Voters don't want the green campaigners' extreme climate policies

The renowned naturalist and climate change campaigner Sir David Attenborough believes governments should face a reckoning for their failure to tackle global warming. Speaking recently about the US and Australia, he expressed a hope that the electorate would vote out governments who are not taking the climate seriously enough. The problem for Sir David and other campaigners is that, far from punishing politicians who pledge to scrap expensive climate policies, voters in Australia just backed them.

The Australian election was dubbed the “climate change election”. Pundits expected the climate-concerned Labor Party to cruise to an easy win, but didn’t count on a voter backlash against their drastic plans. One model estimated that the party’s planned 45 percent slash in carbon emissions would set the economy back by 264 billion Australian dollars (£149 billion) and claim some 167,000 jobs. Voters duly re-elected right-of-centre Coalition parties whose energy policy focused on driving down power prices and beefing up supply.

Australians are far from alone in saying no to expensive green schemes. Americans elected Donald Trump in part because of his promise to boost manufacturing and fossil fuel industries by repealing environmental regulations he blamed for hurting blue-collar jobs. But even in Democrat states, voters dislike the measures being pushed by climate campaigners.

Last September, Colorado voters rejected an effort to sharply limit oil drilling on nonfederal land, while Arizona citizens rejected an attempt to accelerate the shift to renewable energy. If voted through, the initiative would have amended the state’s constitution to require renewable energy for 50 per cent of power generation by 2035 – a massive jump from 6 percent today. Huge amounts of money were poured in, including more than $20 million from climate campaigner and billionaire Tom Steyer, but even that wasn’t enough. In Democrat-dominated Washington, voters rejected a measure to become the first state to tax carbon emissions.

In Brazil, the Philippines and several eastern European nations, voters have embraced populist leaders who reject expensive climate policies. In Paris, the gilets jaunes took to the streets to protest against moves to push up fuel prices.

None of this means that voters don’t want global warming solved. A recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans, for example, support “aggressive action” on climate change. But if you ask them what they are willing to pay, two-thirds won’t even pay $100 in annual climate taxes.

People are saying that climate change is one of the many problems facing us today, and the solution needs to be appropriate. This sentiment lines up with scientific reality.

According to the UN Climate Panel, the impact of global warming by the 2070s will be the equivalent of a 0.2-2 per cent loss in average income. To solve a problem worth about the same amount as a single recession, some politicians and campaigners have gone far overboard.

The New Zealand government’s aim for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 would, according to a government-commissioned report, cost 16 per cent of GDP. The British Government’s own net-zero policy would, the Chancellor warned, cost more than £1 trillion.

What’s more, these policies – which will hit the poorest in society hardest – will have almost no impact on the planet’s climate even in a hundred years unless we can ensure that emerging giants China and India also cut emissions.

As the huge costs and trivial benefits of climate policies are laid bare, there is a risk that more voters will turn toward populists who do not generally offer better climate policies.

A sensible middle-ground has to respect what voters are telling us. Such an approach may include policies such as a low and rising carbon tax. But it must ultimately be focused on the reality that the best way to fix climate change is through innovation that brings the price of zero-CO2 energy below that of fossil fuels.

Rather than wishing for an electorate that shares the views of the elite, global warming campaigners need to stop and listen.

19 Jul 2019

Published by

The Telegraph