Research finds strong link between climate change denial, right-wing nationalism

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to many, but new research shows that gains made by right-wing nationalist factions have increased climate change denial around the world. Now researchers are hoping to connect even more dots behind the phenomenon and educate individuals and industry leaders far and wide.

The assertion comes from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, which has established the world’s first global research program designed to study climate change denial.

Climatologists and other scientists have mostly agreed on the human influence on the world’s climate for more than 30 years. In the 1980s, there seemed to be a political consensus on the issue, and strong environmental movements and actions were spawned. But in recent years, the belief that humans are not the driving force behind changes in global climate has increased, along with political polarization on the issue.

“Two strong groups have joined forces on this issue – the extractive industry, and right-wing nationalists. The combination has taken the current debate to a much more dramatic level than previously, at the same time as our window of opportunity is disappearing,” says research leader Martin Hultman in a statement.

But Hultman says those who firmly stand behind their denial have more at stake than just political muscle.

“Around 80 percent of all energy bought and sold in the world is oil, coal, or gas. The world’s economy runs on this type of energy, which is destroying our habitat at the same time. This makes climate science’s findings problematic because it means that many in Sweden – and in other countries which use these resources to maintain their lifestyle – need to change their way of life, and many of the most powerful companies in the world will have to change their business models,” says Hultman. “At the same time, a more climate-friendly lifestyle involves a lot of what many of us hold dear. For example, more time socializing, more contact with nature, better health and less stress.”

Hultman’s analysis, which is still ongoing, focuses on the relationship between the oil and gas industry and right-wing nationalism, and how conservative think tanks are contributing to climate change denial. Researchers are evaluating how climate change beliefs influence political decision-making by parties and leaders across the globe.

“These parties are increasing in significance. We see it in Denmark and Norway, in Britain with [the United Kingdom Independence Party], and Front National in France,” Hutlman says. “But also, in Sweden, with the Sweden Democrats’ suspicion towards SMHI (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute), their dismissal of the Paris Agreement and of climate laws, and in their appraisal of climate change denier Václav Klaus as a freedom-fighting hero.”

He also mentions the Trump administration as a leading example.

The project “Why don’t we take climate change seriously? A study of climate change denial” is a multi-year, interdisciplinary and international project, financed by the Swedish Energy Agency.

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