The dangerous new politics of climate change.

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Why bother when this is happening somewhere else? (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Today in climate weather news; Wildfires tearing through northern Algeria have now killed at least 65 people, including 28 soldiers deployed to help the firefighters tackle the blazes. Officials have blamed arson for many of the blazes, but they come amid a heatwave sweeping across North Africa. The flames have been fanned by strong winds and tinder-dry conditions.

But there is, as Bill McKibbon writes today, a disconnect between the physical and the social – or indeed – political world. In the latter the oil industry and its allies have pursued a simple objective: “to slow action on climate change in order to preserve the business model as long as possible.”

Here’s an update on how that’s going. In the US my feed of the biggest trending stories is totally overwhelmed with reports that Kerry has a private jet (again) and that Biden is looking at ways to addressing rising gas and energy prices, including a call to the OPEC oil-producing cartel to produce more oil.

“The production cuts made during the pandemic should be reversed as the global economy recovers to lower prices for consumers,” Biden said Wednesday (it didn’t work). You can imagine how this is reported alongside the administration’s climate efforts.

Indeed, this social storm comes just as the Post reports; “The Senate approved on Tuesday a sweeping bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill with funding for many public works meant to cut climate-warning emissions. A day later, Democrats in the chamber took a major step to adopt an even bigger, $3.5 trillion budget bill supporting yet more programs for cleaning up power plants and cars.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, Ian Dunt writes, “A new opposition to climate change action is also taking shape. We’re starting to see the contours of a coming Tory rebellion against environmental policy. ”

The messaging, he writes, “fits easily into the fake binary opposition established by Brexit, of an out-of-touch metropolitan elite [the IPCC et al] versus the authentic people of the country.”

The latest coalition of the MPs will undergo “a concerted effort to split the issue into artificial divides between the ‘metropolitan elite’ and ‘real people’. It will attempt to introduce the culture war into the climate change debate.”

I think this is accurate as far as it goes; but misses an important element, highlighted by IPPR’s Carys Roberts in The Guardian.

The narrative gaining traction in the UK – and elsewhere – is not that the experts are wrong exactly, but that we should take acting on their advise slowly, so as not to be ahead of anyone else. Because there is “no point” acting on climate change if China isn’t.

Driving up costs for Drivers, Hard-Working Families and Red Wall Voters won’t solve climate change; it will only make them poorer. The argument can be taken further, in theory, the UK could keep not acting even once everyone else is slashing emissions. After all, we’re only 1% of emissions.

The danger with this narrative, like many of those associated with Brexit about lack of democratic control, is that it is partially true. If you argue for action on climate change on purely global temperature grounds, then you run into the prisoners’ dilemma, and that will always be fertile ground for right-wing movements who have long experience of creating and manipulating distrust of others as a justification to avoid – or destroy – any manifestation of collective action which threatens their interests.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. Instead of relying on an economic model which will place the burden on those less able to deal with it the climate agenda “should include grants and loans to support people on low incomes to insulate their homes and install green heating systems, so that they can save on heating bills. It should include investing the additional £30bn needed to build the net-zero economy of the future, creating good jobs around the country, and providing bridges to those jobs with a right to retrain. It should include ensuring that everyone has access to nature, using the planning system to transform neighbourhoods into green, social spaces,” Roberts argues.

The issue is not just that some MPs are very good at manipulating the media – and people’s fears. It is also that this – and historic – governments have been very bad at sharing the benefits of collective decisions, whether it be membership of the EU or action on climate change.

But there’s a third dimension, for which we’ll go to Canada where the National Observer notes that surely countries – like Canada and the UK – which have done the most to drive climate change should play a leading role in hosting climate refugees.

Pato Kelesitse, a youth climate leader in Botswana and host of Sustain 267, told the paper: “Africans aren’t leaving Africa because they want to” was her take. “We just want our home to be habitable for us. That’s it.”

“Stop making our homes uninhabitable and then acting like you’re giving us charity.” Taking climate change seriously whilst ignoring climate refugees may seem like pragmatic politics – if morally wrong.

But it is also massively hypocritical. It communicates to the electorate that the problem is bad and we must act because we are part of the cause but it is also not actually that bad and we’re not actually that responsible for it. In doing so it undermines the case and fuels the backlash.

With climate refugees, as with climate costs, a solution that supports refugees and shows leadership, bringing communities across the spectrum alongside, is the only solution that will hold. Action on climate change was once seen as technically tricky. The science has got clearer, the technology has got cheaper, the politics is just starting.