Jim Stark’s Rescue Plan for Planet Earth is an important book about an important topic. The book provides a clear diagnosis of one of the major problems facing the world today; humanity’s division into competing states, a division which not only provides the preconditions for warfare and other forms of conflict, but which has left humanity unable to cooperate effectively to deal with problems such as environmental protection and the persistence of poverty and starvation in some parts of the world.
Of course Rescue Plan for Planet Earth is hardly the first book to point to these issues. There have been many solutions proposed to the problem of our divided humanity, ranging from world government to world love with everything in between also considered. But the advocates of these solutions usually leap straight from the problem to the ideal solution without considering the process which might take us to the ideal solution; for instance, going into detail about the constitutional provisions for a new world government without spending much time explaining how the ideal world government is going to come about.
The great merit of Jim Stark’s book is that it considers how to get there as the major issue. The book advocates a Democratic World Government (DWG), but its main focus is not on explaining exactly what a DWG will look like, but on explaining how we will get there. According to Rescue Plan for Planet Earth we will get there after a global referendum delivers a strong majority of votes for DWG, and the bulk of the book is taken up with explaining how this referendum can be organised.
The global referendum, according to this book, can be started through Internet voting so that for the first time it is possible for the people of the world to voice their concerns and express their sovereignty. Large parts of the book are taken up with discussion of what would constitute a persuasive majority of votes and what would be the legal effect, if any, of a majority vote in favour of DWG.
The idea of a global vote is a powerful one and Jim Stark needs to be commended for putting all the arguments together and presenting them with clarity, logic and passion.
Before discussing the merits of the proposal, the problems should be noted, of course. With the world constituted as it is, we cannot be confident that everyone has an equal chance to vote or to be informed of the issues. We would need many safeguards in place to be sure that people only voted once and were not ineligible, for instance by being underage at the time of voting. Allowing the referendum to keep going on, perhaps for years, as Jim Stark seems to envisage, until enough positive votes have been recorded may also create problems. People may have changed their minds, or even died, after casting their initial vote years earlier. In some systems a failure to vote is counted as a no vote, so, if after a set period of time, there are not enough yes votes then the proposition is counted as being defeated. Non-voters are not usually given years to vote. At the moment, not everyone has access to the Internet to vote, of course, although Jim Stark envisages the referendum going offline as well, once it builds momentum.
The book also suggests that such a referendum would provide a legal mandate for DWG. Apart from the problems mentioned above, there is the practical fact that referenda usually occur inside an existing legal-political jurisdiction and are supervised by the governing authorities of that jurisdiction. The referendum develops any legal force through following the correct procedures within whatever jurisdiction is conducting them. I think it is unlikely that by itself such a referendum would develop legal force.
But while these criticisms are significant, they do not go to the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is finding the answer to the question of how do we move from the current situation to a better one? There are several possible answers and Jim Stark focuses on one; the global referendum.
If we ignore the question of the legal force of the proposed referendum, and simply consider it a petition or appeal, the idea still has great strength. What could be more persuasive than an appeal or petition signed by millions of people? I think the steady development of such a worldwide appeal has the potential to be one of the great forces leading the world in the direction of DWG.
Other steps as well will have to be taken to get us there. Those steps will have to include some (democratic) government-to-government negotiations and some more discussion of what form a DWG is likely to take. The closest example the world has today to such a development on an international scale is the European Union (EU) which has overcome many of the worst manifestations of nationalism, or reduced them to nonviolent proportions, amongst its members in Europe. The EU evolved slowly through government-to-government negotiation rather than being based on a referendum. Of course many would say it should have relied much more on the use of referenda! However, here is not the place to discuss all the possible steps to DWG.
Nonetheless, all supporters of global reform need to consider how to show that what they advocate has popular support, and the sort of referendum proposed in this book is a most clear and well thought-out proposal for showing that. I recommend this book to anyone interested in building support for global political reform. I hope that other cosmopolitan political groups will see the project associated with this book as complementary rather than competitive. I recommend this book to all who are interested in building a better political system which respects the human interest rather than just the national interest.
Lyndon Storey, author of Humanity or Sovereignty: A Political Roadmap for the 21st Century, September 2008.