Probably the clearest point of ideological difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is “climate change.”
But these are more than just random positions adopted by maverick presidential candidates to please their more extreme voters. They are in fact expressions of one of the fundamental differences between the right and the left, which is reflected time and again in the polls: Conservatives, Libertarians and Republican voters are much, much less likely to think that man-made global warming is a problem than Labour voters, liberal-lefties, greenies and Democrat voters.
In one poll last year, for example, 64 percent of Democrats professed to believe in man-made global warming, as against 22 percent of Republicans.
This is something the left likes to mischaracterise as stemming from the “anti-science” tendencies of right-wing people. But that’s just smear tactics. Conservatives are generally more sceptical of climate change (and related environmental scare stories) for a number of reasons which I discussed in a recent speech in Birmingham at the Conservative Party Conference to the Cornerstone group. You can watch the edited version here.
One of the reasons is religious. If you are a conservative, you are more likely to cleave to the old Christian religion. If you’re on the left, you’re more likely to believe in the new one – environmentalism or Gaia-worship.
Many facets of the new religion are merely substitutes for aspects of the old religion.
The crucifix has been replaced by the wind turbine; priests have been replaced by climate scientists; false prophets by the likes of Al Gore and Prince Charles; hair shirt penance and daily ritual by recycling; pilgrimages and purgatory by IPCC conferences; and so on.
Conservatives naturally feel towards environmentalism as they do towards Scientology or pastafarianism or Jedi: why subscribe to a silly, made-up new religion when you’ve got a much preferable one sanctified by 2000 years of history?
But even conservatives who aren’t remotely religious are instinctively sceptical of environmentalism for several other sound reasons.
One is that conservation is built into most conservatives’ DNA – indeed, it’s actually in the name of their political philosophy. Conservatism is about conserving what is best, whether it’s traditions, institutions or nature. (I go into a bit more detail about this in my speech, which you should watch because it’s very short and there’s a funny bit in the middle where I’m interrupted on the phone by the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson).
Another is, yes, that we on the right are naturally suspicious of any “problem” which can only be apparently fixed by massive state intervention, higher taxes, increased regulation, policing by nanny-ish busybodies – and bombing the economy back to the Dark Ages. “Citations needed”, we say to all that. And amazingly, the greenies can’t supply them – well, not convincing ones, anyway.
The other main reason people on the right are distrustful of the whole “climate change” scare is that conservatism is essentially evidence-driven. That is, it’s not about grand schemes for reforming the world – such as the left is forever trying to inflict on us. It’s about looking at the real world and working with human nature rather than against it. It’s about “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it”.