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Populism is popular but generally gets a bad press — for good reasons. But could populism actually be a progressive force in domestic and even international politics? Recent movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the abortive Arab Spring suggest it might. This presentation previews my forthcoming book and considers — more in hope than expectation — whether a populist upsurge could actually mobilise around the issue of climate change. We will undoubtedly be forced to respond to climate change eventually, but thoughtful, constructive responses may no longer be possible by the time we do. Yet public pressure to make policymakers act in environmentally sustainable ways is still just about possible. Progressive forms of populism, especially in democratic states, could compel even the most conservative politicians to take climate change seriously before it is too late. As Mrs Thatcher might have said, as far as the majority of us who have no influence over policy are concerned, there really is no alternative.
Professor Mark Beeson is Professor of International Politics at the University of Western Australia (UWA). Before joining UWA, he taught at Murdoch, Griffith, Queensland, York (UK) and Birmingham, where he was also head of department. He is the founding editor of Critical Studies of the Asia Pacific.