Why deniers are right-wing and why that’s important

Most climate change deniers are right wing and left-wing climate change deniers are rare. To tackle climate change we need the values and strengths of people on the right just as much as those on the left. So we need to understand why it is mainly right-wingers who are against action on climate change.

Logically there’s no connection so you’d expect deniers to be evenly distributed across the political spectrum.

I think it’s to do with the ability to empathise. If you empathise with people really well, you might want a kind of politics which seeks to help people out. And you don’t mind sharing some of your income, via taxation, for that purpose. Similarly, to feel worried about climate change you have to have special powers of empathy across time (2050) and space (Africa). So, if someone has lots of empathy, they are more likely to be both quite “left wing” and also worried about climate change.

If someone has less ability to empathise, they might be more individualistic and more likely to think that a chap should pull up his socks and get on his bike and they will be less worried about the effects of climate change. Otherwise, I can’t see a logical connection between political belief and concern about climate change.

The worry is this: if it is about empathy, and if empathy is relatively hard-wired in people’s brains (such it might take at least a serious shock to reset that, for example), then we are simply never going to have a political consensus to act strongly on climate change. Someone might understand there is a problem, but they aren’t going to be worried about it if they can’t empathise.

This needs to be better understood and addressed if we want to create consensus across society on this question.

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5 Responses to Why deniers are right-wing and why that’s important

  1. Interesting argument James, and I surely agree that we need more voices across the political spectrum tackling environmental problems.

    However I think the 'Right' is more complex than you imply, there is a strong division between the Thatcherite liberal Right and the more traditionalist, communitarian Right – which I think is far more likely to display empathy and accept the need for collective action to tackle environmental problems.

    This latter tradition is strong and deep-rooted in conservatism and, I think, is becoming more vocal on environmental issues.

  2. James Atkins says:

    Yes, you are right. I was thinking more of people on the right who I have heard in America. They are probably that "liberal Right".

    Another reason for the need for more voices is that we get stymied on almost any route: too much "nudging" becomes social engineering; too much coercion becomes dictatorship.

  3. Mike says:

    Follow the $$$s. The right-wing climate deniers are invariably members of think tanks financed by fossil fuel money. In the USA it is hardly a secret that the Koch bros are important financiers of debialism.

  4. James Atkins says:

    Is it really that simple? I mean even right wing deniers can think long term enough to pay for education and health and save for pensions. So in some cases they are capable of looking beyond short-term financial interest.

    And someone like Koch himself – he's got so much money that the price of oil stocks really can't make much difference to his life.

  5. Hi James

    I've always thought of myself as being of no particular political persuasion.

    But, since I became interested in the climate change problem I realised I must have been left wing all along.

    Always been a bit of a sissy, though, so not sure other floating voters will come to the same conclusion.


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