Climate change isn’t left-wing – another political division is more important

Posted in Climate Majority on February 7th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

An Axios journalist’s description of people who want an immediate switch to 100% renewables as “far-left” has provoked argument.

Some have been bemused, some combative, and some patronising.

But most people probably agree with her. A poll I commissioned for my book found that climate change is the issue most associated with the political left.

And yet it’s easy to find problems with the idea that climate change is a left-wing interest:

  • Lord Deben (John Gummer), Greg Clark, Claire Perry and Amber Rudd are all right-of-centre but are serious about tackling climate change.
  • Jeremy Corbyn is to the left of Ed Miliband but doesn’t seem any more interested in climate change than his predecessor.
  • Ukip aren’t particularly to the right of the Tories but are vastly worse on climate change (want pull out of the Paris Agreement etc).
  • The TUC is left-of-centre but doesn’t take climate change that seriously – backing high-carbon projects like a new Heathrow runway.

What’s going on?

The problem comes from thinking along only one axis, the economic one. If we expect everyone who’s left-wing to be worried about climate change, we’ll keep on finding contradictions.

Instead, we should pay more attention to another axis, variously called internationalist-nationalist, open-closed, liberal-illiberal – and Remain-Leave.

Look at this YouGov poll. The single best predictor that someone’s interested in climate change is that they oppose significant reductions in immigration. The next best predictor is that they oppose the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Of the three parties’ voters, it’s Lib Dems, not Labour voters, who are most interested in climate change. Supporting the more left-wing party doesn’t mean you’re more worried about the climate.

The people who are most worried about climate change are most likely to be the ones in the top half of the two axes – the internationalist, open, liberals, Remainers.

Graphic from The Climate Majority

This isn’t to say the left-right axis is irrelevant. As a general rule, the more left-wing someone is, the more likely they are to be worried. But it’s a stronger rule that the more internationalist they are, the more worried they are.

It explains all the contradictions we saw above. Their northerly positions on the open-closed axis tell us why Lord Deben and co are worried about climate change while Ukip don’t care.

We keep on missing this, because the term “left-wing” tends to be conflated with the top-left quadrant, while the term “right-wing” tends to be conflated with the bottom-right quadrant. But that leaves out many people.

This probably helps explain why polls that ask people where they are on the left-right scale and what they think about climate change find that self-identified left-wing people are much more worried about it (eg here and here).

The two axes are important for understanding how to talk about climate change to people who aren’t already worried about it.

One lesson is it doesn’t make sense to ask what the left or the right – even the centre-left or centre-right – think about climate change, without also thinking about what you mean on the other axis.

If you’re talking about climate change with someone in the top-right quadrant – think George Osborne – you might expect them to be sympathetic, but perhaps worried about the economic costs. If you’re talking to someone in the bottom right quadrant – say Theresa May – you might expect them to be less interested, but perhaps persuadable on the basis of national interest.

It’s clearly wrong to say that wanting 100% renewables right now is far-left. If there’s any point on the political axes that predicts that view, it’s more like extreme-internationalism.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Is every poll wrong? The British Election Study suggests they might be – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on February 4th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

This may be the most interesting and important Polling Matters discussion in the 3+ years of the show. Keiran and I go through the results of the British Election Study and talk about why it suggests all other polls could be wrong – and what that means for our understanding of attitudes to politics.

You can listen here:

I went vegan for January. Was I wasting my time?

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on January 31st, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

It was the coconut cheese that did it. For most of January I’d believed that being vegan was no sacrifice – if anything it meant I was trying foods I wouldn’t normally think to eat. Some of them were very good. Jackfruit can be cooked into something like a sticky pulled pork that makes a superb burrito. But as I slathered pickle to mask the taste of the coconut-based fake wensleydale, it was inescapable that I would prefer to be eating the real thing.

Why had I bothered with Veganuary? It’s true I don’t want animals to suffer, want to prevent the toxic waste that comes from some farms, and hate the way so much land is used for raising animals, rather than for homes or wildlife. But none of that was enough for me to make the change. I did Veganuary for just one reason, and that was the climate change effect of meat and dairy production.

The world’s promise to avoid dangerous climate change is soon going to crash into its taste for meat and milk. By the time my seven-month-old is 40, the world should have become carbon neutral. Some parts of that switch seem hard but possible. The radical growth of solar and wind power and the arrival of electric cars that are better than petrol ones at least show how those sectors could eliminate emissions.

Food is different. Livestock farming is responsible for 14.5% of global emissions and it’s hard to see how those emissions go away unless a lot of people consume a lot less meat and milk. As more people move out of poverty, the world’s demand for animal products looks set to increase, when emissions should be going in the other direction.

That seemed a good reason for me to try being vegan for a month. It seemed obvious that, if I believe the world should cut emissions fast, I should deal with my own emissions. Climate change is an ethical problem, so it would be unethical for me to worsen it if I can reasonably avoid doing so, however small my individual contribution. I wouldn’t throw a plastic bottle into the vast ocean, so why should I be relaxed about releasing planet-warming gases?

But, midway through Veganuary, an evangelical free-marketeer – who is as worried about climate change as I am – told me I was completely wrong. He argued that my voluntary restraint would have no effect. Not even a tiny, insignificant effect. None at all.

His argument was that my voluntary restraint would reduce the price of the dairy I was avoiding, so others would consume it instead. If you bought a pint of milk last month because it was on special offer, perhaps you’ve got me to thank for it. Even if hundreds of millions become vegan, there are many more around the world who want to eat more dairy and would welcome to chance to buy it. Voluntary restraint is pointless (if the market’s working properly).

To quote Tim Minchin, “Hmm, that’s a good point, let me think for a bit. Oh wait, my mistake, that’s absolute bullshit”.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh, but here’s why the free-marketeer is wrong, and voluntary restraint is essential for the world to avoid dangerous climate change

There are two ways food emissions might fall:

  1. Billions of people decide to stop eating high-emitting foods.
  2. Governments apply taxes or laws or incentives that force farmers to come up with cleaner ways of producing the same foods or cleaner alternative foods.

Our free-marketeer believes only the second option can work, and I happen to agree with him. But he’s wrong to think this doesn’t involve voluntary restraint. (The only way I can see 1 succeeding is if breakthroughs in low-carbon foods are so astonishing that consumers prefer them to food from animals; given the ridiculous low cost of meat it’s hard to see artificial foods being able to win on price).

Imagine Michael Gove announced next week that he’s introducing a carbon tax and it’ll eventually be high enough that meat and dairy consumption will fall 90% unless the industry effectively eliminates its emissions. There would be outrage. There’s no way it would pass. (and now, for a laugh, imagine a left-wing party that didn’t have the support of most of the media doing the same)

The only way food emissions will fall is if there’s public support for the switch. That’s only going to happen if the problem and the solution are first normalised. Emissions from agriculture are far too high and have to fall, which means far more people will have to eat a low-carbon diet – and that low-carbon diet has to be much more appealing than it is now.

This is why it’s right – maybe essential – for people like me to eat less meat and dairy. We’re showing that cutting emissions is something that people do, which starts conversations about what dealing with climate change will actually look like, which will make it seem less bizarre when the time comes for a government to try to reduce emissions from food.

We’re also creating incentives for the food industry to come up with better alternatives to meat, which eases the way for others to follow. In short, someone has to try the coconut wensleydale, so that no-one else has to.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


How old is too old to be Prime Minister? Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on January 27th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s episode, Keiran and I talked about a new Polling Matters/Opinium poll on British attitudes to other countries. We saw some interesting splits between ages and political views, and a striking contrast with a recent Gallup poll on the leadership of various countries.

We also looked at polling on how young is considered to be too young and how old is considered to be too old to be Prime Minister and ask what this means for the current political leadership in the UK.

You can listen here:

The return of vote blue, go green? Polling Matters

Posted in Climate Sock, Politics, Polling Matters on January 20th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s podcast, I talked with Keiran about the Tories’ push on environmental policies, how it’s backed up by polling and what it might mean for the electoral landscape.

We also talked about why Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are indicating support for another referendum on Brexit and what recent polling tells us about public opinion on the issue.

And what’s going on with Labour following the NEC elections, is a Corbynite succession now inevitable and will Corbyn’s age be an issue at the next election?

You can listen here:

Who’s the most popular UK politician? Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on January 13th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I was on Polling Matters this week, where we talked about the results from the latest wave of the Opinium/Polling Matters questions on favourability to a host of frontline UK politicians.

I also talked about the Toby Young appointment/unappointment and what that says about the Tories’ strategy – whether they’re planning on pushing further into new territory to win anti-liberal voters. This could be one of the most important factors shaping British politics for years to come.

You can listen to the episode here:


Climate denial is dead – but the fight for green votes is about to get more interesting

Posted in Climate Majority, Politics, U.S. on January 7th, 2018 by Leo – 2 Comments

This was originally published by Political Betting

Donald Trump’s tweet that the snow-blasted US east coast would benefit from some global warming has reignited attention to his climate-change denial. But after a year of his presidencyit’s increasingly clear that, in terms of both public opinion and policy, rejection of climate science is a sideshow.

Having a climate-change denier in the White House might seem like a triumph for people who want to stop action against global warming. Trump’s plan to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement certainly gives the impression he’s winning that fight.

But in reality, Trump has only shown that climate denial is defunct. When he tried to topple the climate deal, the rest of the world pushed back. No other country has joined his planned defection – instead several have accelerated their timetables for cutting greenhouse gas emissionsAnd investors are giving up on climate denialMajor fund managers like BlackRock are now demanding to know how emission cuts will affect their investments and are selling businesses that depend on fossil fuels.

And climate denial is a far weaker electoral force than it seems. Only about 10% of Americans firmly oppose climate action, with another 11% doubtful about itWhile Trump won among both groups, most of his voters can’t be described as climate deniers. And in the rest of the world, vanishingly few people think climate change is a hoax. Recent datafound that at least 97% agree climate change is happening, in 19 of the 22 countries polled for the European Social Survey.

If anything, the evidence points to climate change being an untapped electoral opportunity for environmentally-conscious politicians. In most European counties at least 20% are very or extremely worried about climate change.

In the UK, where 1 in 4 are very or extremely worried about climate change, it’s effectively been off the electoral battleground since Cameron’s husky-hugging Arctic trip.To most voters, it seemed there was a consensus among the major parties about the issue. But that could now change.

The Tories are hunting for ways to stop, and reverse, the loss of younger voters, put off them by values-driven concerns like foxes, Brexit and citizens of nowhere. Burnishing their approach to climate change might help the Tories: a UK YouGov poll for think tank Bright Blue found it’s the second-top subject that under40s wants politicians to talk about more, ahead of education, housing and immigration.

Meanwhile, other parties may see an opportunity in hitting the government harder on climate change. The Lib Dems, in particular, might wonder if they can appeal to the voters looking for a party with a more robust message on climate change.

Most voters, though, are in the middle on climate change. Around half the public have little doubt it’s real and a threat, and want it dealt with, but don’t think about it much. Satisfying them, while meeting increasingly tough climate targets over the next couple of decades, will be a growing challenge.

Trump’s climate denial will get attention as long as he’s in power, but we shouldn’t let that fool us into thinking he’s doing any more than appealing to a section of his base. The rest of the world has moved on, and the risks are far greater to parties that drag their feet than those that set the pace.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


How 2017 killed climate denial

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on December 29th, 2017 by Leo – Be the first to comment

Business Green have published my article about why 2017 was the death of climate denial and why we should worry instead about climate apathy. You can read it here.


My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Climate change, tropical fish and anxiety

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on December 21st, 2017 by Leo – Be the first to comment

I’ve got an article about how climate change affects me emotionally, in this month’s Resurgence magazine.

You can read it for free here.


My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.

Four (other) climate change books to read

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on December 2nd, 2017 by Leo – Comments Off on Four (other) climate change books to read

I was asked to write a short piece on the climate change books on my shelf, for Big Issue North. It’s not online, but here it is, reproduced with permission: