U.S. conservatives vs. U.K. conservatives

Cover image of Joe Romm's book, Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy SolutionsIf a climate bill doesn’t become law this year, the inclination among many progressives will be to blame President Obama for his lack of leadership.  And frankly progressives should be critical of Obama:   In a bunch of pretty speeches he has repeatedly said the climate and clean energy jobs bill was a signature issue that would determine whether America achieves “lasting prosperity” or “decline” (see “Success or failure for Obama Presidency hangs in the balance” with climate bill).

But two recent stories remind us of who really is to blame for two decades of inaction.  The first is “House Republicans Organize to Thwart Climate Legislation” in Roll Call (subs. req’d), which opens, “House Republicans have launched a new ‘real-time’ e-mail, Internet and media offensive aimed at fueling public opposition to Democrats’ climate proposals.”

The second is an article in UK’s Telegraph, “Britain’s silent, green revolution:  “All the major parties are signed up to transforming Britain into a green, low-carbon economy to boost growth, as well as to combat climate change.”

Together they underscore a central point that I make in my new book, Straight Up (click here to purchase):

Only one political force could stop a climate bill in 2010, the same force that has impeded action for more than a decade “” the hard-core antiscience crowd that dominates much of conservative politics these days and that demagogues against even the most modest efforts to promote clean energy and reduce pollution

This emerging conservative litmus on climate is in many respects unique to U.S. politics, as the book notes.  In the British reaction to the stolen emails, the top environmental leader for the conservatives in Parliament made clear that party understands both the science and the urgent need for action:

But tonight the shadow climate change secretary, Greg Clark, made clear the party line remains that climate change is a serious man-made threat. “Research into climate change has involved thousands of different scientists, pursuing many separate lines of independent inquiry over many years. The case for a global deal is still strong and in many aspects, such as the daily destruction of the Earth’s rainforests, desperately urgent,” he said.

In the election, all three major parties “are signed up to transforming Britain into a green, low-carbon economy to boost growth, as well as to combat climate change,” as the Telegraph just reported:

If they meet their promises – global warming and rising fossil fuel prices will make it hard for them to avoid it for long – they will effect the biggest change in Britain since the Industrial Revolution steamed into life in a blaze of coal.

It’s all there in the manifestos. The Conservatives aim to make Britain the “world’s first low-carbon economy”; the Lib Dems want Britain to “lead the new green economy that the world needs”; and Labour maintains that ours is already “a transition economy from high carbon to low carbon”. And all have set out more or less far reaching policies to put the promises into practice.

This will have a more profound and lasting effect on our lives than anything else in their manifestos.

Yes, there is nothing genuinely “conservative” about refusing to conserve resources, refusing to conserve a livable climate.

If we don’t get a climate bill this year — and we still have a fighting chance — the blame rests squarely on the hard-core antiscience crowd.

34 Responses to U.S. conservatives vs. U.K. conservatives

  1. Roger Martin says:

    Wholeheartedly agree, Joe. As I wrote to a “conservative” friend (of the weird US/Canadian (not UK)variety):
    “Aren’t conservatives interested in conserving; conserving non-renewable resources, conserving this complex and fragile oasis of life in hostile space that is our inheritance from, depending on your understanding of things, either nature or God? At the end of the day, the market is dependent on the biosphere and exists within it, not the other way around.”

  2. Roger Martin says:

    Maybe UK conservatives read The Economist rather than the quasi-criminal WSJ!

  3. Beefeater says:

    Time to shut this website down! The Global Warming crisis is over!


    [JR: Seriously.]

  4. prokaryote says:

    @Beefeater, mind telling me what those CEO’s of dirty oil & coal buisnesses spent their money on? And last time i checked their companys, often pay not even taxes and make record breaking profits.

    On the bottom line your argument is irrelevant, because it doesn’t affect climate change.

  5. Rick Covert says:


    I whole heartedly agree with you on Lindsey Graham. He’s between a rock and a hard place and it’s unusual for me to defend a Republican. Could the fact that South Carolina is a dumping ground for all things nuclear be another reason that Graham is bullish on the climate bill even though he has backed out, for now, from the bill.

  6. Dana says:

    Yes, many European conservative political parties are global warming realists. Just look at French President Sarkozy for another example.

    The US and Australia are two of the few countries with an major global warming denying political party. Not coincidentally, both are heavily reliant on a fossil fuel (oil and coal, respectively). Canada is a little iffy too – their conservative party seems to talk a decent game on climate change, but they don’t seem to take any action to address it.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    If we don’t get a substantial climate and energy bill this year, I think that the blame rests squarely on ALL of us, including me and etc. etc. etc. In terms of degrees, certainly some organizations and folks (ExxonMobil, the API, Big Coal, most Republican politicians, the denial crowd, and etc.) deserve much more blame than others, of course. And, the media (including The New York Times) deserve a great deal of the blame. But, to a degree, a very large number of people seem to “want it both ways”: We want excellent legislation, green sources of energy, much better media, and so forth, yet most people seem unwilling to do anything other than send some e-mails, make a few phone calls, and the like. As far as I can see, nobody is marching in the streets yet, nobody is willing to passionately embark on large-scale boycotts (e.g., of ExxonMobil), and not all that many people even take the time to participate in the once-every-six-month climate rallies.

    In my view, we need to do much more than we are currently doing: much more. The current approaches are not working sufficiently, or even nearly sufficiently. (In fact, it’s unclear to me whether they are working much at all!)

    It’s nearly May, and Copenhagen was months ago, and the 350 event was even longer ago, and Step It Up was years ago. Walter Cronkite introduced a very good segment on global warming, on the CBS Evening News, way back in 1980 (April 3, 1980), before cable news organizations even existed and at a time when the CBS Evening News was the highest-rated national news program. That was over thirty years ago! And yet here we are, still (mostly) sitting.

    I think the blame is on all of us. Of course, the point is not to sit still amidst blame. That’s not productive or fun. Instead, the point is that we need to do something much more, and something different, in addition to whatever it is that we are currently doing.

    It’s NOT WORKING YET. So, let’s figure out — and do — what will work.



    [JR: We are always hardest on our friends because we think we can move them and we all know we can do better. But the people who are actively working to spread disinformation, demagogue the issue, and block action bear far more culpability than the people who are trying to do the right thing, albeit inefficiently and perhaps ineffectively. The media, however, also shares a great deal of blame.]

  8. Lionel A says:

    And in another corner in the UK we have the United Kingdom Independence Party fielding Monckton as scientific adviser:


    I had the pleasure of playing whack-a-mole with UKIPs local candidate as he raised each of the denier arguing points one by one at a farmer’s market about a month ago. Will he be there again this Saturday I wonder, I sure hope so.

  9. I agree with you Jeff. We have been doing nothing of value, nothing that actually move us to cut GHG on a massive scale and as fast as possible.
    We are already well in the danger zone. The positive feedback effects of just the melting of most global glaciers and the ice coverage in the North Pole region are driving us further to higher temperatures without any additional GHG.
    We can not do anything with the US Conservatives. Stop wasting time on them.

    We need to concentrate on moving supporters to action, creating effective political pressure.I believe the environmental movement is ineffective to date. It does not matter how many members they have and how much money they raised. What did they accomplish? As a member of several of them I do not get the message of urgency and call for special action. Between them they have several hundred millions dollars and are in the business as usual mode. We get magazines, we get emails, but these do not make significant difference. Time to change the mode of operation.
    Too long a subject to discuss here. I have directed grassroots lobbying for years, and tried to explain the effective tools to leaders of several environmental groups, but they have not listened yet and did not come up with anything better.
    Are they not aware how time-critical the fight is?

  10. prokaryote says:

    @Matania Better post your email on the internet like this, i.e.:

    name [AT]

    Spam bots might take this email now and add it to their mailer.

  11. Sasparilla says:

    Very well said Joe.

    “If we don’t get a climate bill this year — and we still have a fighting chance”

    That 2nd part seems to be shaping up as a key question and I really don’t like it.

  12. homunq says:

    prokaryote: spam bots are smarter every day, and they’ll easily see through that simple trick. You can’t follow any simple formula, you should just post it so humans get the picture. For instance, I don’t want to post my email, but if I did I’d tell my name and then say that my email is the same thing, with a dot in the middle, at

  13. I would not discourage anyone from marching in the streets, nor do I think that it’s time to throw up our hands in exasperation. The ball is rolling on action to face climate change, it’s just going slower than we would like. But this is a huge monumental undertaking for civilization and we have to keep our shoulder to the wheel. The progressives and conservatives (excluding the cynical elites) want the same thing, a livable future for our children and a healthy environment. However, we have factionalism based on mutual mistrust that the elites exploit with fear-tactics to ensure our common dream is never realized.

    More pressure is needed on the media and politicians. I walked with thousands in the streets to protest the Iraq war, I don’t know if it did any good or not. It at least got the issue on the television, but they only ever showed the black bloc radicals or flashback hippies. The cameras were never around while the police were swabbing some kids eyes with capsaicin. Climate change reminds me a bit of the war, people who were well informed knew well ahead of the invasion that the justifications were false, but the media failed to go beyond opposing pundits and actually report facts. And when we protested the war, we were shown as unpatriotic. Until the truth caught up with the media. There is no single vote that will decide climate action like there was for the invasion, for good or ill. People are waking up slowly, and people like Joe are helping to speed it along. However, a big part of our strategy needs to be for adaptation, transition, resilience and fearlessness in the face of change.

  14. Michael W says:

    Don’t you think – generally speaking – that there may be many reasons to appose any given bill. Just because someone doesn’t take your side on this particular piece of legislation, doesn’t make them anti-science. (or even wrong for that matter)

    [JR: Yes, well, they oppose EVERY bill, even simple clean energy stuff. It ain’t principled opposition.]

  15. Michael W says:

    If you are against government restrictions on energy, of course you would oppose EVERY (related) bill. JR here’s my point: until you can argue both sides of this concept(government restrictions on energy), you are not a voice of reason, you are an advocate. Would you agree with this?

    [JR: Everybody advocates for something. You seem to advocate for straw men. I try to advocate for science and future generations, especially since the latter cannot advocate for themselves.]

  16. Richard Miller says:

    I agree with Matania and Jeff.

    I have a question for Matania.

    I went to your website and read your piece . I agree entirely with your blog post. I have been saying very similar things at the university where I am a professor, but I do not have the inside contacts that you revealed in your blog post.

    I am working on a letter writing event with students this weekend and I am going to provide a sample letter that I do not want them to copy. I want them to personalize their letter but I want them to include in their letters the following:

    I urge you in the strongest possible terms to:
    1. Pass strong climate change and clean energy legislation this year that is in line with the science
    2. Reject the Murkowski amendment that seeks to take away the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to protect society against the dangers of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide pollution under the Clean Air Act.
    3. Support an International Climate Treaty.

    If they copy this on their letters does this nullify them for congressional staff because they appear to be form letters? Is it better just to have them write in one paragraph that they want clean energy legislation without going into the other technical issues that I enumerate in order to avoid it appearing like form letters?

    I would appreciate any advice.

    Also, any books, links, etc., on grassroots organizing would be appreciated. Thanks.

  17. Michael W says:

    If you choose advocacy to a cause rather than advocacy to critical thinking, you are anti-science, and are not much help to future generations at all.

  18. Peter Bellin says:

    Years ago, many American citizens protested the Vietnam war; it took years for the movement to build until it impacted on national policy. Now that in the US, climate change is framed as a political issue (Democratic vs Republican party), it is extraordinarily difficult to develop a solution. I wish the deniers would accept reality and argue on what actions to take. However, I believe they have convinced themselves that there is no problem (or no serious problem) and that short-term political and financial self-interest drives their conduct.

    Those of us who advocate for strong action can only continue to write letters, provide good information and take personal action. In terms of politics, failure of the US to act must be assigned appropriately; to the short-sighted polticians who, for what ever reason, act for their political future and their party first and the nation and the world second.

  19. Curtis Grinn says:

    There is really only one way to approach this topic if anything is to really be achieved. Most people have tuned-out the Politicians and about an equal amount do not believe in the “end of world” scenarios therefore, the majority is not listening and it will take a majority participation to make the change wanted by us pragmatists. The discussion must be made however, from a common sense view point. For example, talk about gas and electric prices. Talk about China only having 1 in 85 of their citizens owning an automobile at present yet, they’re promoting a major incentive for their citizens to buy cars now. Talk about the fact that they’ve openly stated that while they intend to and are making a big push toward Green Technology, they also believe that the Western World was industrialized on the back of oil and they see no reason for them to industrialize themselves the same way. Talk about China having a larger population than the North America and the E.U. combined. Lastly, what do you think India is going to do… If these type of scenarios are explained from a monetary viewpoint, people will then act. Most people are not thinking of the world ending anytime in their lifetime and therefore, they don’t really care. No matter how many times one says, what about your children, and children’s children, most people are selfish but, they do care about their pocket.
    Come to my team’s site – help us promote it and we will make the case in a way that will get the majority on board. We are in the beginning stages of development and attempting to raise the necessary capital for the site to serve all of our purposes. We will be up to speed in 3-4 weeks at the most. Come join us – We will do it with you, or without. But we’d welcome your help.
    Just my 2-cents from my “no2statquo” attitude.

  20. Michael W says:

    Here are a few reasons to appose climate legislation:

    1. I accept the science, but don’t accept a governmental restrictions.

    2. I accept the science, but don’t want to put the country at a disadvantage economically.

    3. I accept some of the science, but think more CO2 would benefit the planet.

    4. I don’t think any of these bills do enough to combat climate change.

    I could go on forever. The fact that the US has not been able to mobilize behind this kind of legislation doesn’t confuse me at all. I think diversity of thought is a good thing, and group think goes hand in hand with ignorance.

  21. David Smith says:

    Michael W; Your comments dont make any sense.

  22. DavidCOG says:

    I hope our conservatives live up to their promises because there’s a reasonable chance they’re going to be elected next week. However, their core supporters are seemingly all deniers.

  23. sTeeve says:

    Michael W.: Do yourself a favour: go look up some information about the three carbon atoms: C12, C13, and C14. Then find some information regarding their role in GHG; pay particular attention to the ratio of C12/C13. Next, find some information about the distinct chemical signal from carbon produced by burning fossil fuels. Then, find some information about the reason plants prefer C12 in their carbon-uptake cycle.

    When you’ve completed those simple tasks, you’ll be able to come back here and state without equivocation that you know about CO2, you know about GHG and man’s influence on climate change, and that your statement “3. I accept some of the science, but think more CO2 would benefit the planet.” puts the “R” in “stupid”.

  24. Answer to Richard Miller:
    The key idea is not to represent a coordinated effort because it means that some one is telling them what to say and it is not their own feelings. Congresspersons staff rejects coordinated effort, several actual House members told me over the years.
    The staff need to write down how many people are for or against an issue. They do not do a careful analysis of the letters.They are swamped most of the time.
    So, tell your students to write BRIEFLY, in their own words, that they want a strong environmental bill to fight global warming. To express their own feelings, in their own words.
    If you wish more info contact me at the email I put with my comments before and it is also on my web site at the right side:

  25. Mikel says:

    Re: Item 8: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

    Looking beyond their rhetoric and oddities,this is their energy policy, taken from

    To my mind, this is not a BAU policy at all. (BTW, I’m not a UKIP supporter!)

    “In relation to energy, UKIP would:

    ensure secure and affordable energy supplies to safeguard our growing economy increase nuclear power generation to provide up to 50% of our growing electricity needs within 10-15 years, and accelerate the planning process to allow new reactors to replace old reactors on the same sites;

    support efficient extraction of indigenous coal for use in cleaner coal-fired electricity generation plants;

    reduce the use of imported gas for electricity generation while maintaining it for direct heating;

    require any further schemes of large-scale wind generation to be funded by the market, and limit any large-scale wind generation to offshore only;

    support technologies and practice which improve energy conservation and efficiency;

    encourage the development and use of renewable energy sources other than large-scale wind generators.

    In relation to the wider environment, UKIP would:

    investigate implementation of a nation-wide water supply grid based on existing canals and new pipelines;

    encourage the reduction of waste, the reuse of materials and proven methods of recycling;

    introduce a ‘litter deposit’ on recyclable goods as an incentive to avoid waste;

    reduce environmental bureaucracy to a minimum consistent with good practice and international standards while ensuring that necessary legislation is effectively enforced;

    limit environmental pressure from an increasing population by controlling immigration.”

  26. mike roddy says:

    Opposition to clean energy and sober scientific studies is not a conservative position by any ideological definition, as evidenced by political leaders in other countries. The difference in the US is that the Right has been hijacked by dying industries (especially fossil fuels) who have bribed politicians in the Republican Party and purchased key media outlets.

    Bloggers and Fox News viewers are merely suckers who have been brought into anti science and clean energy positions via extremely cynical button pushing.

    The media has not been asleep, they have been groveling at the trough, including those exploiting their past reputations, such as The Times, The Post, and CBS. I really don’t see any hope for them, and alternates on the Web will have to step up even more forcefully. The positive outcome is that papers like The Times will end up being discredited even for being wishy washy for their fake “balance”, like Fox News.

    The information and intelligent dialogue that can be found in this blog must have a bigger audience. We are going to need movies and cable TV education (instead of garbage like Ax Men). This country is full of talented people. Let’s see who steps up.

  27. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    A major fraction of the problem of advocating for requisite change is that our efforts to organize are diverted from public campaigning – that could affect politicians and industry – into wealthy corporate ‘green’ NGOs that are largely co-opted into the status quo.
    Hundreds of millions of dollars are sucked in as annual subscriptions, and have been for decades, to no commensurate result.

    As an outcome, the senate may, or may not, soon debate a cut of US GHGs of 3.67% off 1990 by 2020, which, if adopted would be an order of magnitude short for accessing a pathway to the grossly deficient ‘aspiration’ of a global cut of 50% off 1990 by 2050.

    [“Deficient aspiration”: due to the ~35-year time-lag on emissions’ warming impact, the 50% cut would not take full effect until 2085, allowing the feedbacks 75 years of unfettered acceleration. Our residual emissions post 2050 would then continue to exacerbate warming post 2085].

    The corporate NGOs have utterly failed to inform their paying members of this reality, partly because they themselves ignore the detail of our predicament. That incompetence seems widespread. For instance, the largest street-level activist NGO,, is urging people to demonstrate around the world during the Cancun summit, not by occupying coal-power stations and closing major freeway intersections, but by fitting green tech on their houses! That’ll really shake the diplomatic status quo – I don’t think.

    Moreover, given the 35-year timelag, and the fact that we passed 350 ppmv of CO2 in 1987, we have another 12 years to wait before we see what the warming off 350 ppmv is really like. The idea that we might want to stabilize ppmv at that level is both wholly impractical and, given the rising impacts on food production, notably immoral too. (‘Povricide’ is a crime that has yet to be codified).

    We urgently need an umbrella organization that is well funded, competent, and committed to generating international grass-roots pressure for a comensurate international treaty, under which all nations will know their allocation of tradable emissions rights, with those rights contracting annually toward a global near-zero level by an agreed date, and converging toward per capita parity by a second agreed date.

    This framework is know as “Contraction & Convergence”, and is the only one:
    that accommodates both the equity and efficiency requirements;
    that has been acknowledged as “inevitably required” by the UNFCCC administration;
    that has been endorsed by the Africa Group, by India and other Asian nations, by the leading EU nations, and by others;
    that meets the US senate’s Byrd-Hagel resolution;
    and that does not require or preclude Kyoto.
    It was developed, defined and has been assiduously promoted since the early ‘90s by Global Commons Institute (see:

    In terms of building the necessary new organization, no doubt Joe may have some ideas as to how the odd $100 million of transferred NGO subscriptions might be budgeted. It would be very good to hear his views on this critical development.



    P.S. Full disclosure: I’ve served (unpaid) for many years as GCI’s rural development liaison.

  28. Michael W says:


    I don’t think adding co2 to the atmosphere is preferable, but I’m not going to call someone stupid for thinking it is. I’m not sure what motivations you have for such intolerance.

  29. Michael W says:

    David Smith, do you accept the idea that there are many reasons for rejecting any particular piece of climate legislation and not all of these reasons are anti-science?

  30. James says:

    It’s worth noting that although the Conservative party is behind tackling climate change, the UK conservative blogosphere is still anti-science. See .

    But then most of the internet is full of wackos (present company excepted!)

  31. sTeeve says:

    Michael W:

    You have not done your homework on CO2 yet. This is not your 6th grade class where your teacher will scold you and make you sit in the hall. Real life, with real adults making life-changing decisions, requires, yea, demands, that we do due diligence. When you make comments on a topic about which you obviously have no knowledge, otherwise known as “talking out of your a$$”, some fool (like me) is going to call B.S..

    [rant ON] Intolerance? Sh*t, you want intolerance, go waltz a bit on or watch Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or that clown-boxer Hannity. THAT’S intolerance. If you don’t understand how CO2 impacts our climate because you haven’t studied it, and there’s a lot to study and comprehend, then shut yer pie hole. Or go read some of the excellent docs on climate change written by the experts like Hansen, or our indefatigable Mr. Romm, or Trenberth, or Stephen Schneider, or the imitable Phil Jones, or Mann, or go watch greenman3610 or potholer54 on YouTube…these guys aren’t funded by fossil fuel interests, nor are they hired guns working for some right-wing think-tank..they leave their politics at the door.

    Further, try to publish a scientific paper in the peer-review scientific press. See how thick your skin has to grow because your peers in that process aren’t about to fawn and coo over your bright ideas if they can debunk them in five minutes over half a cup of coffee and a stale doughnut.

    It hasn’t occurred to the denier camp that the reason the phrase “the debate has been over for years” is correct is because they, the deniers, can’t get their anti-science past the review process. More precisely, they can’t get published in scientific press because their science is junk, so they turn to the popular press or, better still, their own “psuedo-science press”. A spade is still a spade…ask Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas about this…shoot, their papers *still* got included in IPCC AR4, and so did McIntyre and McKittrick’s, even though the reviews of their work by their peers (their scientific peers, not Anthony Watts or that buffoon Monckton…Lord, what a maroon) have shown clearly that their work is flawed and sloppy.

    Yes, I’m a scientist, and yes, I’ve had my buttocks handed to me by reviewers, politely most of the time, and sometimes not. Lessons learned, feelings hurt, adult brain engaged, work harder, the devil is *still* in the details, and quite frankly, we can’t afford to miss those details r.e. climate change.

    There ain’t room for errors “on the side of caution”, like the delayers would like us to think.

    Okay, [rant OFF]

    Watch what Stephen Chu and Lisa Jackson are attempting to do…or undo…after eight years of the “Bush-Cheney rape and pillage show”.

    Here’s an interesting read to get you started:

  32. sTeeve says:

    mike roddy:

    Hear, Hear! An excellent diatribe, well said!


  33. Michael W says:

    sTeeve, do you really think these scientists you list are inhuman or superhuman? Have you really found a group of scientists who are immune to human nature? For some reason only one side of this stupid climate scuffle can be bought, produce questionable science, succumb to stubbornness, etc.

    Would you agree with me that every action we take in life has its upsides and downsides? That life is a balancing act and the moment we refuse to weigh the pros and cons, is the moment we cripple ourselves?

    How complex is the carbon cycle? How many different lifeforms, natural processes and systems are involved? Are you telling me that in every case adding co2 is detrimental? (whether it be c12, 13 or 14) Or are you telling me that after weighing the pros and cons that the net affect is detrimental?

  34. Ray Kondrasuk says:

    Why is it that liberals want to conserve old growth forests while conservatives want to liberally log them off?