Climate change and right-wing populism in the United States

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In recent years, the Republican Party in the United States has taken on the characteristics of right-wing populism, especially under President Donald Trump. Like most right-wing populist parties, the party under Trump is hostile to climate mitigation. This is reflected in skepticism or rejection of climate science, opposition to multilateral institutions and agreements, aggressive domestic exploitation of fossil fuels, and depiction of climate advocates and experts as ‘elites’ set on undermining the will of ‘the people’. Among the causes of this populism are sharply growing political polarization, especially on climate and the environment, and a sorting of long-standing worldviews along party lines, leading to the election of a president with a nationalist, backward-looking agenda. This leads to drastic policy swings across administrations, among the states, and to gridlock at a national level. This stalemate will continue until one of the two competing coalitions can establish dominance nationally.

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... On the other hand, various country-specific articles in this special issue demonstrate how climate change has emerged as a popular issue, leading to strong politicization. Fiorino (2022) focuses on the US, making the case that climate change has become one dominant cleavage in US politics and that populist arguments are being made on both sides of the debate. This is also the case for Germany, where the populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has discovered climate change as a politicizing factor (Böcher et al. 2022). ...
... In an attempt to classify climate-related populism in Northern Europe, Vihma et al. (2020, p. 22) distinguish between three idealized types of right-wing populism related to climate change, which they label as climate science denialism, climate policy nationalism, and climate policy conservatism. We take this up arguing that climate science denialism and nationalism can be witnessed in Germany (Böcher et al. 2022;Selk and Kemmerzell 2022), the US (Fiorino 2022), and Brazil (Marquardt et al. 2022). However, in countries like Austria or Poland we rather detect climate policy conservatism (Selk and Kemmerzell 2022), and a similar trend is visible in the Philippines (Marquardt et al. 2022). ...
... Marquardt et al. (2022) focus on strong populist leaders who juxtapose the will of the people against a pluralist party system and who were quite successful in doing so in the US, Brazil, and the Philippines. Fiorino (2022) shows in detail how the institutional setup was challenged by Trump and how he was able to undo many liberal elements within the policy field of climate change. Similarly, Böcher et al.(2022) delineate how the AfD in Germany is using climate politics to undermine parliamentarian routines and conventions. ...
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Does democratization help countries mitigate climate change? On the one hand, by increasing the value placed on quality of life, creating more opportunity for environmental actors to influence policymaking and holding elected politicians accountable, an increase in democratic institution and process should promote emissions reduction. On the other hand, the desire to safeguard individual freedom presumably brings with it an aversion to intervene in lifestyle and market decisions, thereby raising the risk of climate inaction. This outcome is further encouraged by the political need to balance (conflicting) environmental and energy interests. This article evaluates the thesis that democratization promotes mitigation in light of national emissions levels from 1990 to 2012. Using data from the Freedom House, Polity IV and V-Dem indices, World Bank World Development Indicators and the World Resources Institute Climate Data Explorer it conducts a large-N investigation of the emissions levels of 147 countries. Although several quantitative studies have found that domestic political regimes affect emissions levels, this article goes beyond existing research by building a more sophisticated – multilevel- research design to determine whether democracy: (a) continues to be an important driver of emissions when country-level clustering is accounted for and (b) has uniform effects across countries. The results indicate that, even after controlling for country-level clustering and holding constant the other confounding factors, democracy is indeed a significant driver. More strikingly, they reveal that while democracies tend to have lower emissions than non-democracies, democratization spells within the same country do not have the same kind of inhibitory effects as they do between countries. This article also finds tentative evidence that the type of electoral system plays a critical role in shaping the effect of democratization on individual countries. Key policy insights • Democracies tend to perform better in terms of emission levels than non-democracies. • Democratization has non-uniform effects across different countries, with the type of electoral system playing a key role in determining the effect that democratization has on national emissions. • Further research is needed to develop our understanding of how the political context influences emissions, especially with regard to the influence of pro and anti-decarbonisation actors.
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The increase of right-wing populist parties, post-truth politics, and local resistance challenges the policies and politics of sustainable energy transformation. The contributions of this Special Issue address at least one of these political phenomena in the context of sustainable energy transformation. They show that populism, especially right-wing populism, and post-truth politics indicate rising political polarisation on climate and energy policies while local resistance indicates the political nature of sustainable energy transformations. More research is needed to explore the causes, nature, and consequences of the increase in extreme positions on climate and energy policies across political parties and individuals.
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Climate change constitutes a major concern for all political regimes. The question, however, is whether different regime types show different degrees of disposition to reduce carbon emissions. Studies comparing the performance between democracies and autocracies provide us with some fundamental findings but most do not take into consideration the variety of regimes that are neither full democracies nor full autocracies. The perspective of this inquiry is one of a scholar in democracy studies aiming mainly to better understand possible trade-offs of different regime types in the context of climate change. The analysis addresses, first, the national level and discusses possible trade-offs and the difficult choices faced by democracies, autocracies, young democracies and democratizing countries in dealing with climate change. Secondly, the implications for the international level are considered, especially for democracy promoters and their policy options concerning emerging democracies and countries in transition that perform poorly in respect to climate action.
Populism and its rhetoric are on the rise. Political actors across different ideological camps and parties are employing dispositional blame attribution, emphasizing the non-responsiveness of ‘corrupt elites’ to the needs of ‘good and honest’ people. In this paper, we focus on one specific and common area of blame attribution; climate change. In particular, in the United States, a central player in global climate governance, climate change is a very contested issue. The successes of populist candidates in both major US parties suggest that populism could affect citizen support for climate mitigation policies. The often abstract, elite-driven, and technical nature of climate change makes this issue an ideal target for populist critique. Our paper offers an empirical assessment of this claim. First, we test whether populism truly has an independent effect on people’s climate attitudes. Second, we assess to what extent frames about elite responsiveness are important heuristics for individuals in their formation of preferences concerning climate policies. To accomplish this goal, we fielded representative US surveys (N = 3000) and collected both observational and experimental data. Results suggest that populist attitudes enhance the effects of partisanship, rather than creating an independent, orthogonal dimension. Populist Democrats support climate policies more than non-populist Democrats do, whereas populist Republicans oppose such policies more than non-populist Republicans do. Additionally, while our experimental results indicate that populist treatments blaming elites for being non-responsive to citizens’ preferences do not affect policy support, we also find that reasssuring individuals that political elites care about citizens’ needs and preferences in relation to climate policy increases support for the latter. Key policy insights • Citizens’ support is central for implementing ambitious climate policies. • Populist attitudes amplify partisanship effects on public opinion about climate policy. • Populist discourse per se is not an obstacle to adopting ambitious climate policy in the US. • Political entrepreneurs can foster support for climate policies by emphasizing elite responsiveness to citizens’ needs and preferences. • Populist attacks on established elites are unlikely to derail support for climate policy.
Conventional wisdom holds that partisanship and political ideology, writ large, are some of the most powerful explanations of attitudes towards climate change and environmental politics. While compelling, most studies focus on a narrow definition of political ideology in the US. This study adds to the literature by assessing the relationship between populism, climate skepticism, and support for environmental protection. Populism offers an orthogonal dimension to partisanship and left-right self-placement, which broadens the scope of the concept. Assessing the UK facilitates understanding the role of political ideology beyond the strong party sorting apparent in the US. Data from the 2015 British Election Study offer strong support for the proposition that populism holds a consequential role in climate and environmental politics.
This article examines the relationship between racism and environmental deregulation in President Trump’s first year in office. We collected data on all environmental events, such as executive actions at the federal level or Trump’s tweets. Likewise, we documented racist events targeting indigenous people, people of color, Muslims, and South Asians or Arabs. We found important differences in how these agendas unfolded: Environmental events were more likely to be concrete actions, whereas racist events were more likely to involve “noisy” rhetoric. The differing forms are not associated with particular levels of harm; rather, they suggest the unanticipated and complex ways in which racism intersects with environmental governance under neoliberal, authoritarian regimes. We argue that Trump’s “spectacular racism,” characterized by sensational visibility, helps obscure the profound deregulation underway. The white nation plays a critical role, as Trump uses spectacular racism to nurture his base, consolidate his power, and implement his agenda. Such an analysis expands how environmental racism is typically conceptualized. Key Words: environmental deregulation, spectacular racism, Trump, white nation.
Recent years have seen the widespread rise of authoritarian leaders and populist politics around the world, a development of intense political concern. This special issue of the Annals explores the many and deep connections between this authoritarian and populist turn and environmental politics and governance, through a range of rich case studies that provide wide geographic, thematic, and theoretical coverage and perspectives. This introduction first summarizes major commonalities among many contemporary authoritarian and populist regimes and reviews debates regarding their relationships to neoliberalism, fascism, and more progressive forms of populism. It then reviews three major connections to environmental politics they all share as common contexts: roots in decades of neoliberal environmental governance, climate change and integrally related issues of energy development and agricultural change, and complex conflations of nation and nature. Next, it introduces the six sections in the special issue: (1) historical and comparative perspectives (two articles); (2) extractivism, populism, and authoritarianism (six articles); (3) the environment and its governance as a political proxy or arena for questions of security and citizenship (seven articles); (4) racialization and environmental politics (five articles); (5) politics of environmental science and knowledge (six articles); and (6) progressive alternatives (five articles). It concludes with the suggestion that environmental issues, movements, and politics can and must be central to resistance against authoritarian and reactionary populist politics and to visions of progressive alternatives to them. Key Words: authoritarianism, environmental governance, environmental politics, populism.
Alan I. Abramowitz has emerged as a leading spokesman for the view that our current political divide is not confined to a small group of elites and activists but a key feature of the American social and cultural landscape. The polarization of the political and media elites, he argues, arose and persists because it accurately reflects the state of American society. Here, he goes further: the polarization is unique in modern U.S. history. Today’s party divide reflects an unprecedented alignment of many different divides: racial and ethnic, religious, ideological, and geographic. Abramowitz shows how the partisan alignment arose out of the breakup of the old New Deal coalition; introduces the most important difference between our current era and past eras, the rise of “negative partisanship”; explains how this phenomenon paved the way for the Trump presidency; and examines why our polarization could even grow deeper. This statistically based analysis shows that racial anxiety is by far a better predictor of support for Donald Trump than any other factor, including economic discontent.
The rise of right-wing populism (RWP) poses a challenge for the climate agenda, as leaders and supporters tend to be climate sceptics and hostile to policy prescribing action on climate change. However, there is a surprising dearth of research that investigates the nature and causes of this association. Two kinds of explanation are considered, drawing on the literature on populism. One is termed ‘structuralist’, drawing on accounts of the roots of populism in economic and political marginalisation amongst those ‘left behind’ by globalisation and technological change. A second focuses on the ideological content of RWP, especially its antagonism between ‘the people’ and a cosmopolitan elite, with climate change and policy occupying a symbolic place in this contrast. It is argued that there are limits to the structuralist approach, and that an ideologically based explanation is more compelling. An agenda for future research on RWP and climate science and policy is proposed.
As political and societal polarization deepens, democracies are under stress around the world. This article examines the complex relationship and causal direction between democracy and polarization and posits three theoretical possibilities: (1) polarization contributes to democratic backsliding and decay, (2) polarization results from democratic crisis, and (3) polarization contributes to democratic deepening. We argue “politics” is central to polarization and identify as a key feature of the process of polarization the manner in which it simplifies the normal complexity of politics and social relations. Polarization does so by aligning otherwise unrelated divisions, emasculating cross-cutting cleavages, and dividing society and politics into two separate, opposing, and unyielding blocks. As such, it often has pernicious consequences for democracy, emerging as an intended or unintended consequence of political interest–based and purposeful political mobilization. Polarization over the very concept of democracy may also be the product of democratic crisis. Finally, in certain circumstances, polarization may strengthen democratic institutions and citizen choice. The article then introduces the articles in this issue that address these three theoretical and empirical possibilities.
Since environmental problems rose to prominence in the last third of the twentieth century, they have been a major area of policy for national governments. A large body of research has explored the explanations for different levels of environmental policy performance among countries. This article begins with a discussion of approaches to measuring national performance before reviewing and assessing four categories of explanations in the literature, which may be summarized in four questions: (1) What are the relationships between economic growth and environmental protection? (2) Do democratic regimes have advantages over more authoritarian ones in adopting effective policies and reducing harm? (3) Do such institutional characteristics as pluralism or neo-corporatism and federalism affect a nation’s ability to deal with environmental problems? (4) Are there institutional or societal capacities or relationships within or among nations that may explain policy success? By adopting a broad perspective on the literature on national environmental performance, the article is able to explore and compare the principal findings of these categories of research and assess the relationships among them.
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Trump and his campaign amplify untrue ‘birther’ conspiracies against Kamala Harris
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Newsome’s EV executive order will help make California air breathable again
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Partisan conflict over climate change has polarized Americans’ broader attitudes on the environment
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Joe Biden could bring Paris climate goals ‘within striking distance
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What Trump has said about clean coal and what it is
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Trump false or misleading claims total 30,573 over four years
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Polls show most Americans believe in climate change, but give it low priority
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Trump on climate change report: I don’t believe it
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As economic concerns recede, environmental protection rises on the public’s policy agenda
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The Trump administration is reversing 100 environmental rules. here is the full list
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Fact sheet: President Biden sets 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target
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The west has a resentment epidemic
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Key findings: how Americans’ attitudes about climate change differs by generation, party and other factors
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Biden plan would tighten mileage for new cars over the next four years
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How demographic changes are transforming U
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Same, same, but different? How democratically elected populists politicize climate change
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Trump moves to dismantle Obama’s climate legacy with executive order
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Historians have long thought populism was a good thing
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Yale Program on Climate Change and Communication
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On climate change, Republicans are open to some policy approaches, even though they assign the issue low priority
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Blue states roll out aggressive climate strategies. Red states keep to the sidelines,” s, Accessed 15
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Climate change rises as a public priority, but it’s more partisan than ever
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