- Just as Hurricane Sandy brought climate change back into the political debate in the United States, the floods in southern England have made climate change a topic for public discourse again in the U.K. Indeed, opposition leader Ed Milliband has felt sufficiently emboldened by the floods to put climate change back onto the agenda of any incoming Labour government as witnessed by his interview in The Observer newspaper, In this, he claims that Britain is “sleepwalking into a climate crisis”.
- Meanwhile, the British right still appears unconscious of the potential damage its recent embrace of climate skepticism could do to its political fortunes. There are those on the right who are perfectly aware that a belief in British political conservatism does not require unquestioning adherence to climate skepticism. And it is to The Daily Telegraph‘s credit that the thoughtful veteran environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean is still given a platform (he would have been taken behind the wood shed and shot in the head by The Daily Mail long ago). Yet Lean and has views have been increasingly marginalised on the right over the past five years—as the pages of The Daily Telegraph attest. Instead, we have such nutters as James Delingpole being given a voice in both The Telegraph and The Spectator. For an example of Delingpole’s American style hard-right shock-jock journalism attacking Geoffrey Lean see here. And Christoper Booker appears to be the most prolific Telegraph commentator on the floods, with never a chance missed to bash the ‘warmists’ (people who believe in global warming). See, for example, here. Message to Tory strategists: “What if the skeptics are wrong?, What if the planet warms? What if extreme weather events grow more frequent and severe? What if climate skeptics appear increasingly unhinged from reality? What if a Conservative Party that embraces climate skepticism looks ridiculous?” It doesn’t have to be this way: you can be right-leaning and still believe in climate change. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
- Meanwhile, the U.S. is dealing with its own major extreme weather events, not least of which is the drought in California. National Geographic asks whether we are seeing a structural change in a piece called “Could California’s Drought Last 200 Years?“. And The New York Times looks at the difficulties farmers are facing in an article called “California Seeing Brown Where Green Used to Be“.
- During my series of posts titled “Hiding from the Computers” (starting here), I wrote on the emergence of a Downton Abbey style economy. The Financial Times has former Chief Economist of the World Bank Larry Summers riffing on the same theme in an Op-Ed piece here (free registration gives access).
- The Financial Times has also been chronicling the differing fortunes of typical middle-class professions since the 1970s. This is an example of not just increasing inequality between classes, but also within classes. Just to think, once upon a time engineers used to earn more than bankers!
- Finally, I entered adulthood reading The Economist and The Financial Times and latter added The Wall Street Journal, Barrons and The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (the Japanese FT). So who would have thought that one of my favourite bloggers would now be—well—a druid. Here is John Michael Greer writing on David Holgrem’s “Crash on Demand” article that I flagged in last week’s links, but everything he writes is well worth reading.
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You say, “It doesn’t have to be this way: you can be right-leaning and still believe in climate change. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Dealing with climate change is anathema to the right because it would require massive government intervention in the market, the very definition of leftist pinko radicalism, something which must be avoided even at the cost of great cognitive dissonance. Right-leaners would rather believe something doesn’t exist than admit that it might require government action.
In fact, the reality of anything that requires collective action (perhaps excluding war and stop signs) will be denied by the right. Hence the denial of climate change and other environmental problems, that there could be poor people who don’t deserve their fate, that increased taxes can ever be good, that great inequality of financial wealth could ever be bad, or that the “free market” can ever have dangerous aspects. Climate change would best be countered by a world-wide tax on fossil fuels. Since “world-wide” and “tax” are major rightist no-nos, climate change doesn’t exist.
Given, as a resident of the USA, I am describing the outlook of our right wing. Perhaps it is different where you live, but I doubt it.
This is a historically recent development, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you don’t believe me, just look at Nixon’s record in office – a very long way to the left of Obama(!).
The Right was traditionally concerned with issues like defense and ‘conservatism’ defined as protecting the social and economic fabric of the nation; doing ‘sensible’ things and resisting radical change. As such it may have been expected to deal with global warming one way or another.
Since the late 1970s, however, what we call the right has been progressively radicalized, to the extent of losing touch with reality on many subjects, and becoming what you describe. Conservative really isn’t the right word for a political stance based on ripping up the state wherever possible.
Andrew- I agree, but I think the shift in the nature of ‘conservatism’ for large numbers of people started with Goldwater, circa 1964. My parents were middle of the road Republicans in the 50’s and early 60’s, but had a hard time accepting the tenets of the Goldwater supporters. The ultra-rightist John Birch Society had always been around, but they were pretty much ignored by almost everyone until the mid-60s, when their attitudes started to permeate the Republican party membership. At the same time, the civil rights movement converted a lot of very right-wing Democrats in the South to Republicans.
Nixon was the last gasp of traditional Republican conservatism (he even promoted the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency). By the time Reagan was elected President in 1980, the conversion was complete and the right was anything but ‘conservative’. By then, my Republican parents had become left-leaning Democrats, all without changing any core beliefs.
About the same time, I realized that there was little hope that the USA would ever tackle the really big problems looming over the world; resource depletion, overpopulation, climate change and the threat of nuclear war. Above all, these problems call for policies of maximum conservatism and precaution, found now, albeit too weakly, only with the European Greens. So now, I am a ‘proud’ member of the Party of Despair, one of the fastest growing groups in the world.
Is the key distinction that between the climate change proponents and the cc deniers or that between those who treat climate change in isolation – like Ed Miliband talking of re-balancing of the budget to address flooding – and those who link cc to problems of over-population, costly energy and other minerals, agriculture’s limitations and, ironically, water shortage? Perm any two or three and bang goes the “concerted effort like what won WW2” story.
Matthew. I think you are right to make this distinction. The fact that Miliband has raised the issue of climate change so vocally is a positive, although he only saw fit to do this once the floods gave him political cover (no medals for bravery here). But the Labour Party policies to date are hardly holistic in terms of dealing with the interconnected problems of climate change, resource depletion and technology. The high profile energy price freeze, for example, seems half-baked to me. Does nothing to tackle the core problem.