Everywhere You Look, the Urban-Rural Divide Is Changing Politics and Stopping Climate Action

CC BY 2.0. Doug Ford via Wikipedia

Populist leaders are more interested in cutting the price of gas than they are in stopping climate change.

That’s Doug Ford in the photo, the new Premier of Ontario, now running a province with an economy as big as Switzerland, a geography 1.5 times the size of Texas. He’s the brother of the late Rob Ford, and when he was running for the leadership job I wrote that he “is picking up the hard right wing torch and will burn the province down, like he and his brother almost did to the city.”

He is living up to that promise, rolling sex education back to the last century, cancelling green initiatives, cap and trade, ripping out wind farms and screwing Toronto, but that is all another story; the bigger one is that he is part of a worldwide phenomenon. Because politics are no longer really about left vs right, as Gideon Rachman writes in the paywalled Financial Times, Urban-rural splits have become the great global divider, with the subhead "A political phenomenon is pitting metropolitan elites against small-town populists."

Ford got elected by the suburban and rural voters; urban centres rejected him and voted for the centrist Liberals and centre-left NDP, although it is hard to tell which is left of which. Rachman doesn’t discuss Ontario, but does look at the US and Britain;

In the 2016 election, Donald Trump lost in all of America’s largest cities — often by huge margins — but was carried to the White House by the rest of the country. This flame-out in big-city America replicated the pattern of Britain’s Brexit referendum earlier that year, when the Leave campaign won despite losing in almost all big cities.

And it’s not just in the west; the same thing is happening in Brazil, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, the Philippines and Thailand. In Europe: Italy, Poland and Hungary. Rachman notes that urbanites tend to be richer and better educated. In the US election, Donald Trump actually said, “We love the poorly educated,” because they loved him.

So what is it that sets urbanites against the rest? The anti-Trump, anti-Brexit, anti-Erdogan, anti-Orban city dwellers tend to be richer and better educated than their political opponents. By contrast, the rallying cry that unites fans of Mr Trump, Brexit, Mr Erdogan or Mr Orban is some version of a promise to make their countries “great again”. Urbanites are also more likely to have travelled or studied abroad, or to be recent immigrants. More than one-third of the populations of New York and London, for example, were born overseas.

Rachman concludes with a really important point: we now seem to have more fights within our countries, between urban and rural, than we do outside. “The widening urban-rural divide suggests that the most explosive political pressures may now lie within countries — rather than between them.”

These battles have ramifications; we have become as divided over climate as we are about everything else. In the States, Trump is trying to take away California’s right to regulate pollution. In Ontario, 15 years of environmental progress is being rolled back. It seems that only latte-sipping bike riding urban elites worry about climate change while the real salt of the earth people outside of cities complain about ugly wind turbines and drive big pickups. These silly stereotypes seem more real every day.