Contrarians have always existed. Sometimes celebrated, other times ridiculed. Subversives who defy dominant thinking to advocate an alternative truth often find their views eventually appropriated by the mainstream. It was only a few decades ago that those voicing concerns about the dangers of ‘global warming’ were regarded with scepticism and dismissed as tree-hugging hippies. Now, alarm at the peril of climate collapse is widespread across continents and communities. Government complacency is provoking demands for action by most people who consider climate change an irrefutable fact. But, much like the flat-earthers who refuse to accept overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is round, there are those who cling on to the belief that climate change is at best a distortion, at worst an untruth. Climate change deniers are a minority, but their disproportionate influence is a reflection of their positions of power. Here are the Top Seven hindrances in the fight against climate collapse.
1. The Australian Electorate
It was touted as Australia’s climate change election. Having endured the hottest summer on record, with temperatures peaking in the high-forties, surely the Australian population would rise up to act in the face of a dire emergency. Wildfires triggered by tinderbox conditions were occurring in places that had never been vulnerable to raging fires before. The coal-dependent energy supply repeatedly buckled under intense pressure as frequent power cuts compounded the suffering of those confined by the extreme heat to their air-conditioned homes. Farmers were forced to write off crops. Freak floods destroyed some areas while unprecedented drought blighted others. The choice was clear. Vote for the Greens and Labor to avert catastrophe or continue with the Liberals and their reticence to take action. The electorate chose the latter. From coal mining communities seeking to protect their jobs to urban dwellers worried about taxation and house prices, short term economic security trumped long-term policy to tackle climate change. A nation in denial.
2. Alternative for Germany (AfD)
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has pushed climate change high up on its policy agenda. But not in the way you might think. Its strategy appears to be to perpetuate the fears of communities who see environmental concerns as an attack by ‘elites’ and ‘experts’ on their freedom and jobs. This message, typical of right-wing populist movements across the world, seems to resonate with German voters in industrial regions who feel their livelihoods under threat from eco-activists. Referring to a hysterical ‘cult of Greta’, when talking about the work of sixteen-year-old Swedish climate strike activist Greta Thunberg, AfD dismiss the climate change movement as a brainwashing replacement for religion, and warn against the renewable energy sector’s deindustrialisation agenda. Fortunately, they did not achieve the success they had anticipated in recent European elections and instead the Greens surprised everyone with huge wins in Germany.
According to a YouGov poll, conducted as part of the Cambridge Globalism Project, the country with the greatest number of climate sceptics is Indonesia, which also happens to be one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Beating both Saudi Arabia and the United States, this accolade is nothing to crow about, particularly as Indonesians are already grappling with the havoc wreaked by unpredictable weather patterns. Woefully unprepared for what lies ahead, activists blame a lack of education and suspicion of the highly politicised nature of environmental debates for the general apathy and antipathy. Interestingly, the fatalistic Indonesians are not in complete denial that climate change is occurring. What they dispute is that humans are the cause.
4. Saudi Arabia
The oil-producing Gulf state continues to play a crafty game of cards in its efforts to protect its vested interests, while at the same time presenting a PR-friendly front on tackling climate change. Despite predictions that temperature changes will have a particularly calamitous impact on the Middle East, the Saudis have repeatedly resisted calls to adopt emissions targets. At the UN’s climate talks in December 2018, Saudi Arabia joined forces with other climate-sceptic and high-polluting nations including Russia and the US, to obstruct any meaningful progress. Worse still, in a recent Twitter rant, the nation’s former lead negotiator for the 2016 Paris agreement, a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, branded the agreement a ‘big conspiracy’ orchestrated by the ‘climate mafia’.
5. President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro
The rainforests of Brazil have been described as the lungs of the Earth. Swathes of oxygen-producing, carbon dioxide-absorbing vegetation has stymied the harm caused by greenhouse gases. A beacon of sustainability, Brazil has done much in recent decades to prevent deforestation, stamp out illegal logging and increase renewable energy production. However, the election of the far-right climate sceptic Jair Bolsonaro, and his courting of the powerful agribusiness lobby could jeopardise all the vital environmental progress that was achieved. Likened to a conservative dictator, Bolsonaro is accused of homophobia, sexism and racism, but his populist crusade against corruption and promise of economic stability is what rural communities seem to want to hear.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin could not entirely accurately be described as a climate denier. This is despite making frivolous remarks that global warming would save Russians money on fur coats and increase wheat harvests in Siberia. He has, rather, played a cunning game of side-stepping calls for a reduction in emissions by proposing a strategy whereby adaption to climate change, and an attempt to profit from changing conditions, is the way forward. He has also found a perfect distraction from his own shortcomings in the buffoonery of the President of the United States, talking of whom…
7. Donald Trump
Where to even begin? When the US president isn’t grabbing women by the pussy or sending thoughts and prayers to school gun shooting victims in lieu of tightening firearm controls, or describing Mexicans as rapists, he is defying all belief in his ignorant remarks about climate change. The president of the country with the largest economy and self-styled ‘leader of the free world’ has blunderingly implied climate change is a foreign conspiracy, is unthinkingly anti-science and makes ludicrous comments based on fantasy, for example claiming the sound from wind turbines has been linked to cancer. Supported by a Senate that is deeply vested in coal, oil and gas interests, Trump has appointed climate change deniers to senior positions in government. History is likely to look back at Trump as a pivotal figure in the catastrophic failure to address the danger of climate change.