pp. 688714.

  • 36

    For details see Kersty Pamela Hobson and Simon John Niemeyer, “Public Responses to Climate Change: The Role of Deliberation in Building Capacity for Adaptive Action”, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 21, 3 (August 2011), pp. 957971.

  • 37

    The scenarios can be viewed at <>.

  • 38

    For a discussion of group identity in deliberation see Andrea Felicetti et al., “Collective Identity and Voice at the Australian Citizens’ Parliament”, Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol. 8, 1 (2012), available at <>; Niemeyer, Batalha and Dryzek, “Changing Dispositions to Australian Democracy”.

  • 39

    For a more complete description of the deliberative event, see Hobson and Niemeyer, “Public Responses to Climate Change”.

  • 40

    Kersty Pamela Hobson and Simon John Niemeyer, “What do Climate Sceptics Believe? Discourses of Scepticism and their Response to Deliberation”, Public Understanding of Science (forthcoming).

  • 41

    For a detailed description of the deliberative process and recommendations, see Simon John Niemeyer et al., “Climate Change and the Public Sphere: Public Responses to Climate Change and Governing Adaptation, with specific reference to the ACT and Goulburn-Mulwaree regions”, Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, The Australian National University, 2010.

  • 42

    See Hobson and Niemeyer, “Public responses to climate change: The role of deliberation in building capacity for adaptive action”.

  • 43


  • 44

    Many deliberation outcomes have been attributed to “groupthink” or “group polarisation”, although this interpretation is strongly contested. Robert S. Baron, “So Right it's Wrong: Groupthink and the Ubiquitous Nature of Polarized Group Decision Making” in Mark P. Zanna, ed., Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (San Diego, 2005), pp.219–253.

  • 45

    See John S. Dryzek and Jeffrey Berejikian, “Reconstructive Democratic Theory”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, 1 (March, 1993), pp. 4860.

  • 46

    The specific analysis is described in detail in Hobson and Niemeyer. For reasons of space, only a short description is provided here. Hobson and Niemeyer, “Public Responses to Climate Change”.

  • 47

    For a comprehensive discussion focusing specifically on the different types of climate change sceptics participating in the research and the impact of the scenarios and deliberation on their positions see Hobson and Niemeyer, “What do Climate Sceptics Believe?”.

  • 48

    A. Ong, M. Zafiris, and C. Govan, “Community Attitudes to Climate Change”, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility – Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure Report (2010).

  • 49

    Hobson and Niemeyer, “Public responses to climate change”.

  • 50

    A very similar outcome was observed for the Australian Citizens’ Parliament on parliamentary reform. Michael E. Morrell, “Deliberation, Democratic Decision-making and Internal Political Efficacy”, Political Behavior, Vol. 27, 1 (2005). See also Niemeyer, “The Emancipatory Effect of Deliberation”.

  • 51

    For a detailed analysis of the sceptics, see Hobson and Niemeyer, “What do Climate Sceptics Believe?”.

  • 52

    Hobson and Niemeyer, “Public Responses to Climate Change”.

  • 53

    For an explanation of meta-consensus, which involves agreement on issue dimensions, See John S. Dryzek and Simon John Niemeyer, “Reconciling Pluralism and Consensus as Political Ideals”, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 50, 3 (July, 2006), pp. 634649.

  • 54

    This is consistent with the idea of symbolic politics. See Murray J. Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana, Ill., 1985). For an account of how deliberation displaces symbolic politics, see Niemeyer, “Deliberation in the Wilderness”.

  • 55

    Goodin and Niemeyer, “When Does Deliberation Begin?”.

  • 56

    For a discussion of type I versus type II systems of cognition see Stanovich and West. For a discussion of the overlapping concept of cognitive and peripheral processing, see Petty and Cacioppo. Richard E. Petty and J. Cacioppo, Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change (New York, 1986); Keith E. Stanovich and Richard F. West, “Individual Differences in Reasoning: Implications for the Rationality Debate?”, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol, 23, 5 (2000), pp.645–726.

  • 57

    Shearman and Smith, “The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy”.

  • 58

    Jason Barabas, “How Deliberation Affects Policy Opinions”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 98, 4 (November 2004), pp. 688701.

  • 59

    A similar mechanism can be found in Shalom H. Schwartz, “Normative Influences on Altruism” in Leonard Berkowitz, ed., Advances in Experimental Psychology (New York, 1977), pp.222–280.

  • 60

    See also Laura W. Black, “Deliberation, Storytelling, and Dialogic Moments”, Communication Theory, Vol. 18, 1 (February 2008), pp. 93116.

  • 61

    Hobson and Niemeyer, “Public responses to climate change”.

  • 62

    Troy E. Hall, Patrick Wilsony, and Jennie Newman, “Evaluating the Short- and Long-term Effects of a Modified Deliberative Poll on Idahoans’ Attitudes and Civic Engagement Related to Energy Options”, Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol. 7, 1 (2011; Shane Doheny and Claire O'Neill, “Becoming Deliberative Citizens: The Moral Learning Process of the Citizen Juror”, Political Studies, Vol. 58, 4 (2010), pp. 631648; John Gastil et al., “From Group Member to Democratic Citizen: How Deliberating with Fellow Jurors Reshapes Civic Attitudes”, Human Communication Research, Vol. 34, 1 (January 2008), pp. 137169.

  • 63

    Ian Shapiro, “Enough of Deliberation: Politics is about Interests and Power” in Stephen Macedo, ed., Deliberative Politics (Oxford, 1999).

  • 64

    Robert E. Goodin, “Democratic Deliberation Within”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 29, 1 (January 2000), pp. 81109.

  • 65

    Hugo Mercier and Helene E. Landemore, “Reasoning is for Arguing: Understanding the Successes and Failures of Deliberation”, Political Psychology, Vol. 33, 2 (April 2012), pp. 243258.

  • 66

    Shelley Taylor, “The Interface of Cognitive and Social Psychology” in J. Harvey, ed., Cognition, Social Behavior, and the Environment (Hillsdale, N.J, 1981), pp.241–276.

  • 67

    Offe, “Micro Aspects of Democratic Theory”.

  • 68

    Rosenberg, “Rethinking Democratic Deliberation”.

  • 69

    Niemeyer, “The Emancipatory Effect of Deliberation”.

  • 70

    Rosenberg, “Rethinking Democratic Deliberation”; Martyn Griffin, “Developing Deliberative Minds: Piaget, Vygotsky and the Deliberative Democratic Citizen”, Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol. 7, 1 (2011).

  • 71

    Doheny and O'Neill, “Becoming Deliberative Citizens”. For a similar argument from the perspective of neuroscience, see Rowson, “Transforming Behaviour Change”.

  • 72

    For example, John Stuart Mill: “Parliament [is] an arena in which not only the general opinion of the nation, but that of every section of it, and, as far as possible, of every eminent individual whom it contains, can produce itself in full light and challenge discussion”. John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (Wellington, 2009).

  • 73

    Jürg Steiner et al., Deliberative Politics in Action: Analysing Parliamentary Discourse (Cambridge, 2005).

  • 74

    Uhr contradicts this observation, but I side with Steiner et al., who find greater deliberative quality in cooperative, deliberative legislative settings than is observed in the Australian Parliament. John Uhr, Deliberative Democracy in Australia (Melbourne, 1998). Steiner et al., Deliberative Politics in Action.

  • 75

    John Boswell, Simon John Niemeyer, and Carolyn M. Hendricks, “Citizens’ Deliberations Meet ‘Realpolitik’: Responses to Gillard's Citizens’ Assembly Proposal”, Australian Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

  • 76

    Benjamin Page, Who Deliberates?: Mass Media in Modern Democracy (Chicago, 1996).

  • 77

    Simon John Niemeyer, “From the Minipublic to a Deliberative System: Is Scaling up Deliberation Possible?”, in Kimmo Grönlund, André Bächtiger and Maija Setälä, eds, Deliberative Mini-Publics: Practices, Promises, Pitfalls (Essex, forthcoming).

  • 78

    Michael K. MacKenzie and Mark E. Warren, “Two Trust-based Uses of Minipublics in Democratic Systems” in John Parkinson and Jane J. Mansbridge, eds, Deliberative Systems: Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale (Cambridge, 2012), pp.95–124.

  • 79

    John Parkinson, Deliberating in the Real World: Problems of Legitimacy in Democracy (Oxford, 2006).

  • 80

    Mike Hulme, “The Conquering of Climate: Discourses of Fear and their Dissolution”, Geographical Journal, Vol. 174, 1 (March, 2008), pp. 95124.

  • 81

    John Uhr, “Testing Deliberative Democracy: The 1999 Australian Republic Referendum”, Government and Opposition, Vol. 35, 2 (April, 2000), pp. 189210; Boswell, Niemeyer and Hendricks, “Citizens’ Deliberations Meet ‘Realpolitik’”.

  • 82

    Other examples of deliberative mini-publics organized at the national level that have failed to make any appreciable impact on the politics of the issue they sought to address include the Australian Citizens’ Parliament and the Deliberative Poll on constitutional reform.

  • 83

    Jonathan W. Kuyper, “Deliberative Democracy and the Neglected Dimension of Leadership”, Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol. 8, 1 (2012.

  • 84

    Julia Jennstål, “Traits and Talks: Lessons about Personality and Deliberation”, Uppsala University, 2012.

  • 85

    Boswell, Niemeyer, and Hendricks, “Citizens’ Deliberations Meet ‘Realpolitik’”.

  • 86

    A good example here is the championing of the use of larger scale deliberative mini-publics in Western Australia by a prominent minister (Alanah McTiernan) on a number of public policy issues. See e.g. Mark E. Warren, “Two Trust-Based Uses of Mini-Publics in Democracy” in Conference on Democracy and the Deliberative Society (University of York, 2009).

  • 87

    Boswell, Niemeyer, and Hendricks, “Citizens’ Deliberations Meet ‘Realpolitik’”.

  • 88

    Suzanne Goldenberg, “Sandy Puts Climate Change Back on the US Election Agenda”, Guardian, 31 October 2012.