Why has the Left so embraced ‘climate change’?

I read the following little essay on Bishop Hill, and thought it was so good that I’m republishing it here. Lord Bernard Donoughue was the head of the policy unit at Number 10 Downing Street during the Wilson and Callaghan years, and is said to be one of the sources for the ‘Yes, Minister’ series. That alone would place him high in my pantheon of people who should be taken seriously.

He is talking throughout, of course, about Britain and the Labour party there. But I think that a great deal of his argument translates immediately to Australia. The Comments include some thoughtful pieces, too. I’ve done a tiny edit. Read on.

‘The issue of why the political left is overwhelmingly supportive of the climate change alarmist ideology/faith, and hence there are relatively few left wing sceptics, is quite complex and would take more space and time than I intend to impose on you here. But may I, as a lifelong Labour supporter, offer a couple of broad observations. They are by no means comprehensive and omit many nuances. But they are major general factors which I have observed in the party for 61 years, and in Parliament for almost 30 years.

First is that most leftish British people get politically involved because they genuinely believe they wish to contribute to the common good in our society. (They tend to believe , rightly or wrongly, that the right wing wishes to contribute to their own individual or class good). At first this drew many to sympathise with Marxist ideology, until the Soviets discredited that. More sympathised and many still do with the social democratic ideals of equality and civil liberty, though that position lacks the ideological certainties and claimed scientific basis of old Marxism. With the collapse of Marxism, there was created a vacuum on the left. Those seeking an ideological faith to cling on to for moral certainty, felt bereft. They also wanted a faith which again gave them a feeling of still pursuing the common good of society, especially the new global society, and even more a feeling of moral superiority, which is a characteristic of many middle and professional types on the left. Climate change and the moral common good of saving the planet , with its claimed scientific certainties, offered to fill the vacuum. It may or may not be a coincidence that the climate change faith gained momentum in the 1990s immediately after Marxism collapsed with the Berlin Wall.

I notice that my Labour colleagues who are troubled by the cost of the war on climate change, and especially when I point out that its costs fall heavily on the poorer classes, while its financial benefits go to rich landowners and individuals on the Climate Change Committee, still won’t face those facts because they want to cling on to the new climate faith because they want to believe it is in the common good. They are not bad or stupid people. Many are better and cleverer than me. But they have a need for a faith which they believe is for the global good. They don’t want a moral vacuum. And the current leaders of the social democratic parties in Britain and Europe are not offering them much else. For Ed Miliband, who is not a bad or stupid man, but coming from a Marxist heritage, when asked for more vision, he grasps climate change like a drowning man clasping a lifebelt.

While this need persists and there persists the misconception that the Green faith is somehow leftish and in pursuit of the common good, then most on the political left will stay with it. To shake them it will be necessary to show them that the costs of implementing climate alarmism will actually destroy the economic hopes of the poor and is often a cynical device to enrich the wealthy. That it enables self righteous middle class posturers to parade their assumed moral superiority at the expense of the poor. And that it’s so-called scientific certainties are very uncertain indeed. It is also necessary for the sceptical and realistic side to show more publicly that they accept the proven aspects of climate change (which every sceptic I know does) and care about the genuine concerns of the environment (which the Greens ignore by littering our landscapes with inefficient and costly windmills.)

My second point concerns the Stalinist tactics of the Green activists in trying to suppress any questioning of their dogmatic faith and to damage the lives and careers of any professional person who attempts to examine this subject in an honest way which might undermine their dogmatic claims. Their use of Holocaust language such as ‘Denier’, implying their target is akin to a neo Nazi, is but one example of the Stalinist mentality. In that political context, where any questioner is so derided, it is no surprise that most Labour supporters choose not to take the risk — especially when it immediately throws them into confrontation with their embattled leader.

Sorry to go on so long. But they are my observational conclusions on why it is not easy for the sceptical side to make progress on the political left. Interestingly, polls suggest it is among Labour working classes, always more practical than our Hampstead/Guardian types, that there is the biggest dissent from the Green religion — and some of them are already slipping off to UKIP, which shows more concern for their suffering under the Green taxes.

This battle to bring understanding to Labour that its climate policies punish its core supporters, will take a while to win, partly for the two reasons I offer above.’

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    In winter last year I started making some notes about why the basics of the scientific method were not being applied to the AGW claims, by so many who are tertiary-educated. And they’re still not being applied. An additional factor to that of adopting “a noble cause”, is also the acceptance of authority. University training, as well as the schooling to equip one for it, requires acceptance of authorities, usually for excellent reasons. Unfortunately, not sufficient critical and independent thinking is developed along the way.

    To an extent, there is also the sense of “the club”. Good heavens, if people start to question my peers, they might start to question me also! Overall, that gets wrapped up in the sense of a moral crusade.

    Another aspect of the moral crusade is the position of some in the well-established churches. I think it was an Anglican bishop in Australia who recently claimed that as part of man’s charge from God to replenish the Earth, (and I think at the time God was thinking more of compost than carbon dioxide), it was an article of faith that Christians should support efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. In my own experience, there was always a bit of an oil and water situation, mixing science and theology. But to the devil with all that.

    I’ve also found much higher levels of scepticism about AGW among those not trained at universities. These are people who generally are more pragmatic, and probably do what Sigmund Freud advised years ago: let your subconscious work out the complex issues, and that includes their degree of trust. So a series of doleful predictions about temperatures, ice and ocean levels that have clearly failed, has all but wiped out their trust. Perhaps this is why a recent poll on Australia’s ABC asking about agreement with the latest IPCC predictions of a four to five degree rise in temperature by the year 2100, received a 91% negative vote (3100 votes cast). Another recent ABC poll was a repeat of one of about two years ago – a quite well-designed and analysed poll, I thought, originally related to a documentary “I can change your mind about climate change”. I don’t remember the figures from two years ago, but this time some 64% of the 5400 or so respondents, were classified in the qutie sceptical and uncertain groups. So nearly two-thirds, were far from convinced about the pro-AGW case.

    • JMO says:

      I have 2 university degrees and I question just about everything put in front of me. Once I let my guard down with Tim Flannery’s imminent (or shortly) catastrophic climate change events hit the news in late 2006 – I believed him!! (Hey he was a “scientist”), I even read his book – The weather Makers.Then I started to think, I doubted, I researched, I called in my university knowledge and critical thinking and the penny dropped. I realised it was BS. Fast forward to know I was right, his (near imminent) dire predictions have not come to fruition

      I will never let my guard down again…

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks. The words of the good Lord (to coin a phrase) are spot on. As a young Labor sympathiser, I saw myself as putting the interests of the poor and struggling ahead of my own. I now think that the poor and struggling are best placed to say what they want, rather than the morally superior educationally ‘upper-classes’ on their behalf. Self-interest is best (and that leaves plenty of room for philanthropy if the individual so desires). I know many people who believe in the green movement who see themselves as acting in the best interest of humanity and applaud the sentiment, even when opposing the method. More disturbing, however, is what Lord Donoughue refers to as the Stalinist tactics of the ‘dark-greens’. This is noticeable and indicates quite clearly that CAGW is being used as a lever to coerce people into the paths of the chosen ‘brothers – number 1’. Just recently I heard a notable Green Guru talking idealistically of saving the world but he also advocated strong legislation and ‘green police,’ at the mention of which a shudder went down my spine.

  • David says:


    All these references to Marxism and Stalinist etc are puerile.

    • dlb says:

      Somewhat agree, I don’t think it was the collapse of Marxism which drove adherents to causes such as climate change. I think it has more to do with the collapse of traditional religion which has created the moral vacuum. No doubt those with a grudge against capitalism have found “climate change” a useful weapon in attacking western industrialised society, not that the Soviet era was any environmental paragon.

      As regard to why your average social democrat embraces “Climate Change” I’d go with pursuing the noble cause and what Peter K says about accepting authority without question. Both of these are of course important aspects of any religion.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Do you mean Donoughue’s? I don’t agree — even if I wouldn’t use these terms myself in that context. Suppression of disagreement was characteristic of the Stalinist period in the USSR. Labour people like Donoughue had to battle against Marxists as well as Tories, so he knows what he is talking about.

      Or if I’ve missed the point, enlighten me.

      • David says:

        Don call me a pedant if you will, but Stalin
        had the Red Army, the KGB and a gulag of salt mines in Siberia to help him develop
        his philosophical narrative, and the Greens,… don’t. J

        • Don Aitkin says:

          The urge to shut people up whose views you don’t like, and to use whatever methods you have to do so doesn’t have to be called Stalinist. It is almost universal in human societies, and to have a civilised end temperate discussion about anything that is mildly contentious is relatively unusual. Stalin was just impressively effective about it.

  • Dasher says:

    I will take his views on the demise of Marxism as a given as this has never been in my orbit, but the medieval zealotry of the left on this subject is astonishing. Some of my very intelligent friends on the left are convinced we are all going to fry and they have no qualms about government spending massive amounts to give them a comfortable feeling that they are saving the planet …on initiatives such as wind and solar that are futile gestures in the greater order of things. The fact that the poor are hit hardest by this lunacy seems to bear out Lord whatshisname’s views.

    • David says:

      Surely you can see that left and right are opposite sides of same coin. The left support the concept of AGW by the same degree as the right oppose it.

      • dlb says:

        Ah, you beat me to it David. I was going to say the corollary to this article is why don’t the Right embrace “climate change”? My short answer is that it is against their world view or their spokespeople’s world view. I have little doubt that some of the people that comment at sites like WUWT have ever had a look at the climate data, they just
        take it that “climate change” is crap. Similarly many of those that comment at progressive political sites have no idea of the science of climate change they just parrot cliches in line with their political view.

        Regardless of politics I would guess that a greater proportion of climate sceptics have perused the science compared with those who are believers.

        • David says:

          I have read that how you vote is the strongest indicator of a persons views on AGW.

          And yes the Left are more comfortable policies which tax the rich and compensate the poor. While policies which subsidise the rich to reduce CO2 are going to be more popular with the Right. Its not rocket science.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            The American data suggest that ‘belief’ in AGW is highly correlated with partisan identification (Dem or Repub preference). But British data suggest that ‘belief’ is more characteristic of those who are well educated, scepticism or indifference of those who only had school education.

            Alternative energy policies like wind farms and solar subsidies on the whole reward the better-off at the expense of the poor.

          • Dasher says:

            Before we go too far I most certainly believe in climate change, hasn’t the climate been changing since the world began? However, I am not sure whether the change is dangerous or what we are doing about it makes sense..we are certainly spending astronomical amounts worldwide on remedies such as wind and solar for what appears to be of little consequence. Bjorn Lomberg’s views make sense to me..spend this money on research (fusion?) and get a result that the world can use. Maybe use more nuclear to buy us time (if we need it). I wish I had $100 for every tipping point that came and went (without comment) and every dud prediction that failed to materialise. How could an intelligent person be completely captured by this?..oh and please don’t say 97 % of scientists in the field support AGW. Consensus is not what drives science (remember stomach ulcers?) ..and as an aside, has there ever been a rigorous survey of these people’s views? I am an agnostic on this subject, but I worry again about what appears to zealotry.

  • sfw says:

    I think that many of those on the left who want to do good and believe that they have the solution and want to impose their solution on others, would have once been in the Methodist or similar churches. God is no longer a viable belief for them but the need to believe is strong in them. Instead of demanding prohibition or going to Africa to convert the heathens they stay at home and do their best to control others. The thing is they really believe that they have to do this, the thought they may be on the wrong track never occurs to them.

  • DaveW says:

    Richard Lindzen has written a number of good articles that clearly sum up the power dynamics of global warming. A recent one is here:


    If ‘Left’ is taken to mean those that think big government is the solution to all problems and ‘Right’ those who think the best government is the one that governs least, then the answer to the title question in this post seems self-evident. The CAGW meme is designed to give government more power and control over everyone to ‘save the planet’. How could it not appeal to the Left? That’s why you can find quotes like this from former Canadian Environment Minister Christine Stewart “No matter if the science is all phoney … climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.” Here’s an entire page of quotes from prominent ‘environmentalists’ http://www.c3headlines.com/global-warming-quotes-climate-change-quotes.html

    I suppose all of the people quoted would consider themselves ‘progressives’, but their obsessions seem to be a lust for power, a loathing of people, and a hatred and fear of democracy. They desire power and hate people, but as Donoghue points out, they need to feel morally superior. It is an interesting example of cognitive dissonance.

  • Gus says:

    There is much said in the essay about the Left’s supposed “good intentions.” But as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and what is at the end of the Left’s and the environmentalists’ vision is… hell. The same hell that we have already seen in the killing fields of Cambodia, since the Khmer Rouge were archetypal Greens.

    Another statement made in the essay is that “they are not bad or stupid people.” Wrong. They are bad and stupid. Theirs is a thin veneer of pseudo-science, derived from slogans rather than any genuine scientific research or scientific understanding, for few of them are scientists. This is then used, Spanish inquisition style, to literally persecute anyone who opposes the dogma, in their own camp especially.

    We’ve seen it all before. Nihil novi sub sole. Every Nazi comrade was a Doctor of this or that. Goebbels doctoral dissertation was on the 19th century romantic literature! And, you see, when you look around today, the most vicious of the enviro-fanatics are … English majors! Much the same goes for communists, who gave themselves doctoral titles for their studies of Marxism-Leninism, founding institutes, writing countless volumes of hours-long speeches and sending their opponents to labor camps.

    Why has the Left so embraced Climate Change? Because with this tool in hand they can do maximum damage to the largest number of people. That’s why.

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