Lately there’s been a lot of talk about political polarisation and ideological bubbles. Brexit in the UK, Trump in America and an apparent withering of the centre ground across Europe while people increasingly go to the radical Right or Left. As usual, social media is largely blamed – this time the crime is making people divided and out of touch. It’s those pesky algorithms serving you up only what you Like, say the political commentators. Commentators of the generation where people chose their one trusted newspaper to give them the facts. Although ‘chose’ is perhaps the wrong word, as they would usually just blindly pick up the paper that their friends and family read. If only today’s youth would exercise that kind of critical thinking before being taken in by biased blog posts in their Facebook feed!
As you can tell, I’m somewhat sceptical that this issue of people living in their own echo chambers is in any way a new problem. But that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. What I think is most concerning is how this relates to the politics of climate change.
Beliefs tend to congregate together in little ideological bundles. Worryingly, an opposition to climate action and even flat out climate denial has become associated with the Right. When people have values like pro-business, free market, ‘traditional family values’ and the like, it’s easy for them to pick up anti-climate beliefs by proxy.
That’s a major problem.
The climate debate should be political but not partisan. It absolutely should not be pigeon-holed as a left-wing issue. Yet in the UK and USA it tends to be seen as a more Left issue, and the Right is often against climate action. We can’t afford not to engage right wing people in the climate movement. Frankly, they need to get on-board if we want any hope of a future.
I realise I am kind of contributing to this, as I write a blog about the politics of climate change from my own left-liberal angle. I’m not going to change my political worldview, but I am going to make an effort to highlight the right-wing case for climate action and to try to reach out to people who think differently to me.
Here’s five traditional right wing values that make the case for climate action.
Why the Right should be pro climate action
The American Right is fiercely anti-abortion, or “pro-life” as they prefer to call it. Yet “pro-life” campaigners rarely campaign with the same ferocity against poverty, war or preventable disease or for gun control, healthcare and climate action – despite those things being more relevant if you actually care about saving lives. Even if you believe that a fetus has exactly the same human rights as an actual live human, then surely you would see those issues as at the very least equally as important as abortion. If you believe that the unborn have human rights, then it’s really not much of a stretch to say that children that haven’t quite been conceived yet also have human rights. If they do, then you should be passionately campaigning for climate action and the rights of future generations.
Right-wing economics is dominated by a loyal, even dogmatic adherence to the theory of the free market. They think that the market naturally organises resource flows in the most efficient way possible, and that government action gets in the way. Subsidies are often targeted as backwards for ‘propping up failing industries’. So why aren’t more right-wing people furious about the enormous fossil fuel subsidies? Governments around the world spend $1.9 trillion on subsidising fossil fuels each year. It’s not a new industry, so they can’t even pull the R&D card. These subsidies make fossil fuels artificially cheap, causing unfair competition with clean energy by distorting the market. Any self-respecting free-marketeer should passionately oppose them.
3. Small Government
This point is a bit counter-intuitive because the Right is notoriously opposed to taxes. However, this stems from their general mistrust of government and the public sector and desire for ‘small government’ with as few regulations as possible. A carbon tax is a very neat, light-touch and market-based solution to carbon pollution. Slap a rising tax on fossil fuels at the mine, oil well or port, and watch the magic of the market push down emissions at every stage of the supply chain and all across the economy. If people are solely motivated by getting their desired goods for the lowest price, as free market theory assumes, the climate problem should be practically fixed with this one measure. Alternatively, a whole host of regulations could be instated instead, such as direct public investments and subsidies and incentive schemes for clean energy, extra reporting (or ‘red tape’ as the Right call it) for businesses, latest technology requirements and inspections for industry, or perhaps even outright bans on fossil fuels or carbon rationing. One simple tax is much more ‘small government’ than this medley of interventionist policies.
4. Christian Values
The Right are often tightly linked to Christianity, and right-wing people frequently cite their Christian values when discussing issues like marriage, the family and sexuality. However, much of the Christian Right is silent when it comes to protecting and respecting God’s creation – the Earth. Or indeed in helping the needy – poor people in their own country and around the world who are already facing climate impacts which will only get more deadly. Jesus preached about love, compassion and charity for the vulnerable, and historically, before we had a welfare state, Churches acted as sanctuaries and soup kitchens for the poor. Major charities such as Christian Aid continue this tradition into the present day. In fact, there is such a compelling case for climate action informed by Christian values that the Pope has issued an impassioned call for the faithful to act on climate – and his call has been echoed by a growing number of church leaders. Those on the Christian Right should be on a mission to protect God’s work and love like Jesus.
Perhaps the most universal aspect of the Right is a pro-business attitude. According to the Right, business is the most dynamic and important part of the economy and big business and their owners are wealth and job creators, to be celebrated. So why aren’t more rightwingers listening to captains of industry like Paul Polman, Elon Musk and Tim Cook who continuously argue that climate inaction is costly and climate action is a massive business opportunity? Studies have shown that rapid transition to a low and eventually zero carbon economy can produce millions of jobs and trillions in business value. Economists from mainstream business-friendly organisations like the World Bank, IMF and World Economic Forum have shown how climate action will boost economic growth. If you think economic growth and business profits are the bee’s knees, you should be all over climate action and ringing in the next economic revolution.
Being social animals, seeking friends who share our views and reading media that reinforces them, we tend to take on the beliefs of those around us. And beliefs have a habit of coming not individually, but in bundles.
The anti climate action belief somehow got into the Right-wing bundle along with the values above and many others. But maybe it doesn’t belong there at all, maybe it contradicts the other core values.
If you’re a right wing person and you’re against climate action, take a good look at why. Chances are, it’s just because other people and media with your views are against it. But what’s more important to you, really? Your pro-life, Christian, small-government, free market and pro-business values? Or a vague distrust of windfarms?
When you think about it, right-wing values make a very compelling case for climate action.