Climate change will cause the most devastating impoverishment in human history. Not only this, it will render our planet deprived of its bountiful heritage as Earth transitions through the 6th great mass extinction, the Anthropocene Extinction. What remains will barely be worth experiencing; unless we take action now. Left-wing ideologues, including many strands of commercial environmentalism, claim to have cornered the market on the solutions to the issues of climate change and the associated social strife.
In dictatorial fashion, many on the left decree they know what’s best for the environment, and leftist politics will alleviate the knock-on effects of climate change. The left-leaning and UK Labour Party-backing Fabian Society’s recent report, Future Left, discusses the problems and describes the social injustices arising from climate change, but mainly points the finger, and rightly so, at the Conservative Party and what they have done to stifle economic transition to a greener energy sector. However, the left needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror, as worldwide, left wing governments have mismanaged fossil fuel industry interaction and alternative, low-carbon energy sources, in particular nuclear power. It is not sufficient to be the lesser of two evils on climate change if the left wants to truly secure the future of the environment and uphold social justice.
Future Left correctly identifies carbon dioxide as a major greenhouse gas and human-driven emissions as a driver of climate change. It also points to some of the future impacts we can expect if the situation worsens. Weather patterns will become more erratic; meaning events such as the blanket flooding seen in northern England in 2015 will become commonplace. Rising sea levels caused by the melting of the polar ice caps as the Earth warms will turn coastal metropolises into ghost towns, and has already begun to submerge low-lying islands. The Sahara desert is expanding southwards as regional rainfall decreases in response to global warming, absorbing agricultural regions as it goes, condemning further some of the world’s poorest communities. These consequences will result in a vast body of climate migrants, with estimates of its population in the hundreds of millions by 2050. In other areas, iconic species such as the polar bear are critically threatened due to climate change induce habitat loss, and disease vectors, such as the mosquito, will enjoy greater ranges, increasing the already staggering death toll of diseases such as malaria. Greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed, but what is the left doing to bring about this much-needed change?
The answer is not enough. Global yearly oil subsidies stood at $5.3 trillion in 2015 according to the IMF, which is more than the combined health spending of all the world’s governments. This nightmarish paradox has citizens paying the most profitable industry in human history to their own detriment. Communist China tops the list of offenders with its public spending $2.3 trillion a year to prop up the industry. The USA, under the leadership of the relatively progressive president Obama, is second, spending $700 billion. The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency has been accused of whitewashing a report into the questionable practices of the fracking industry, which have already caused serious damages to the environment and public health, as well as worsening climate change. In Brazil, the nationalised fossil fuel giant Petrobras has corrupted government to its core, with top officials such as suspended president Dilma Rouseff and former president ‘Lula’ (both belonging to the leftist Workers’ Party) implicated in multi-billion dollar corruption scandals involving the company, and are currently threatened with impeachment. Slap-on-the-wrist fines from these governments for catastrophic oil spills are also the norm. BP, ranked 6th on the Fortune 500 list of most lucrative companies in 2014, was fined a meagre $19 billion damages by USA judges for the 2010 Deep-water Horizon oil spill, the biggest spill in history. The fine was so surprisingly low BP stock prices increased upon its announcement. The environmental ramifications of the spill were severe, causing wildlife damage and the destruction of the fishing industry that the Deep South relies upon so heavily. The fossil fuel industry spent $350 million on congressional campaign contributions and lobbying in the USA in 2013-2014 alone, and has been given a free pass in return. These governments are in bed with the fossil fuel industry, and thus are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them.
However not all government support of the fossil fuel industry by the left is nefarious. For instance, in Scotland, presided over mainly by the social democratic Scottish National Party, the economy is highly dependent on the oil industry, and so when divestment is considered two of the left’s causes collide: job security and environmentalism. This conundrum, which has the party both looking to provide renewable energy in the form of wind power as well as securing North Sea oil jobs, is easily resolved when the long-term costs of climate change are considered, but many political systems rely on short-term election cycles that make spending political capital on going greener extremely risky in terms of re-election. There are many reasons as to why left-wing governments feel uneasy about leaving the fossil fuel industry to fend for itself, but sacrificing long-term security due to corruption or short-term power is unacceptable if the interests of normal people are to be represented.
The Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear plant disasters of 2011 and 1986 respectively have left scars on the public perception of nuclear power. What was heralded as the messianic energy source of the future is now treated with fears, especially from the left, over safety, toxic waste disposal and its links to nuclear weapon acquisition. Environmentally, distant ecosystems are still overcoming these tragedies, with Norwegian reindeer still classified as radioactive from Chernobyl while pacific Bluefin tuna caught off the coast of the USA contain heightened levels of radioactive compounds from Fukushima. Future Left is silent on nuclear power, symbolic of the confused consensus within environmentally conscious left-wing politics over nuclear power and its place in greener societies.
Under the weight of public outcry, renewability concerns and security fears, left wing governments have proposed that they will close nuclear plants. The French socialist President, Francois Hollande, has proposed to slash the number of nuclear reactors from 58 to 38 in a bid to transition to more renewable sources amid fears of disasters similar to those aforementioned. Sweden, under the control of a Green-Democratic Socialist led coalition government, elected in 2014, aimed to completely phase out nuclear power over claims of unsustainability, insisting they could make up for the energy deficit with efficiency improvements and wind power. These sentiments are echoed by powerful global environmentalist organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and major left-wing politicians and parties such as UK leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and the Greek Syriza Party, but are ungrounded in fact.
Worries over natural disasters ran rife in the French public post-Fukushima (a disaster caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake-induced tsunami), despite the relatively miniscule risk of natural disasters affecting France’s nuclear infrastructure. The snag in France’s case is that nuclear provides upwards of 75% of its energy, and so any decrease in this provision would create a deficit that would likely be filled by fossil fuels, as the renewable energy sector is still incapable of rapid scale-up. The energy independent status of the nuclear state will be risked if this action is taken, along with thousands of jobs tied to the sector. In Sweden the government’s decision appears to be even more naïve. Nuclear power provides 40% of the country’s electricity, despite the penalising Nuclear Capacity Tax. In the government’s ideal world, it would replace nuclear with renewables, going against public opinion, which is 68% for continued generation of nuclear power according to a 2013 Novus poll. However, there is very limited scope for renewable development in Sweden, with the national grid operator, energy agency and Royal Academy of Science claiming hydroelectric cannot be expanded. Wind energy also runs into problems during winters, where turbines cannot operate due to low temperatures, giving it limited future potential. Winter also happens to be the periods of greatest energy demand both in Sweden and the rest of Europe, so energy import would be a very expensive alternative to nuclear power, which is generated at maximum efficiency at low temperatures. Sweden also has one of the most sophisticated waste disposal programmes, and so the cessation of nuclear power generation makes even less sense. In countries where natural disasters are unlikely to ever be relevant, waste disposal is advanced and less environmentally damaging than the alternative greenhouse gas emissions and renewables are not viable, left wing governments have no business in relegating Nuclear power.
Left-wing governments from Brazil to Scotland to China are propping up the fossil fuel industry to the world’s detriment. Short-term thinking is the root of this evil, with corruption and re-election overcoming environmental consideration. Low carbon alternatives such as nuclear power are nonsensically deemed as impracticable and are first to go in leftist energy provision restructuring, with fossil fuels used to recover losses. Nuclear power has its issues, but the damages to social justice caused by climate change will far outweigh any fallout. Climate change has already been implicated in exacerbating the crop failures that helped seed the Syrian civil war, and promises to heighten future tensions worldwide. It is imperative that, as developing countries industrialise and increase their carbon footprint, developed nations reduce emissions. Future Left is awash with green rhetoric, but globally, case studies reveal leftist politics is often completely complicit or woefully ignorant in incorrectly sourcing energy.