Monday 9 March 2015

Is Russell Brand to blame for climate change?

The climate march went ahead. The Guardian devoted their whole front cover to the issue. Russell Brand spake from the platform. But you have to ask yourself – given the stakes – why the climate change campaign seems so Sisyphean (I don't know if there is such a word: I mean like pushing stones uphill).

It shouldn't be so difficult, after all. Why wouldn't people subscribe to the idea of rescuing human life on earth? Or saving themselves ruinous costs? And yet they resist it very effectively, with increasing tenacity.

And here, as so often, Jonathan Freedland hit the nail squarely on the head..  Look at the speakers at the climate march on Saturday: Russell Brand and the usual, predictable suspects.

The answer he suggests is that it is because the climate campaigners have explicitly limited themselves to a campaign from the left. They have embraced the vocabulary and symbolism of the left. No campaign so fundamental, asking such fundamental changes of people and government, is going to succeed unless it can also attract the right.

As Jonathan says, the first speech on the subject was made by Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. It shouldn’t be impossible to imagine a conservative climate campaign in parallel and integrated to what we have now.

The Green Party is booming at the moment, but I can't help feeling they are making a similar mistake, They have embraced the language of the left, presumably to pick up disaffected Lib Dem and Labour votes – which would have come to them anyway – but, by doing so, have put a glass ceiling in the way of their growth as a movement.

These issues are too fundamental to campaign from one side of the political divide alone.  By doing so, we render our campaign ineffective - and we don't have that luxury.

This is not intended as a criticism of the left, or of the right come to that, but to say something about how causes as urgent as the climate campaign achieve their objectives. It is by building alliances, not by focusing the appeal.

But there is another problem which Jonathan Freedland never mentions. By couching the climate campaign purely in terms of the left, it has become associated with the same problem that has beset the left over the past generation – it becomes defensive, melancholic, backward-looking and nostalgic for the past.  It becomes irritatingly puritanical and disapproving.

That has been the left's besetting sin since they were swept aside in the 1980s, and it is one reason they have failed to claw back a coherent, mainstream political solution.

If the climate campaign is going to succeed, as my friend Joe Zammit-Lucia keeps arguing, it will need to persuade people – not so much that the earth is doomed – but that their lives can be better, richer, wealthier and more fulfilled by embracing the radical changes that are necessary.

The campaign needs to demonstrate that renewable energy is the key to independence and prosperity. It needs to paint a picture that solves problems rather than tiptoeing away from them back into a an embittered identification of those to blame.

What I find so frustrating is the incredulity that climate change campaigners (like me) feel that their message is so difficult to put across – the demonisation of the other side – when the tools for winning are within their grasp.

Why don't they grasp them? Because they have to win on their own terms? That they have to win by being melancholic or spreading blame? Because to win in other ways looks like cheating? Or, worse, it sounds conservative?

Yet the longer it takes to make this shift, the more difficult it will be to get people who are shiftable out of their entrenched positions.  In fact, they are risking failure on this vital issue by their failing to break out of the conventional political divide - as if, to do so, would commit a greater sin than losing the whole world to global warming.

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Richard Gadsden said...


David Boyle said...

Thank you Richard and Gordon, I've changed it!

Left Lib said...

I don't think that Margaret Thatcher was the first politician to speak on global warming, I remember as a Young Liberal back then that we were keen to get on with it. However she made the headlines when she did get round to it.
The problem is that the issue fits easily as a left wing cause. Global warming is a symptom of market failure demonstrating once again that market forces are not always self correcting as many ring wing libertarians believe. Those that lobby government against policies to tackle global warming come from business funded lobby groups and business funded libertarian think tanks.
The Greens will always have a ceiling where ever they position themselves politically - that happens to all parties. At this moment in time there is little evidence that the electorate want to vote for a centre party, voters are looking for something more extreme like UKIP or indeed the Greens..
However there is a problem for the Greens as you rightly point out - the radical left come with a culture of blame and intolerance. Whenever there is a decent anti establishment political movement, they come and take over it. Going on a left wing demonstration is a painful experience. And so for now politics is stuck in a way that it does not look as though we can save ourselves from global warming.

AlexC said...

You might be amused by Scott Alexander's attempt to phrase the climate change fight in right-wing terms. Although it's deliberately very America-centric, it's both highly entertaining and rather thought-provoking.

It's a bit long to steal the quote wholesale, so follow the link and Ctrl-F for "If I were in charge of convincing the Red Tribe to line up behind fighting global warming, here’s what I’d say", but here are some choice excerpts:

> "In the 1950s, brave American scientists shunned by the climate establishment of the day discovered that the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions"... "the country mobilized against the threat"... "Communist China is now by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, with the Russians close behind"... "we need to punish people and institutions who, instead of cleaning up their own carbon, try to parasitize off the rest of us and expect the federal government to do it for them."