Green Populism — Could the environmentalists’ dirty word be what brings the clean breakthrough?

David Hopper
Jan 22, 2020 · 22 min read

Identity politics have never been far from the climate change discussion — socially liberal values make a comfortable fit for many environmentalists. But with the climate issue now commanding mainstream attention, new situations present themselves. Surges in Populism have fuelled antagonism from the more resistant audiences. It looks like a climate war. Underneath, however, is a culture war. So maybe for a decisive breakthrough, the climate side could soften on the less directly related radical social justice and do more to highlight the positive real-world benefits of new clean economies and technologies. For an even greater good….

Photo credit: Eden Hills County Fire Service/Facebook

Conservative conservation

Sir Roger Scruton died recently. A softly-spoken figure with vast mind and radically conservative views, he was in his later years disappeared by a thoughtcrime sting. On climate change, he proposed in his book Green Philosophy that the political Right could make as relevant and imaginative a case as the Left. And when he said that “Conservatism starts from a sentiment… that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created,” it was something with which any environmentalist could agree.

In 1990, another Conservative, Margaret Thatcher — she also a bogey of the Left, but a scientist after all — was one of the first world leaders demanding emissions targets. “The danger of global warning is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations,” she told the UN Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC). “Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community.” Add in a stolen dream or two and that could be Greta speaking.

Cause for the Left

Before 1990, for the Left, coal could do no wrong. Not until a Blairite modernisation did the environmentalist cause sit so completely on that side of the political spectrum whilst becoming so incongruous with the Right. New Labour welcomed climate as code for moral distinction and collectivist egalitarianism, this having the bonus of making Conservative self-interest look grubby in comparison. Young people and their teachers were likely to be Left-leaning and have environment concerns so that figured too. All in all, it made good politics — and not just in the UK.

In the US, Democrat Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” presentation in 1989 was always going to be a partisan one. Decades later, another Democrat icon, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described her New Green Deal as “…a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice….” Her chief-of-staff Saikat Chakrabarti added that: “the interesting thing about (it is that) it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all…. We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” Republicans called it a “watermelon” — Green outer but Red (ie Communist) at heart.

Photo credit:

Not Right

Indeed, the Right have found that anti-environmentalism has helped their own ideological positioning. From corporates to blue-collar, their voters are more spiritually at ease with a chain-saw than a butterfly net. Rebutting clean energy initiatives, they point to perceived Liberal-Left coastal elitism, Silicon Valley snobbery, the threat to industrial growth, livelihoods and prosperity, and the un-American values of environmentalists. It’s a push against an open door.

In both the US and UK, the appropriation of either side of the climate debate has suited the Manichean political landscape and most parties have perpetuated conflict for their wider agenda. “As Liberals have yelled that the sky is falling, Conservatives have plugged their own ears… to the available facts.” say analysts Jim Manzi and Peter Wehner in the National Affairs magazine. Addison del Mastro of The American Conservative magazine writes, “Global warming is not Socialism; it is a rise in global temperatures. (But) the notion that it is Socialism is, unfortunately, something on which too much of the Left and Right agree.”

Infographic credit: Gallup/Grist

Extreme temperatures

In Australia, working-class employment concerns led to victory for pro-coal Scott Morrison (although after what has just happened to his forests, he might not be so keen on repeating the process). Across Europe, the ever more radical Right has galvanised support by opposing Green tax increases. Thierry Baudet of the Dutch Forum for Democracy has described the Green movement as “elitist hysteria” whilst the German AfD, now in the Bundestag, has also talked of “belief in climate change as irrational, hysteria, panic, cult-like or even as a replacement religion.”(according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue).

Extremism is not the sole preserve of the climate-denying Right, however. Economic revolution is a non-negotiable for environmentalists like Roger Hallam (co-founder of Extinction Rebellion) and Naomi Klein in her book This Changes Everything; Capitalism vs The Climate (clue in the title). The XR manifesto says that “corporations need to be replaced by worker-owned co-operatives that don’t seek profit or growth…. (We) will not be successful by pursuing incrementalism, legitimising state power or ‘greening’ capitalism”. An unequivocal message like that tempts plenty of activists with the potential of some anarchic class warfare — but it also puts off a lot of otherwise invaluable public support.

And now

So this is where we are today: with environmentalism still the poster child of the Liberal-Left. Fair enough, but often the message seems like it’s being yelled at people; a headline that we’ll soon all be dead. Whatever its character, any opposition — nuanced or not — is “climate denying” (the choice of verb hints at the world’s worst genocide) or “new denialism” (agreement with the science but slow to respond).

There can be little doubt as to the successes of environmentalism in that both these rejectionist factions (denial and denialism) are in decline — extreme events are hard to ignore. And yet scepticism and inertia remain, not budging fast enough.

UK Commons Select Committees set up a Parliament Citizens’ Assembly reporting April 2020 — a 100-strong gathering of people chosen at random from the electoral roll (whatever “random” means here) to suggest what action to take. One of these things was held on Brexit, which tells you all you need to know about how effective they tend to be — as in, not very. People are better making binary decisions at a public level rather than, as here, trying to deal with a complex issue via a spurious town-hall style forum. If politicians think this might inspire the sceptics whilst mollifying the campaigners, it won’t.

Political analyst Matthew Goodwin at Kent University believes that a battle over the appropriate courses of action will rage on, that climate change will be the primary subject for political tension for the next decade, and, if we’re really unlucky, it will stay a part of interminably ongoing wider culture wars.

In this situation, we need a different way of turning the climate ambivalent into the climate supportive. One that ideally doesn’t include yelling at them.

Populism enters the fray

People being yelled at by elites — metaphorically or literally — and the reaction, might be one way of explaining the growth of Populism across many Western states.

The term “Populism” — around since the 19th Century — owes its current usage as much as anything to a Dutch political scientist, Cas Mudde. He described it as “more than opportunism but less than ideology”: the force of “ordinary” people, from any part of the Left-Right continuum, but defined by their antithesis — the elites — whose values and exhortations irritate them. Broadly speaking, Populists tend to be working class, socially conservative and geographically-centred, in comparison to the middle-class, socially mobile, relatively higher educated, metropolitan, technocratic neoliberal elites — “Somewheres” versus “anywheres” in David Goodhart’s model.

Populists encapsulate the “general will” — an instinct for “common sense” and cherished nation-state sovereignity: highly subjective criteria, but useful in explaining the thought-processes involved. Obversely, the “elites” prefer globalisation, cultural homogenisation and free borders, and may incline to ever narrower “politically correct” protocols; they can be critical of what they see as ugly nationalism, implicit xenophobia and the evangelism of some Populist leaders (Trump, Farage, Le Pen et al) along which path, in their view, sits fascism. The 2016 Trump victory and the UK Brexit vote have been recent memorable examples of Populist waves around the world. Add to these Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orbán in Hungary, Widodo in Indonesia, the Freedom Party in Austria, Five Star in Italy, Sanders as the 2016 Democratic nominee, now Sinn Fein’s success in Ireland, and so on.

Anti-Green Populism?

Populism, like Conservatism, is traditionally seen as anti-Green. Not surprising, given leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro, who (in common with many on the Right) align with the working-class and jobs versus — in their view — antagonistically unrealistic climate policies that may raise levies, hike fuel, and favour the elites who would still be able to afford the flying holidays (and trips to Davos) prohibitive for less wealthy.

Of course, when it comes to showdowns on energy issues, the Populists are good at winning — which positions them, in the eyes of the socially liberal, as the clear and present danger to climate safety (as well as to a lot of their other cultural aspirations). The UK government’s fuel price stabiliser was introduced to appease environmentalist concerns about road building, but HGV drivers soon killed that off. Same with tractor drivers in the Netherlands. In France, when President Macron tried to increase fuel duties (timed rather badly, given his tax cuts for the wealthy), it brought the “gilets jaunes” onto the streets and one year later they are still there.

But it is too simplistic to think that Populism has to be anti-environment — not least because Populists, like everyone else, want their planet kept inhabitable. They might just be arguing about how best to do that. In that sense, it looks like a climate action war — but quite a lot of the time, it’s a culture war.

The 2019 UK election brought a victory for the Conservatives, and the psephology made much of how victory came by winning over the working-class (and partly Populist) vote from its more usual Labour franchise (the “red wall”). Interestingly, Boris Johnson’s pitch was pro-Green, writing, “Britain is respected and admired round the world for its leadership in tackling climate change…. We should use some of our development funds to boost biodiversity and prevent the current catastrophic loss of species; but above all we should… back the brilliant British technology… tackle the environmental problems of the world… (to) ensure that Britain is the cleanest and greenest economy in Europe — and the most prosperous, too.” Whilst this was dismissed as electioneering fluff by some environmentalists and opposition, it was still of note that a Conservative leader was matching an environmental message with sovereign quasi-Populist targeting, rather than taking an anti-Green-pro-jobs line.

We have then the beguiling thought that Populism (and radical social conservatism) and environmentalism may not have to be antithetical after all. If the gap closed, the prize would be a huge volume of people previously thought of as a lost cause now part of a less partisan but pro-Green future. So what’s stopping it?

Social justice distractions

One possible reason why Labour lost the same election was that its socially liberal message sometimes seemed unreal or patronising or po-faced when viewed from outside the metropolitan bubble. The environmentalist reflex can mean following that pattern and thus alienate key targets in the Populist or socially conservative sectors: a tone of hypocrisy, preachiness, authoritarianism, inflexibility, victimhood, intransigence, and even lack of self-effacement — fair or not — is the stereotype. Polarising subjects on the wider social justice agenda (minority rights, immigration, equality of outcome over opportunity, public ownership, intersectionality, globalised geopolitics, and so on), important or not, can muddy the waters.

Johnson’s success came partly from Northern votes, so, by way of example, it is worth taking a lesson from there.

Richard Leafe is head of the authority that runs the Lake District National Park, the kind of rugged, unspoiled gift of nature that has to be preserved for the generations and many elements of which are in peril from the climate crisis. Before Christmas, Leafe expressed concerns about his visitors lacking diversity, being too white and middle-class and insufficiently representative of disabled people. He proposed building works to better “reflect” changes in society and provide a more inviting experience. Although it might not have been on the self-hatred scale of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “hideously white” moment, his suggestions floated up like lead. How was this the most important issue for the region?

On cue came a brutal response from the locals who rarely lack a view on what daft looks like when they see it. Councillor Tony Lywood, said Leafe was using diversity to plan a “theme park”. Another councillor, Adam Poxon, added that “If you don’t want to walk in mud, you shouldn’t come to the Lake District.” Twitter got wind: “News that the Lake District is now racist. Give me f***ing strength.” As did, rather arbitrarily, the former American Ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, who called it an example of “the madness and stupidity of our age.”

Photo credit: The Sun

The most cynical interpretation of Leafe’s rationale might be the most sensible: maybe it was just the kind of lip-service he had to pay to qualify for more public funding. Or did he really did think it smart to leap aboard the bandwagon of social liberalism and drive it into the Populist heartland of Workington man?

No debate

Radical social liberalism has another reputation — again it may not be always deserved — for closing down on the things that are considered wrong. In this model, “climate denial” is apostasy; inconvenient science is always “fake news”; the word “emergency” is compulsory.

The climate crisis is recognised in most scientific quarters. That should be the platform for ever more innovative discussion on what exactly can be done next to turn tragedy to remedy. The required actions require complex thought and planning involving many parties with genuine interests — some with concerns different from others. Take for example in Australia where the unprecedented events had to be anthropogenic in most part. But flawed burnback-management may have also added its contribution (as some people on the ground, without political motivation, have been claiming). That balance of action going forward is something worth talking about at an intelligent level, rather than being closed down for fear it might prove a distraction or is being used as anti-Green counter-propaganda.

Another illustration of how climate actions can have unintended consequences followed Japan’s Fukushima disaster. In Germany, the government — under pressure from Greens — started decommissioning all its nuclear reactors, targeting full closure by 2022. But coal had to take up the slack, creating a 5% increase in emissions, and with, according to work by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a social cost (illnesses, deaths, etc) of about $12 billion per year.

Even when a catastrophe is near, level heads are needed more than ever. Greta Thunberg is adored and reviled in broadly equal measure, and her ability to generate unprecedented publicity has been a unique element in the environmentalist rally. But for some in the important global audience, her Davos claim that “nothing is being done” feels like hyperbole or just not literally correct.

Environmentalism should have the confidence to take less offence and to develop its own powerful arguments, rather than censoring unsavoury views or leaning on socially liberal mood-music. Strip this out, and you are immediately free of so much of the unappealing noise that inhibits Populists from joining the cause.

Tipping-point and a time for positivity

That’s one way forward. Another is to be more positive. At first, that may seem counter-intuitive. But this is exactly the right time.

Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of the tipping-point may be an overused one, but it feels like we’re at one now. The water is bubbling — sometimes literally. A climate crisis (we may argue about the wording) is now largely taken as read — the denial argument fading by the day — and the change in attitude and pace of response is starting to seem dramatic.

For years, we have been witnessing anthropogenic extreme weather events. The Australian bushfires have been different, not just for the scale of damage — which if replicated in a smaller country could have wiped out the whole economy or the whole population — but for the visceral horror played out across global television screens. Tens of thousands of cute furry things slowly burning to death was a grotesque symbol of an entirely new kind of awful.

It comes alongside a different kind of unprecedented shock: a geopolitical and economic one. Clean energy that in the past has been difficult to support (expensive, complex, and needing subsidy that only the richest economies can afford) is becoming the default with costs (financial, political, social…) advantageous or at least viable.

The converse is also true: fossil is rapidly losing support — with even the poor nations, the worst polluters or the oil-rich exporter nations no longer able to swerve public disquiet. Fossil still dominates overall global energy and commands powerful lobby groups. But increasing media scrutiny, litigation and governmental clamp-down are causing one almighty corporate wake-up, giving “old energy” an end-of-days feeling. Even the most recalcitrant —with the largest fossil exports to offload and most stagnant demand — now know it’s a question of when not if.

Something has changed

There are signs everwhere. The Dutch want emissions cut to 25% on 1990 levels by this year end, whilst the EU has just adjusted 2030 emissions reduction targets to 50–55%. BNEF claims that new renewables are in most markets already more cost-effective than new coal, hastening the day when its mining will be simply nonsensical. Insurers like AXA are now actively phasing out all existing insurances in coal. Major global environmental litigation cases are into the thousands and spawning. Outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney (Boris Johnson’s new CO26 advisor) prophesises a “rude awakening” with assets overnight becoming “worthless”. Once hydrogen is adopted across large parts of industry, US$ trillions of above-ground fossil will turn into paper-losses — and everyone has realised it, even the American Right. Geopolitically, there are major issues for Russia (50% hydrocarbon budget) and the possiblility of failed states in the Middle East, migration issues across Africa, and crop and water wars, all of which brings a defence headache — but it’s still when not if.

That’s the bad news. But on the flip-side is a success story. Sensing that the headwind of sensible economics is becoming a tailwind, politicians and administrators are finding that support for clean energy brings wins on costs and votes (and you grab some national pride into the bargain). UBS talks of a $19 trillion green windfall in cracking decarbonisation. Larry Fink, head of the world’s largest money manager, Blackrock, is predicting a complete reshaping of finance coming “sooner than most anticipate…. Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects…. Awareness is rapidly changing,” he said. Even Davos 2020 (private jets notwithstanding) had a well-intentioned, if somewhat pompous, title, “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.”

Infographic credit: Carbon Tracker

There are, of course, numerous other challenges as yet unresolved — including the precipitate closeness of a catastrophic world economic recession, apocalyptic pandemic and good old-fashioned militarised conflict (with a modern asymmetry twist). Climate can still seem less urgent than other bewildering geopolitical agonies, and there is a penchant in some quarters to keep putting off action until an unspecified future date when it is assumed the tech will arrive to cure everything in one magic swish.

But now at least, apropos of climate, the realisation is there, not only of the impending threats, but also of huge opportunities springing up in ever increasing numbers and places. The more action we take, the more the results seem not just remedial but actively beneficial. It shows in how the rhetoric is changing — from begrudging to exciting: talking about the EU’s Green Deal, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen channels JFK and says that it is “Europe’s man on the moon moment”. Even Donald Trump is talking about more trees.

Old fossil to new tech

Meanwhile, oil companies are working frantically at their own alternative clean survival plans. BP are setting up a new technology scheme called Launchpad, worth $1bn to address “one of the toughest challenges our planet faces”. New managing partner Stephen Cook says “that the future of the industry doesn’t look like the past”. It’s easy to be cynical — and many are — of a company with BP’s decarbonisation problems, still with a vast majority of fossil-based output, but the company was not thinking in this direction at all only a short time ago.

Photo credit: Forbes

Vicki Hollub, Fossil company Occidental’s CEO, speaking at Davos again, talked about the strides being made in “negative oil”. She talked of how “a lot of people don’t understand how you can… generate lower carbon oil, but you can…. The challenge… is getting people to understand the good things.” This company is injecting 20 million tonnes pa into rock in Texas, “equivalent to taking four million cars off the road.” The site can safely store a staggering 150 gigatonnes — or almost three decades of total US emissions. It’s space-age technology, creating a virtuous circle of engineering and technological innovation — which may not satisfy everyone, but is startling nonetheless.

No industry encapsulates the positive progress better than automotive, where the old power will swap with new quicker than anyone was forecasting even a year ago. Bloomberg New Energy Finance notes how the price of EVs is falling much faster than predicted, pushed by improving battery costs and aggressive promotions by governments and manufacturers in both Europe and Asia. The inevitable nightmare is a crossover period of forecourts packed with unwanted metal. But latest estimates are that, by 2040, over three-quarters of the world’s cars will be EV, by which point old fossil power will be getting prohibitive and die quickly. Long before that, as soon as people realise that old power is doomed, the emotional viability of these dead duck vehicles will be gone. No one will want one — especially as direct ownership and non-autonomous driving will have declined as well. The UK is already considering banning sales of fossil-fuel cars as early as 2035 — although heaven only knows how national grids, infrastructures, and lithium supplies will cope with all this. But VW’s Head of Strategy Michael Jost has already declared that “2026 will be the last product start on a combustion engine platform.” BMW’s Jürgen Guldner, launching a prototype hydrogen X5 is talking about this additional kind of “fuel cell… as a further offer to our customers” — hydrogen may ultimately be the more realistic route. Ford Motors have already become one of 2% of companies rated “A” on the CDP list for climate change preparedness.

Infographic credit: Powur
Infographic credit: Bloomberg

Tech leadership

Amongst the service sector giants, there is a “virtue war” taking place. Microsoft will aim to be carbon negative by 2030, removing more carbon from the environment than it produces— one up on Amazon going carbon neutral by 2040. “When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough,” says Microsoft’s Brad Smith, in the same breath announcing around $1bn worth of carbon-capture technologies. Significant, not just in what is being promised, but in the animatedly positive tone— typical of this kind of dramatic announcement now hitting the business press like springtime raindrops.

Countries too are competing to impress. China— so often seen as a major polluter—is investing massively in renewables across the world. The superpower is an astute judge of where and how influence and geopolitical supremacy are to be acquired, and that includes along the environmental road. It is legislating at home too, with time-scales that are unheard of in the West. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment has ordered that single-use plastic bags will be banned in all major cities by the end of this year and all cities and towns two years later.

Meanwhile, the younger generations are not just campaigning — they are innovating. Somewhat less shrill than the other teenager, 17-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded Ocean Cleanup, a company developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. With a full fleet of cleanup systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and thousands of interception machines located in rivers around the world, they are taking plastic out of the eco-system—technological leadership of the highest order from the freshest of minds.

Clean can be heroic

We have here then a hugely positive narrative with many exciting messages that, were we selling a different “product”, would warrant more attention than the doom.

But many environmentalists — again in a sign of surprisingly unnecessary neurosis — fear that, were the negative campaigning and draconian warnings to cease, then the backsliding would increase. It’s a premise that has never been tested. And even were it to be a sound one, it does not preclude a concerted effort with positive messaging — if not about the current successes, then at least about the motivating possibilities of a clean future.

People respond well in the presence of optimism: some realism is all well and good, but unrelenting talk of biblical carnage may be counter-productive on morale — and then people will turn off. To date, the message has been characterised by warning, threat and even direct action. In terms of some impact, this tone of voice may have been quite effective, but as the world mainstream accepts climate change as a given, so there is a place for a new positive mantra. The warnings and concerns don’t need to disappear completely. But the stick will work better if it comes with a carrot or several.

The good narrative is there and ready. Environmental transformation offers a whole raft of positive (and at times emotionally appealing) benefits, from micro- to macro-; from domestic systems and budgets, personal health and wellbeing, lifestyle comfort, aesthetic spaces, and smart connected living to public (voter) popularity, employment, industrial and civil cleaning, advantageous energy costs, trade competitiveness, technological prowess, security of supply, national defence, geo-political leadership and regional pride. The UK’s new decarbonisation targets may not suit the most demanding Greens, but they are still some of the most ambitious in the world. The key to acceptance is in talking up the new technology not threatening the less well off with taxation and behavioural prohibition.

Clean is heroic and inspirational. In terms of aviation alone, there are incredible developments taking place in airport innovation, bio-fuel, electric flight, and sustainable-duration drones. Airbus aims to have electric short-haul civil passenger aircraft within 15 years. Even in defence, there are previously unforeseen advantages from, for example, clean military vehicles and battlefield technologies (given that dirty or “hot” machinery is easier to target by an adversary and that military personnel respond to clean travel just like civilian travellers) and surveillance drones that never need to come down to refuel. The idea of improvements in defence being facilitated by a Green imperative is the cockroach in the liberal juice-drink. But the Populist mindset is more likely to have concerns over national security and respond well to this angle. In that same spirit as well, sustainables offer benefits in energy guarantee (compared to pipelines and shipping transport).

Whatever the size and shape of progress in the clean industries, there is some advantange in telling the story. For a start, it normalises the sense of a clean world being the better world. Forbes writer Parna Sarkar-Basu makes the point that we should be doing more to positively reinforce consumers’ good decisions “by presenting them with information as they make their choices. If… one delivery choice has a lower carbon impact than another but adds half a day to the delivery window, let the consumer know that. If you have a smart product with voice features, have the device “congratulate” the user when a green choice is made…. Sustainability is complex, but there is much that can be done at a personal level via transparency.”

So in terms of climate change attitudes, amongst public and industry, the inflexion point is near or here. Perhaps the environmentalists and their messengers could respond with a partial switch of their own towards the celebration of what is now taking place and the positive future than could become of us. It doesn’t mean you have to forget the challenges.

Green Populism

Which brings us back to the Populists, who represent a huge force who could be valuably mobilised in dealing with the climate challenge — a force that to ignore would be the ultimate in ideologically-driven self-harm.

Populism may recoil at some of the excesses of identity politics. But it responds well to sovereign leadership, national pride and security, and economically progressive solutions. Although some of these may be unattractive to progressives, there is a bigger prize in Populist support for the environmentalist cause. All are possibilities that fall naturally from a successful clean, Green future.

Hence the notion of “Green Populism” — a phrase that emerges in an academic paper by Will Davies (citation at end of article) in which he suggests that “with a less pejorative understanding of populism” (which he finds unappealing, by the way) “we might be able to identify elements within that can be usefully channelled and mobilised towards the urgent rescue of human and non-human life…. Where nature itself is defined by its mortality, environmentalism and political action acquire a common logic, that could fuel a participatory, green populism.” Even as far back as 2014, Dutch Green Party sociologist Dick Pels writing in the Green European Journal was saying that “Greens can learn from this recent surge in ‘populism’ by developing a positive and inclusive conception of the term… (and) a better appreciation of the emotional intelligence of ordinary citizens.”

At first, it seems like some level of cognitive dissonance is going to be required when actually there are consonances. Conservatism falls naturally with conservation. Environmentalism can be consistent with nation-state leadership, national pride, technological excellence, sound economic success, local appreciation, traditional values, freedom of discussion, competitive markets. There is no reason why it cannot acknowledge mainstream values and politics that are not the same as those of the socially liberal elites — those arguments don’t have to take up the environmental energy. Green Populism reaches the parts….

A tune that saves energy

There is a long way to go to save the world, and many people still to be convinced. So as we make ever more progress, environmentalists may wish to consider a new tune — one that tones down on the irrelevant identity positioning (with its own faux conjunction, “climate justice”) and accepts that we are all in this together; metropolitan elites and working-class populists alike. A tune that conveys a new era of massive improvement to living and expansion of opportunity, not a return to poverty and constraint. And that the necessities forced on human kind by the climate change storm clouds can — with a seeding of the spirit of human endeavour and ingenuity — bring silver linings.

When it comes to the future of the planet, social conservatism and social liberalism are equally valid aspirations. Putting them into conflict suits different agenda but not this one. Signalling virtue uses valuable energy. Making climate warming an issue of identity politics does nothing but generate more heat.

An era of Green Populism could suit everyone including the most radical on either side. Is it possible to envisage a time, some day later or sooner, when a certain Populist US President might see an economic and technical case for his own Green Deal?

Or is the climate crisis not quite a crisis enough to envisage that low?

In tandem with this article, we are supporting the Australian koala rescue programme on Kangaroo Island —

Further reference: Davies, Will. 2020. Green Populism?: Action and mortality in the anthropocene. Environmental Values, ISSN 0963–2719

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David Hopper

Written by

Brand Foresight consultant at, a global research strategy agency. Co-author of The Branded Gentry.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

David Hopper

Written by

Brand Foresight consultant at, a global research strategy agency. Co-author of The Branded Gentry.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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