Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why are parties of the Right sceptical of climate change?

Scepticism about climate change is said to be growing in the party most likely to win the British General Election, a party of the Right. What drives this scepticism?

Parties of the Right are not necessarily anti-green. While generally avoiding legislation that would impose restrictions on economic growth, they tend to contain a good proportion of people who want to preserve green spaces, minimise pollution, and maximise energy efficiency. There are also some who fear dependence on fuel imports from unstable regimes, and so would favour encouragement of the renewable energy industry.

But it is clear that many on the Right are vehemently against the scientific consensus on climate change. The blogosphere is full of fierce attempts by those who aren't climate scientists to dispute the evidence, without any apparent awareness that these arguments have already been examined in great detail by researchers over several years and using multiple sources of evidence. Which is why there is now a scientific consensus. Of course all knowledge is open to question; but we have to make decisions on the best-tested knowledge, and rehashing old arguments without engaging with the actual evidence is not the way to proceed.

These people are not stupid. So why is there such fervour against climate change, on the Right specifically?

Here are some suggestions (from a British perspective, although perhaps similar suggestions might apply to the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere)...
  • Fear of costs. Fear that action to combat climate change will be very costly in the short-term. There are much larger costs if climate change turns out as science predicts, but labelling the science as uncertain, exaggerated or bogus means these costs can be ignored. It may not happen, so why take the hit? And even if it does happen, how do we know that we could prevent it?
  • The Left are loving this. Fear that there is a left-wing agenda afoot to use climate change as an excuse: for creating greater EU & UN powers at the expense of national governments; for re-shaping the economy along anti-capitalist, statist lines; for undermining the oil, nuclear and airline industries specifically; and for greater taxes on the rich and technologically adventurous.
  • Britain will be overtaken. Fear that Britain will be out-manoeuvred by developing countries into accepting restrictions on its economic activity that will allow (for example) China, India and Brazil to overtake.
  • Opposition. Those on the Right have been out of power in Britain for over 12 years, and are now accustomed to opposing the agenda of the current left-leaning government. Moreover, there is a strong tradition of muscular contrarianism amongst opinion-forming columnists and bloggers.
Are there other reasons?