How populism makes dealing with the climate crisis really hard

Gilets Jaunes in Paris
CC BY 2.0 Gilets Jaunes in Paris/ Lloyd Alter

Beware of the gilets jaunes, says Philip Stephens.

From the USA to Australia to Brazil to Canadian provinces like Ontario and Alberta, so-called populists are denying climate change and rolling back measures to stop it. In France, there was been a revolt of gilets jaunes (the yellow vests every car in France has to carry for emergencies), originally outraged over an increase in gas taxes.

Writing in the heavily paywalled Financial Times, Philip Stephens writes about the spread of populism around the world, and yet, notwithstanding Donald Trump, everyone who flew into Davos knows that "the phoney war about the climate is over. One way or another global warming is set radically to reshape our economies and societies." However, the politics are really hard. He quotes a warning from a politician from a few years ago: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”

The problem is that nobody wants to face the necessary upheaval and the changes, but most importantly, the costs that will be born by people who don't have money to spare, like those original gilets jaunes.

Motorists will struggle, however, to accept that the internal combustion engine has had its day — at least until someone invents a cheap battery with a decent range. The switch from coal, oil and gas to sustainable energy will require the replacement of hundreds of millions of household heating systems. Cheap flights will disappear. A shift from consumption of meat to plant-based products will not invite universal applause. Nor will the tax increases needed to finance decent public transport and better insulation of buildings.

Stephens notes that some politicians are wrapping up the changes in "green deals" and big packages to recalibrate taxes and subsidies.

But no one, as far as I can see, has come up with plans to offset the cost of this on the people it will hurt most — those who need to drive to work in the ancient, gas-guzzling cars that spew out the most carbon; the householders least likely to have decent insulation or the cash to replace fossil fuel boilers; and the people for whom cheap air travel means a chance to take their one annual holiday.

Sebastian Gorka and hamburgers© Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stephens notes that many voters look at green policies as something the rich inflict on the poor (before they get in their jets). Many probably agree with Sebastian Gorka, who said of Green New Deal types: “They want to take your pickup truck. They want to rebuild your home. They want to take away your hamburgers.” The problem is that at some point, we have to face the music and do exactly that.

Such an interesting article in the Financial Times. The great benefit of the FT paywall is that you can't read the hundred and thirty comments saying either that climate change isn't happening, or that life will be better when there is more CO2 and a warmer climate. Nor can you see that the Netherlands has survived below sea level for centuries, or my favorite, "Look at Bjorn Lomborg's data instead of Guardian and Thunberg scaremongering."

How populism makes dealing with the climate crisis really hard
Beware of the gilets jaunes, says Philip Stephens.

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