The Left and Right are Failing to Collaborate on Climate | Alex Gunter


The left and right are still preoccupied with politics over solutions even though young and old activists from both sides of the political spectrum care about stopping climate change. The natural disasters and increasing unpredictable weather is the hard evidence driving the energy for change. Why then can’t anyone agree on a solution?

No one side of the political line cares less about climate change than the other. Despite this there is virtually no cooperation across ideological lines. Why are climate echo chambers the norm? There are a number of factors but fundamentally the issue lies with tribalism. To understand this however we need to look at campaigns from both sides.

Campaign creep, as it’s called in the campaigns trade, is a big problem. The protests in Glasgow were polluted with stray messaged from the various hard-line factions present. Many niche far-left groups used the climate march as an excuse to promote radical socialism. There was even one organisation promoting the Cuban model as a model of a perfect society.

The right are not exempt from campaign creep either; they don’t hesitate in criticising all of the left as communist extremists. In reality, the marches in Glasgow were mainly made up from ordinary folk – citizens concerned about the future. Labelling them as far-left is wrong and doesn’t reflect the fun creative messages of hope that the protest was awash with. It’s also disrespectful of the many conservatives who likely joined the protest.

Campaign creep is a serious issue, but it too has a root cause. Where pragmatism should reign, activists and campaigners find excuses to score points on the opposition. Political point scoring is, normally, perfectly fine except when it comes to the big global issues like climate change.

Tribalism and toxic political debate has been the norm since 2016 with the EU referendum. Both sides have been hurling outrageous insults at each other, online and in person, for over 5 years. Intolerance was made acceptable – even tearing families apart. Even though today’s climate conscious young activists were too young to vote in that 2016 referendum and subsequently were not engaged in the Brexit battles, they’ve been witness to the most toxic political arguments the country possible has ever seen.

Youngsters grew up witnessing the debates around Brexit as the norm for campaigning. It’s no wonder they are adopting the same toxic rhetoric. Young people are engaging in politics the only way they know how to.

The debates around climate are following the style of the Brexit debates. The same level of division is emerging as we saw between Leavers and Remainers. The climate division is new but it could easily devolve down into the same toxicity.  

The growth of social media must shoulder some of the blame for this. Online, away from reality, people feel safe to speak unspeakable things. Historically much of this kind of loose debate would happen in pubs. Pubs, however, have inbuilt safeguards against casual extremism because in a pub you can still get punched for saying something offensive. There are no such consequences online. It was only a matter of time before the cultivated culture of poor quality online debate and tribalism seeped into the wider political world. Social media has made collaboration much more difficult and its ‘Wild West’ like culture needs taming.

Some might argue that tribalism is built into our politics, especially with our unbalanced electoral system. This doesn’t have to be true. The debate around electoral reform is separate from the hate in today’s politics and Britain has survived for hundreds of years without the toxicity we see today.

It isn’t all doom and gloom however. There are growing signs of pioneers crossing ideological lines to make an impact. One of Britain’s newest campaign groups is a great example of this, Volt UK, a pro-European movement for reform, joined both left and right-leaning events during COP26.

Firstly, Volt attended the big climate protest in Glasgow with 3 other pro-European groups to call for a more collaborative approach between neighbouring countries when tackling climate change. Specifically encouraging Britain and Europe to pool resources to help pioneer change.

On Sunday 7th, in continuation of its mission to urge for solutions for climate change, Volt attended the Youth Environment Summit in Edinburgh. The summit received delegations from several different organisations from across the world ranging from other student groups to parliamentarians.

The Glasgow march could be defined as a left-wing event. It certainly gave that impression with multiple socialist representations and a heavy XR presence. It starkly contrasted the Youth Environment Summit who received delegations from centrists and right-leaning youth organisations to explore innovative private-sector solutions. Both events were constructive in their own ways and yet very few people attended both.

Volt attending both these events signified one of the first big pushes to fight climate change as a wider society. While this represents only one organisation’s willpower to span across the political divide, it shows that there is an underlying willingness for pragmatism in the face of climate devastation. This serves as direct optimism that we can, as humans, tackle climate change effectively.

The climate debate doesn’t need to be left-wing protests versus right-wing summits. It needs to be protests and summits without an ideological spin. It is easy to fall back into other arguments about the division between socialism and market fundamentalism, but if we hold our tongues there is an avenue for progress. It requires willpower but not an unreasonable amount and Volt has been one of the first trailblazers. Pragmatism must take the lead, it is everyone’s role to assist and support every genuine effort to cross ideological lines to build support to protect the environment.


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