Right-wing parties have not always been bad for the environment
Partners in climate
Klassekampen, 2 Aug 2019
Last weekend was quite exciting: Who would carry the title "hottest place in Norway"? Laksfors, in Grane commune, was hot on the heels of Nesbyen, which had held the record for 49 years. From their holiday destinations – one was bobbing in a rubber boat at a campsite in Tønsberg, and the other was sitting on a beach in Latvia – both mayors followed how the temperature in their home communities was rising with close interest. When the thermometer crawled to 35.6 degrees in Laksfors, and the Norwegian heat record was matched, the mayor of Grane cried with joy.
But the political and somewhat inappropriate joy about climate change did not last long, because last Monday the meteorological institute declared that the measurement in Laksfors was invalid. In Nesbyen, people were relieved, and preparations for the upcoming 50-year anniversary of the heat record could continue.
I doubt that the mayors of Gilze en Rijen in the Netherlands, Begijnendijk in Belgium and Lingen in Germany were equally proud when the national heat records were broken in their respective towns last week. With temperatures of 40.7 ºC, 41.8 ºC and 42.6 ºC respectively, it was almost impossible to be outside. In all three countries, the temperature records were crushed by about two to three degrees. Normally, it is wise not to link local weather changes directly to the warming of our planet, but the heat wave that ravaged Europe was so extreme that it is hard to imagine that climate change didn’t fuel it.
We owe it to Reagan and Thatcher that the hole in the ozone layer is recovering
The sad thing is that we have known the basic facts for decades, and the solution has also been clear for a long time: CO2 emissions must be reduced. However, it is up to politicians to take action, and especially right-wing parties appear to be unaware of the seriousness of the situation – even after last week. Or even worse, as Ellen Engelstad expressed well in Tuesday's newspaper: when they do recognize the seriousness of climate change, but don’t do anything about it.
The current Norwegian government falls into the latter category. As for so many right-wing parties, the predictable solution to every problem is to have it solved by the free market, and to encourage individual responsibility rather than top-down policies. But climate change is a global problem that cannot be solved with voluntary participation. Everything and everyone must participate. Unfortunately, the polarization of the climate debate along right-left ideologies means that, by definition, only a part of the population will be willing to support climate solutions. What we need is a solution that is widely supported by both left and right.
Due to the de facto left-wing monopoly on achievable climate solutions, right-wing parties run the risk of missing out on a growing group of voters – and therefore government participation. The green parties in Europe are clearly on the rise, but it is no wonder that many, such as the Norwegian MDG, refuse to cooperate with a right-wing government. They know that there is more to be gained at the left. So, the question is, for the future of the planet and right-wing politics: where is the green, right-wing voice that will propose far-reaching climate solutions?
It is interesting to note that, historically, right-wing parties have not only been bad for the environment. The American Environmental Protection Agency (now under attack from Trump) was founded by none other than Richard Nixon. He was sensitive to the public opinion in the US, which thought that environmental pollution got out of hand. We also owe it to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that the hole in the ozone layer is recovering.
Reagan had skin cancer on his nose and personally felt what his voters would experience if no action was taken. This made it easier for him to be convinced by the scientific facts, and he took the lead. Thatcher, a trained chemist, understood the seriousness of the problem when English scientists showed the first measurements of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.
Yet, the Montreal Protocol, which led to the elimination of ozone-destroying CFCs, almost failed. Developing countries did not want to sign onto it: the alternatives were simply too expensive. Thatcher fought for poor countries to be financially compensated for the introduction of alternatives. Since then, the protocol has been signed by every country in the world.
It was a strong implementation of policy, which did not depend on the decoy that individual action or gentle nudges would be enough to solve a global environmental problem. Or to put it another way: one of the icons of the free market economy stood at the basis of a global agreement that forced governments to curtail an industry. Turns out it is possible – also from the right. So who dares to step up?
This text first appeared in Klassekampen on 2 Aug 2019