Will green investment be prioritised in the economic stimulus packages that are undoubtedly needed? Will people think differently about travel or food security? Will we emerge with a politics that focuses more on a collective approach to global challenges such as climate? Or will we fall back into desperate attempts to rekindle the old economy and the old ways? – Rebecca Willis (UK), The Guardian, May 21, 2020
The shallowness of climate concern among the public and voters is a large elephant in the climate room. A recent poll by the American Energy Alliance confirmed that U.S. voters are much more interested in pocketbook issues than in the ephemeral, politicized issue of “climate change.” The same is true when it comes to politics as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) lamented earlier this year:
There is no company that shows up in Congress on climate, except maybe Patagonia. Tech associations barely mention it. I am involved in a number of secret climate conversations with some of my Republican colleagues but they can’t find a single corporation that will come out and say ‘I’ve got your back.’ It should not be too much to ask corporate America to align their lobbying with their stated values.
The same appears to be the case in the United Kingdom, despite all the establishment hype about climate concern. Specifically, a row has developed between the UK and the EU over climate policy, detailed in a Reuters article of May 25, 2020, “Bust-up over climate weighs on EU-UK talks, risks trade rifts.”
On the surface, it appears that this is more form than substance since each has the same long-term CO2 emission goals. But long-term aspirational goals mean little as the UK scales back and finds itself facing “border adjustments” (tariffs) from the EU members.
But there is something going on that is more fundamental. A recent analysis by Rebecca Willis in The Guardian, “‘I Don’t Want to be Seen As a Zealot’: What MPs Really Think About the Climate Crisis (May 21, 2020), tells the story.
Quotations from her long article follow:
“[The MP] told me she regularly speaks for her party on climate change, telling people about the need for action to tackle emissions. And yet, she said, there was a catch: lots of people in the constituency she represents have jobs in an industry responsible for huge amounts of carbon pollution…. She was simultaneously backing and opposing climate action.”
“There is very little honest debate about the major changes to our economy and society that will be needed if we are to meet this challenge. Like my interviewee, we’re all in favour of climate action, but we haven’t yet had an honest conversation about the power and the vested interests involved, or the choices that will have to be made if we are to achieve significant reductions in emissions.”
“I have come to think of this as the dual reality of climate politics. We know that things need to change, and yet we’re embedded in our current lives and our current politics. We exist in both realities at once.”
“Politicians make grand statements about the threat of climate change, then flip straight back into politics-as-usual. They find it hard to imagine, and to get others to imagine, how we might talk about and bring into being a politics with climate at its heart. It’s easier to look away.”
“Covid-19 is, understandably, taking up all the political and media attention there is, for now. But the need for fast, radical carbon cuts – and a political strategy that will allow this to happen – has not gone away. Will green investment be prioritised in the economic stimulus packages that are undoubtedly needed? Will people think differently about travel or food security? Will we emerge with a politics that focuses more on a collective approach to global challenges such as climate? Or will we fall back into desperate attempts to rekindle the old economy and the old ways? For now, there are only questions. But my research offers some clues about how the recovery could be climate-proofed.”
“Politicians quietly passed a radical act of parliament [Climate Change Act of 2009] committing the UK to serious change – and then carried on as normal.”
“With the backing of Green Alliance and some philanthropic funders, I set up a training programme. We offered parliamentary candidates and new MPs the chance to learn about the science, policy and politics of climate in a series of tailor-made workshops…. And then, at the end of our workshop, they walked out of the door and back to their normal lives.”
“All the politicians I spoke to accepted the science of climate change. And yet they downplayed the consequences. They showed a reluctance to discuss how climate change would reshape human society.”
“I asked [the MP] why, if it’s so significant, [climate] wasn’t discussed much in parliament. But he didn’t answer. He couldn’t, or didn’t want to, linger on this point: he steered the discussion on to electoral cycles, the health service, the economy. He was back in the manageable normality he knew, rejecting the reality of a climate-changed future that had, just a few moments before, terrified him.”
“The way politicians responded to climate didn’t just depend on what they thought about the science. Instead, it became clear to me that there were two main reasons why MPs struggled with the issue: first, because it didn’t fit easily into the culture of political life and their own identity as a parliamentarian; and second, because they worried that public support for climate action was limited, and that, as representatives, they needed to be led by their electorate.”
“One former MP, who had been an active climate campaigner in parliament, said: ‘I was known as being a freak.’ Another told me about how he tried to avoid being seen as a ‘zealot’. These remarks were common in my conversations with politicians.”
“Some [politicians] said they avoided any mention of climate for fear that it would put an unhelpful label on them. One confident, outspoken MP who worked on energy policy told me that he did what he could to promote policies that would reduce carbon, but justified his proposals on other grounds, such as reducing fuel bills. ‘I don’t use climate change as the word because I think it’s just toxic,’ he told me. ‘As is the way in these issues which are contentious, you won’t take people with you politically.’”
“Socially organised denial is alive and well in the [House of] Commons. It is exacerbated by very deliberate strategies from those who have a stake in high-carbon activities: countries, and companies, that depend on fossil fuels.”
“Little has been done to curb carbon-intensive activity. New coal mines are opened and new airports built with little discussion of climate impacts. If we are constantly finding new ways to dig up and burn carbon, it won’t be enough just to ramp up renewable energy.”
“Study after study shows that meeting climate goals means phasing out the extraction and use of oil, coal and gas – yet no mainstream political party has a coherent plan to do this.”
“… no MP felt that their voters were putting them under particular pressure to act. As one said to me, ‘I’ve knocked hundreds, literally thousands of doors, and had tens of thousands of conversations with voters … and I just don’t have conversations about climate change.’”
“With climate – a complex, global issue with no clear beginning or end – it’s more complicated. Politicians have to work quite hard to make a claim for why acting on climate is in the best interests of their electorate.”
“Another told me about proposals for a new road in his constituency, which he opposed. If he had used a climate argument, he said, ‘there would have been a rolling of eyes and saying: “Oh, here he goes again”.’ Instead, he made the case on economic grounds, saying that investment in public transport was a better option.”
“In this new world of the coronavirus pandemic … some have cheered the unintentional environmental benefits of lockdown. It’s certainly true that the air is cleaner, the streets quieter. We can hear the birdsong. Carbon emissions have taken a dive, too. But this is in no way a model for climate strategy.”
The world is rejecting climate alarmism. Many simply do not buy the apocalypse. Many more pay lip service (a sort of micro-greenwashing) to get through the day.
That leaves the all-committed noisy protesters, who blindly refuse to check their premises and reconsider redirecting their passion and resources toward real here-and-now problems.
It will be a slow, excruciating death for advocates of “green” energy in a futile crusade against dense, storable, portable mineral energies. The faster the futile deindustrialization crusade is ended, the better.