When did it become Right to attack the environment?

They must think they’re winning.

This is a real billboard being used by the right-wing US think tank Heartland Institute to promote a conference.

I find it hard to believe this. Part of me wants to think it’s all an elaborate hoax to discredit right-wing anti-environmentalism. But no, it’s real (and please don’t click on that link unless you want to give them more traffic and read positively lunatic, hateful shit). Other posters feature Charles Manson and they’re considering including Osama Bin Laden.

Earlier today, I had a chat which centred on the apparent rise and rise of right-wing anti-environmentalism. What is going on? It seems to dominate in the USA and Australia, but is completely off the radar over here in the UK and Europe.

In Australia, conservative parties at all levels of government seem intent on dismantling schemes dedicated to environmental protection. That’s not just on the subject of climate change – it also includes fishing regulations in sensitive areas. At the federal level, the Coalition opposition party have tenaciously and loudly opposed the Gillard coalition government’s carbon tax. They’ve misrepresented its predicted effect on family budgets and want to repeal it if they get elected.

I’m not saying Australian Labour, or the Democrats in the USA, have walked along a lush green pathway. But they at least seem to address, if not follow, evidence in making their decisions.

A sign of tension, off the beaten track in Southern Australia. Oh, and you won’t un-see the triple G now I’ve pointed it out.

But why is this? I understand that the Right in both countries is characterised, in very broad terms, by resistance or dislike of excessive regulation. That’s true of the Tories in the UK as well, but they are, at least broadly, acting on climate.

One thing that strikes me is the similarity of the landscape and history of the USA and Australia; both huge, wild, resource-rich frontiers. The UK couldn’t be more different. The cultural connection with the environment in Australia fluctuates between appreciative and antagonistic. “Dominate nature” is what many SUV ads scream with their imagery and subtexts. And why not? Australia regularly has massive floods and savage fires, and is infested with deadly snakes, spiders, sharks and an encyclopedia’s worth of general environmental nastiness. The USA seems slightly more accommodating, though they have bears and mountain lions to contend with.

The myth of challenging and conquering the environment is strong and attractive. I feel it. I enjoyed crazy wild four wheel driving in the isolated and dangerous far North. But few people actually move beyond the roads and trails put there to accommodate, to restrict, to regulate and facilitate our movement. The simple act of getting in a car, far from opening up frontiers of freedom, simply changes and hardens the boundaries. But it’s harder to see, because we’ve been told the open road is freedom itself.

There I go – tangent arrested, back to the question at hand. The anti-environmental stance being taken by Australian and US politicians and lobbyists is fierce and much more open now, as far as I’m aware, than it ever has been. Why do people identify with this? Is it straightforward antagonism towards Greens and environmentalists? Is it from a genuine desire to subjugate and destroy the environment? Is it from fear of regulation which could impinge on their freedom to interact with the environment however they choose? Or is it just a convenient post to hang the party on, like abortion or gay marriage, which don’t really affect the majority of people but have ‘squirm’ factor when portrayed in certain ways and can provoke easy outrage?

Cosmo Jarvis, who I discovered recently, spins some verses (with excellent guitar at the end) on the topic. Stick with it, I really like the middle part of the song – it made me just think, “What the hell is wrong with all of us?” followed by “Gee, we really didn’t evolve to cope with what we’ve built.”

I really don’t think anyone knows anymore
when to talk and so we don’t because we’re just not sure
and this is why people kinda just wanna be alone
and they start little groups that just grow and just grow
and they think one thing and this keeps ‘em safe
until a group of other people have something else to say
and both groups don’t even know what they believe anymore
they just know who they hate and so they start themselves a war.

What do you think? I’ve read up where I can on this, but I am struggling to see how this has made the leap from lobby groups to populist politics. What’s the pull?

Categories: environmentalism, Politics, Problems, Science | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “When did it become Right to attack the environment?

  1. PeterT

    it is obviously complex but there are couple of things that are pretty clear to me.

    1) dunning-kruger effect or something related – just the fact that people can have such firm convictions about things that they actually know so little about, while believing they understand it well through the prism of the mainstream media or their favourite blog site. without this most of the loony conspiracy theories that abound would be laughed off – e.g. government scientists (nasa, csiro etc) are paid to support government policies (nobody notices they don’t change their turn through successive changes in government), grants are only given to fund science that reinforces anthropogenic climate change (this is a bit like saying that doctors only get paid when they tell you you’re sick – could anybody actually believe that?), and that a global conspiracy of climate scientists is actually possible (wouldn’t it be great if we could put such ideas to one side? but recently on a Q&A show about climate change this was still getting a run by the likes of clive palmer to applause of part of the audience).

    2) the gist of your article and the song is correct – many people will only be convinced by someone who they recognise as having similar values and attitudes to them. if a logger experiences regular conflict with green groups on logging they will be inclined to oppose any other apparent green ideas or policies even if totally unrelated. business people that come to believe over a lifetime that environmental regulations are a restriction on their business, respond negatively to any new policies, particularly ones that seem to require major change. most business people are not really supporters of free trade ideas when it comes to their own business, they want every advantage and assistance, although they support the idea otherwise. there are several prominent republican scientists in the usa that argue in support of the science, but i’m not sure if they’re making headway.

  2. PeterT

    just to add, the heartland institute billboards seek to tap into this point 2 by associating climate science with major criminals – criminals must be wrong about everything, right?

  3. I think your point (1) definitely plays into it – there will always be parts of the population who go along with these things, but I think (2) fits more closely to the kind of explanation I’m looking for. I know tribalism is really strong; if I hear someone voted Tory, I automatically and unconsciously make judgements about them, and I similarly the words Green or Environmental bring a huge amount of baggage with them, some of it negative for portions of society. And I also take your point about businesses; change to the status quo requires effort, and running a business is a lot of effort anyway!

    Heartland’s stunt, which has gathered them loads of attention, has probably backfired in terms of securing corporate funding, but may actually leverage them more personal contributions in the US – they have stepped up their direct mail solicitations and may be able to tap into the nuttier part of the right over there now that their name has been splashed across the media. I hope it doesn’t though, it was a vile campaign.


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