On Resistance to Climate Change Politics

Yesterday the Green Party released its Climate Tax Cut policy proposal comprising, mostly, a carbon tax offset by an income-tax-free threshold for individuals and a decrease in the company tax rate. There’s much to be said about the cleverness of the tax-swap policy and so on, but I’m more interested in the cultural differences I observe in Green supporters (who love climate-change mitigation policies) from the rest of the populace at large (who regard them as a necessary evil at best).

Seeing that this cultural gap results in an amount of criticism from greens directed at those less enthusiastic, this morning I put it into the form of a twitter-treatise, as follows:

This seems to me a pretty fundamental map/territory problem: people are cognisant of the threat of climate change and might be willing to do something about it, but are alienated by alarmist rhetoric, guilt-trips and castigation, and policies that might inconvenience them.

The Greens as an increasingly professional and mainstream political operation are, for the most part, pretty good at staying positive on this topic. But how are they to mobilise their activist base without bringing out the elitist and badgering tendencies that come so naturally when people are so convinced of their rightness that they genuinely can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t agree with them?


8 thoughts on “On Resistance to Climate Change Politics

  1. Lew

    You have obviously made good use of your break from blogging with some excellent analysis on your return.
    Have a read of this article which does not offer any specific answer to the points you make but offers an interesting parallel philosophy by way of explanation.
    The Daoist philosophy that comes out is that intervention simply causes more problems in the long run.
    With regard to climate change there are many people who are convinced the scientific problem is real but the impact probably small whilst the impact of the solutions being imposed is definitely large. People sense they are being treated as idiots. It is a naturally conservative impulse to be opposed to substantial change to something that is comfortable now.
    The best part of the Greens proposal is the tax neutrality of it.

    I think you imply that something needs to be done and the cultural question is how do “we” convince people. The reality could simply be that people are wiser than their leaders and nothing major needs to be done.

    The argument is between strong interventionists who argue “something must be done” and non interventionists.

    The Greens have made a political movement out of ignoring reason and appealing to emotion. They should and will continue more of the same. The IMPS will spend lots of money but have a very low emotional appeal. As well as not having reason on their side I am somewhat sceptical of how successful they will be.

  2. Phil, in truth I have spent most of my time renovating a house, which is less politically enlightening than might be imagined.

    The trouble is that your argument here — that maybe we should just do nothing and hope for the best — is unfalsifiable and difficult to rebut in general terms without resorting to something akin to Godwin’s Law. Also, I know you don’t actually believe it. Conservatives generally, are not non-interventionist — you do believe in taking robust and decisive action to enact policy or ideology — you just have different trigger-points and preferences about when it suits you. Conservatives historically supported, and many still support, ruinous and far-reaching geopolitical intervention (as well as necessary intervention), and within NZ the passage of laws correcting what you regard as unjust or inconvenient ethnic policy, the heavy-handed suppression of activists, &c.

    So while I take Spitznagel’s point: “In the words of Bastiat, we pursue a small present good which will be followed by a great evil to come, rather than a great good to come at the risk of a small present evil.” — the trouble is that climate change according to what the best scientific advice (contra your “many people”), is no small present evil, but a catastrophic threat.

    I know, I know, Taleb’s whole point is about what we can and can’t rightly know, and it’s true. But that’s as true in war and geopolitics as it is in climate change or international finance. So the question here is not about interventionism — it’s about how to weight evidence and authority. Who do we believe?

    The recognition of the problem and that Something Must Be Done is largely settled. I’m not very concerned with it. Sure, there are hold-outs, mainly comprising a large minority of mostly white, older, wealthier men who are well-insulated against the sorts of threats posed by climate change, but across the populace at large there is a general agreement on this point. There is not agreement, however, about the Something to be done.

    That is the problem the Greens, and others, face: pitching policy such that people who do believe that Something Must Be Done will accept their proposal as a sufficient Something.


  3. There is truth in sanding, it makes you value an education. You have become a capitalist, improving the value of your home by your own hard work rather than expecting the state to provide and bemoaning your fate.

    I struggle with much conservative philosophy. But my support for armed intervention is based around exactly the Bastiat quote from Spitznagel. The small evil now on behalf of oppressed people against dictators and radical islamists rather than ongoing appeasement. The natural order of things will then be allowed to reveal itself through the will of the people. In the real world you would rightly point out many people have suffered terribly. Was it worth it? What price freedom?
    Small incremental technology based change towards eventual solar is going to solve the “catastrophic” issue. For the really poor people in the world clean water and malaria are vastly more important than the concentration of CO2. In the last 30 years capitalist activity has halved the number of people on <$2/day in real terms. I take a great deal of comfort from the fact that commercial nurseries increase concentration of CO2 up to 1100ppm. And that the universe would not care if we were to be one of the extinct species.

  4. There’s hope yet with the newly-formed Generation Zero – they manage to get the message across without flogging people about the head with it, which has likely been a big factor in ‘carbon fatigue’. On top of that, too many people erroneously think carbon neutrality means being forced into a subsistence lifestyle.

  5. The guy who most disputed this argument with me on Twitter was from Generation Zero. His position was that people, when asked, love the idea of bike lanes and such like; mine was that they might think they like them, but evidently aren’t prepared to vote for them. Basically down to the ambivalent meanings of the word “support”.


  6. Phil Sage: mind you, the Greens’ political polar opposites aren’t immune to emotional politics either – Colin Craig, Bob McCoskrie, Trevor Loudon and Garth McVicar come to mind.

    And I find the Anders Breiviks and Timothy McVeighs among us a lot scarier than the Taliban and al-Qaeda, because the former look like us and are harder to spot, whereas the latter go out of their way to look the part.

  7. red : fair point on your first para. I struggle with that whole shock something must be done approach. It is the same authoritarian control side of the coin as climate control being a cover for socialism.

    On your second para I find Stalin, Mao and Islamism far scarier than lone nutters. They seek to impose their value systems on others through force and accumulate the means to do so through organisation.
    Frankly your comment about being harder to spot is borderline racist. A peaceful tolerant muslim wearing a beard and traditional clothing is indistinguishable from an islamist. Do you think we can judge them both on appearance?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *