Why are the political right so committed to climate change denial?

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6 February
10:08
21 February
10:34

This question only makes sense if it applies to the US. In America, the conservative right wing tends to be made up of Republicans who have a particularly deep investment in capitalism and corporate business, almost the whole of which has been in denial about climate change for as long as evidence about its reality has been accumulating. To be Republican means to have an investment in the status quo, which in the US means an utter dependency on carbon fuels, and to avoid the mental distress of recognising the carbon fuel economy is not only unsustainable but doomed in the long term, there is strong psychological pressure to develop conspiracy theories which dismiss climate change as a myth created by the left and by Hippies to destroy the world as we know it.

Recognition of global warming emerged in the 1980s and there was a split in the US. The right wing is married to the oil industry, plastics, unlimited air traffic, unlimited consumption, and the globalisation of capitalism without external limitations, including ecological ones. They have such a financial and psychological investment in the system as it is that they cannot accept that actually this is a little bubble of apparent energy and resource abundance that will burst in a few decades, and they are in an unsustainable economy supported by unsustainable fossil fuel consumption. Trump’s appointment as Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, who is said to be a climate-change denier, will only make matters worse, opening up the Dakota Access Pipeline and undoing all the ecological safety nets that Obama began to put in place.

“To be Republican means to have an investment in the status quo… there is strong psychological pressure to develop conspiracy theories which dismiss climate change as a myth created by the left and by Hippies to destroy the world as we know it.

It’s the same situation in Russia and with the Middle East, which is massively invested in oil and gas and has made minimal preparation for the approaching time when oil will be a dead industry. There’s a general denial in the West, but this question about the ecological blindness of the right is really about America. If you think of the right wing across the spectrum, including Nazis and populists, not all of it is in denial about climate change. In Britain, UKIP is committed to undoing a lot of climate protection and they want to scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but other conservative organisations, The Countryside Alliance and the Swiss right-wing populists, for example, are very committed to ecological action.

“You can’t generalise along the lines of “Populism is right-wing, is anti-environment’.”

It’s a similar situation among the populist parties across Europe. The populist party in Italy called Movimento Cinque Stelle [Five Stars] is deeply committed to the environment. You can’t generalise along the lines of “Populism is right-wing, is anti-environment.” Many would consider Communist China a right-wing form of authoritarian, nationalist politics, but China’s ecological crisis is driving it to adopt radical green measures to be able to maintain growth.

However, it’s generally true that any political party or regime anywhere in the world that has a massive ideological and financial investment in an oil-based universe will be in denial of climate change, either to the point of dismissing the whole thing with a conspiracy theory about all these ecological pessimists being communists/anti-progress dreamers, or by believing in a technology that will one day fix it all so we don’t have to worry.

It’s a catastrophic situation because the whole trading and consumerist world is committed to oil, and the ruling financial and political elites have such a huge stake in it that it’s a real battle for those who recognise the unsustainability of the present system to have their proposals adopted. Governments such the UK Conservatives or Japan sign up to climate treaties but will inevitably fail to meet their own targets.

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