Populist anti-environmentalism is a movement that opposes action towards reducing the effects of climate change and/or global warming. Anti-environmentalists seek to persuade the public that environmental policy impacts them negatively through public debate. Various groups in society have sought to counter the effects of environmental ideology and movements, to redirect and diminish public concern about the environment, to attack left-leaning environmentalists, and to persuade politicians against increased environmental regulation. Some anti-environmentalists may argue environmentalism is radical and “anti-human” due to environmentalist’s concern for climate change and their belief that humans need to interfere with the Earth less or stop altogether.
Some anti-environmentalists argue that the Earth is not as fragile as some environmentalists maintain, as Earth maintained itself long before humans arrived, and it will continue to maintain itself long after humans are gone. Another argument made by anti-environmentalists is that it is in the interest of the economy, and more specifically job creation, to be anti-environment. Groups which are anti-environment include oil producers and mining companies.
Environmental politics are often perceived as a reason for increased taxes. Anti-environmental groups often believe environmentalists are ignoring the ‘good’ environmental findings and have other beliefs such as population growth and species extinction are not real issues, natural resources as plentiful, global warming as not a threat, and environmental regulation inhibits the economy. The wise-use movement is also criticized as anti-environmental as it also believes environmental protection interferes with economic growth and government effort towards environmental regulation is unnecessary.
Of course, the main preoccupation of most right-wing populists has been immigration or minorities. However, according to an article by Matthew Lockwood, it is also the case that populist party platforms are often hostile to policy designed to address climate change, and their leaders and supporters express forms of climate scepticism that place them outside the political and scientific mainstream. “This pattern can be seen in settings as diverse as the US, where the Trump administration is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, seeking to restrict climate science and even trying to bring back incandescent light bulbs, and Finland, where the populist Finns Party recently accused mainstream politicians of ‘climate hysteria’ and argued that environmental measures would ‘take the sausage from the mouths of laborers’,” highlights Lockwood.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by Stella Schaller and Alexander Carius for German consultancy group Adelphi shows that right-wing populist parties have consistently voted against climate legislation in the European Parliament. Despite this pattern, and the threat to progress on mitigating climate change that it poses, there has been relatively little attention paid by researchers to links between populism and climate skepticism.
According to an article by Robert Huber, when individuals perceive climate change and environmental issues as elite-driven concepts detached from their everyday needs, climate-related and environmental politics are eventually rejected. “Populist attitudes, climate scepticism, and policy support for climate and environmental policy are thus inter-dependent,” says Huber and adds that “Data from the 2016 pre-local election wave of the 2014–2018 British Election Study provide empirical evidence that climate change perceptions are affected by rising populist sentiments. Individuals who exhibit strong populist attitudes are less likely to believe in human-induced climate change and are more likely to oppose environmental protection.”
The nature of climate and environmental politics, according to Huber, is abstract and technical, and thus populists can easily portray them as elite-driven and detached from citizens’ everyday needs since the topic itself is elite-driven, of interest to richer and better-educated citizens, and is a prime example of post-materialist issues. He writes that “International climate policies are primarily discussed in international fora such as the UNFCCC and the associated Conference of the Parties (COP), where the public is overtly excluded from decision-making. These general characteristics make environmental issues ideal targets for populists, who can easily perceive climate policy to be part of an elite-driven, cosmopolitan agenda that has lost touch with citizens’ everyday needs and preferences.”
As long as populists portray combating climate change and environmental degradation as an elite project, populist attitudes could be associated with climate skepticism and dismissal of environmental protections. Lockwood explicitly argues that right-wing populists are more climate sceptic and tend to be more sceptical about climate change and environmental protection.
Moreover, according to a collective article written by Kostas Gemenis, Alexia Katsanidou, and Sofia Vasilopoulou, the comparison of different sources shows also that anti-environmental positions are largely concentrated among parties that have been labelled as ‘radical’, ‘populist’ or ‘extreme’ right. The authors argue that “Radical right parties have largely incorporated anti-environmentalism within the main ideological tenets of their party family and such polarization of attitudes and positions effectively negates the treatment of the environment as a valence issue. Therefore, radical right parties tend to be the ones that offer a clear anti-environmental message to the electorate. On the other hand, radical right anti-environmentalism can be understood as a materialist reaction against left-wing/green post-materialism, as ‘the new coalition of forces which see their common enemy in the post materialist New Left and its political agenda’.