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Jeremy Bezanger

The British climate culture war is finally here

The heatwave brought out the most surreal and bonkers climate sceptics, but these conspiracies must be treated as seriously as any other culture war.

22 Jul

Roll up, roll up! Come and see what the beginning of the end of the world looks like. An English man having a cocktail in a wheelie bin full of tepid water. Pigs slathered in suncream. Melted airport tarmac. Fires burning through London homes. Fields by motorways ablaze. Flaming trees falling on train tracks. Damaged power lines and transport signalling equipment causing travel chaos for days. Teenagers drowning in unpredictable bodies of water. The National Health Service buckling and cancelling surgeries.

All of this happened during the UK’s new national temperature record of 40.3C on 19 July 2022. We weren’t meant to see these kinds of figures until 2050, but here we are, beginning to live the reality of a once unimaginable hothouse Britain. All of this – you’d think – would be enough to quieten fringe climate deniers with shame. Yet somehow, they’ve grown louder than ever. 

The British climate culture war is finally here and without a doubt, it’s producing some of the most brain-rotting political commentary. The summer of 1976, which climbed to a maximum of 35.9C, has become a popular reference amongst GB News sellouts trying to play down the scorching new record. But anyone who has bothered to compare the heatmaps of 1976 and 2022 can see that the freak event nearly 50 years ago was the result of an anomalous blob of unusually hot weather and not the continent-wide sizzling heat we’re confronting now.

Then there are those who have conveniently piped up about the even hotter temperatures experienced in the Global South (which climate activists have been desperately drawing attention to for years), and instead of making the logical conclusion that no one should have to (and can) live through 50-degree weather, they weaponise this information to shame the UK population for not being “strong” enough to withstand 40 degrees. In more conspiratorial spaces, the deadly effects of Britain’s Hell Day have been blamed on planets orbiting closer to the sun, climate activists pivoting to arson to justify their cause and governments trying to ‘create an event like Covid-19’ to coercively control entire populations through “climate communism”. 

It’s bonkers and surreal, but it should be treated seriously. Not only are British newspapers regularly platforming dangerous drivel from people connected to the Big Energy sector, but we also have ex-climate Tory ministers referring to the public as “cowards” and “snowflakes” for demanding change. This deliration is happening alongside a growing anti-net-zero movement, spearheaded by some of the Tories’ own. 

“Like all the other British culture wars that came before, climate will dominate the news cycle but for the entirely wrong reasons”

Steve Baker, who recently ran for leader, ​​is not only a trustee of Global Warming Policy Foundation (backed by US oil money) which campaigns as ‘Net Zero Watch’. He’s also the leader of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), which is pushing back on the government’s own net-zero agenda as it cynically argues that it’s making the working class “colder and poorer”. Instead of blaming the profiteering energy companies, the group is now weaponising the cost of living crisis and escalating energy bills to derail the UK’s already weak net-zero agenda. In January 2022, 20 Tory MPs were part of NZSG. There’s almost no doubt that this number has since grown considering the Tories continue to receive millions of pounds in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate sceptics. Outside of parliament, Nigel Farage and other far-right talking heads have formed a similar campaign of their own – “Vote Power Not Poverty”. The premise is the same: unverified claims on net-zero as the source of the cost of living crisis = more airtime to inflict colossal damage to green movements.

Pair this with the fact that the Tory leadership race has been almost devoid of serious conversations around the climate crisis – bar Sunak’s sporadic relationship with windmills – and see that the once-clear road towards a green Britain is being purposefully littered with obstacles. As more shit hits the fan, broadcasters will live-stream the circus (as well as the sun) and continue to platform the pundits with the most unhinged climate news for views. Like all the other British culture wars that came before, climate will dominate the news cycle but for the entirely wrong reasons.

So what can we do about this terrible inevitability, especially when the climate-denying lobbies are loaded? Resist it like any other culture war – don’t ignite it. “It has been proven that no-platforming works,” Moya Lothian-Mclean, gal-dem’s previous Politics Editor wrote on the outrage industrial complex. “Not only does it cut off the fetid oxygen fanning the flames of their burning hot takes, it will preserve your mental and emotional wellbeing.” 

Instead of entertaining climate deniers, the more productive and soul-healing option is to support the decades-long work of climate groups, activists and organisers, engage in environmental issues within our local communities and create progressive coalitions by linking social struggles. Professional climate deniers are not interested in the truth, but the money in their pocket. The truth about the environmental crisis has been available to them since the 70s, we’ve had 26 COPs since 1995 and the technology available for a green transition is there. Debating them is simply a waste of time – time that we don’t have.

As one Twitter user aptly put it, in Britain “climate change will manifest as a series of disasters viewed through phones with footage that gets closer and closer to where you live until you’re the one filming it.” It’s a palpable prophecy but one that doesn’t have to materialise. Only by switching off our devices of disconnection and politically organising on the ground can we save ourselves.

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