We need to talk about ‘monkey trial conservatism’

SERA activist Tom Miller looks at why the Conservatives have lost interest in climate change – if they ever had it – and how Labour should respond to stand up for reality.

One of the things that was most interesting about David Cameron being elected as leader of the Conservative Party was how keen commentators at the time were to compare him to Tony Blair.

He recognised the electoral problem. The cultural disconnect between his party in how it presented itself, and the people it depended upon to support. Cameron said the party had to change to be given a chance. The big symbol of this, Cameron’s ‘Clause IV’, was supposed to be a renewed and progressive attitude to the environment. For all the huskies and media-mongering, there were some signs of this which were more substantial, in my view best summed up the selection of MPs like Zac Goldsmith.

Goldsmith is still plugging away at the environment. What’s puzzling is what happened to anyone likeminded, the debate within the Conservative Party, and the desire to take it seriously.

The fact is that the Government of David Cameron is not remotely centrist when compared to the Governments of Tony Blair – and that with a coalition in place, to boot. So much for their shared pledge to be the ‘greenest government ever’.

Since becoming the largest party, we have had example after example of how false all of this was. Cameron has moved to install an environment minister who denies that global warming has anything to do with what we humans are doing on the surface of said globe.

Likewise, Cameron’s Chancellor has explicitly stated that he doesn’t want this country to provide leadership on global warming as he prefers cheaper fossil fuels. Their first resort when looking at the cost of gas and electricity is to untested and often destructive fracking technology, in other words to do whatever it take to burn more carbon.

Where there is no explicit denial that what we do is warming the planet, disrupting weather systems such as the jets tream and increasingly creating freak incidents like the recent floods, the rest of Cameron’s Tory colleagues simply deny any responsibility for dealing with the consequences.

The great irony of this is that the pretext is a search for cheaper energy. If we keep having to pay for highly unusual weather and increasingly advanced extraction techniques, that’s going to cost us a lot anyway. The Stern Report is also now a political relic, as the Tories and their supporters in the press step up to deny a very strong economic case for action as well as the overwhelming scientific consensus itself.

Simply in terms of interests, it is difficult to see who benefits from any of this data, yet so easy to see who funds studies which as part of a small minority of scientific and economic opinion dispute the narrative of the wider scientific community.

Let us be honest about who these people are. They are opponents of science, opponents of economic consensus, and opponents of the idea of government policy being based on long term thinking. They are fundamentally dishonest with a public which they think is uneducated and sceptical enough to believe anything they say, and I doubt that most of them are even honest with themselves.

The people who promote ‘climate scepticism’ in this country would have been the same people who ridiculed Charles Darwin in the full face of accurate methodology simply because it upset their established way of doing things.

Worryingly, these denialist functionaries of the hydrocarbon industry they are in the large majority in the Conservative Party, the large majority in the Government, and an even larger one in the British press – hardly the thorn in the side of established interests that journalists love to believe.

How should Labour deal with them?

First, they should be ignored when we make policy. It is crucial for our long term economic progress that we reduce carbon emission radically, locally and globally.

Second, they punch far beyond their weight in the scientific community, and it’s time we started making the point about how over-represented they are in public debate.

Third, we need to challenge their terms. Just as the removal of the term ‘social security’ has helped to damage the idea of welfare as something which provides a safety net for all of us, our refusal to challenge the term ‘climate change’ only aids those who argue that this is some kind of ‘natural’ process, which as if by magic is not affected by humans pumping millions of tonnes of heat reflecting chemicals into the atmosphere. It is not ‘climate change’. The temperature trend is only moving in one direction, and we know that this is caused by humans burning too much. It is global warming. Let’s rename DECC if we get into government, and start changing our own terminology on this.

Fourth, in this country at least, if we had government ministers who flat out denied that natural selection, selective breeding or genetic mutation took place in the animal kingdom, they would be laughed about and treated dismissively. Why do we act as if the majority of Conservative MPs can be taken remotely seriously? What they believe in is convenient fantasy – we need to remind people that this is absurd, not serious, and outside the acceptable mainstream.

Fifth, if we get into Government, we should reinstate our targets from Labour’s Climate Change Act, and demand that international partners such as Canada do the same if we are to continue to buy their fossil fuels or trade freely more generally. Growth is good, but only to the right ends – let’s not pursue economic growth beyond what is necessary at the cost of burning the planet and flooding our country.

Freak weather is on the up, and it’s because we’re warming the atmosphere. This is the clear conclusion of peer reviewed science and meteorologists everywhere. When floods, freak snow incidents and storms take place, people in wider society can see this in their everyday lives. Even younger people can remember things being less volatile when they were children. The tools are there to make both high-brow and populist arguments on this. They can appeal very widely – I wonder how Tory voters who oppose wind farms in the West Country are feeling right now?

It’s time that Labour people as well as the sensible wings of other parties started to take a regimented approach to these issues, and erase these jokers from public debate. Like the crudest creationists or the Flat Earth Society, their opinions are too ridiculous to justify them being taken seriously or in good faith, and the warming of the planet is already so advanced that urgency demands that they are sidelined.

A Conservative Party which claims to be moderate should not be giving jobs to these ‘monkey trial conservatives’.

We need to raise the issue, we need to promise that we will create real and fundamental change in government, and in opposition we need to be disciplined enough in targeting the monkey trialists to make the Tories regret not taking this impending catastrophe seriously. Like those in the US who have opposed the conflation of church with state, it’s time we made a stand for the reality-based community.

Tom Miller is a former member of the SERA Executive and a candidate for Brent Council. He tweets at @tommilleruk.

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