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Climate policies can push voters to the far right

Photo: Laurens van Putten Archives ANP via Agence France-Presse Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right PVV party, speaking at a national farmers' protest in The Hague, October 2019.

Shannon Osaka – The Washington Post

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  • Europe

More than a decade ago, the Netherlands embarked on a simple plan to reduce carbon emissions. Their government increased taxes on natural gas and used the funds earned to help Dutch households install solar panels. By most indicators, the program worked. As of 2022, 20% of homes in the Netherlands were equipped with solar panels, up from around 2% of homes in 2013. Natural gas prices, meanwhile, have increased by almost 50%. .

But, according to a new study, something else happened, too. The Dutch families most vulnerable to rising gas prices — renters who paid their own bills — have drifted to the right of the political spectrum.

Families who struggle with rising home energy costs are 5% to 6% more likely to vote for one of the Netherlands' far-right parties.

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A similar reaction is taking place across Europe, as far-right parties position themselves in opposition to green policies. In Germany, a law that would have required homeowners to install heat pumps galvanized the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and gave it a boost. In France, farmers brought tractors into Paris to protest against rules of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In Italy and Britain, drivers protested against moves to ban gas-guzzling cars from city centers.

This right-wing resurgence could slow the green transition in Europe, which has been less polarized on global warming, and serves as a warning in the United States, where policies related to electric vehicles and gas stoves have already sparked backlash negative. This development also shows that as climate policies increasingly touch the lives of citizens, even countries whose voters strongly support clean energy may face obstacles.

“It really expanded the far-right coalition,” says Erik Voeten, professor of geopolitics at Georgetown University and author of the new study on the Netherlands.

Studies with similar results

Other studies have found similar results. In a study carried out in Milan, researchers from Bocconi University studied the voting habits of drivers whose cars had been banned from entering the city center because they were too polluting. These drivers, who had lost an average of $4,000 due to the ban, were significantly more likely to vote for the right-wing Lega party in subsequent elections. In Sweden, researchers found that low-income families struggling with high electricity prices were also more likely to turn to the far right.

Far-right parties in Europe have begun to position themselves against climate action, broadening their agenda to include anti-immigration and anti-globalization. Ten years ago, the Party for Freedom, a Dutch right-wing party, insisted that it was not opposed to renewable energy, but rather to rising energy prices. But in 2021, the training has evolved towards a more radical vocabulary in its manifesto. “Energy fills a basic need, but climate madness has turned it into a very expensive luxury good,” his platform said.

“The far right is increasingly starting to campaign on opposition to environmental policies and climate change,” says Voeten.

Climate policies can push voters to the far right

Photo: Czarek Sokolowski Associated Press In Warsaw, Polish farmers protested in February against European Union green policies that are reducing their production and against imports of cheap grain and other food products from Ukraine.

This reluctance also reflects, in part, the scale of Europe's decarbonization. More than 60% of the continent’s electricity already comes from renewable sources or nuclear power. To achieve the European Union's climate objectives, we must therefore tackle other sectors: transport, buildings, agriculture.

While most people don't pay attention to how they get their electricity, changes to driving, home heating, and farming are beginning to affect Europeans, sparking criticism and anger.< /p>

“What's happening, as we accelerate the pace of transition, is that we're starting to move into areas that inevitably touch people's lives,” says Luke Shore, director of strategy for Project Tempo, a non-profit research organization that assesses the impact of climate policies on voting habits in Europe. “We have reached the point where the issue becomes personal — and for that reason, it also becomes more political. »

A heavy climate transition for voters

According to researchers, the problem arises when consumers have the impression that the cost of the burden of the energy transition is borne by them, rather than by governments and companies.

“People feel like they are spearheading change,” said Pandora Lefroy, executive director of Project Tempo. They feel like they have to carry the burden of change, and that it’s not fair. »

Similar voting patterns have also been observed in the United States. According to a study by Alexander Gazmararian, a political scientist at Princeton University, communities where coal was the center of the economy, historically Democratic, but which lost jobs when switching to natural gas, increased their support for Republican candidates. The change was greater in areas further away from new gas-fired power plants, that is, in areas where voters could not see that it was natural gas, not environmental regulations, that had weakened coal.

Gazmararian said while climate change denial and misinformation about fossil fuels certainly played a role, many voters were simply motivated by the financial pressures they are under. “They're in an economic situation where they don't have a lot of options,” he says.

The solution, experts say, is to design policies that avoid placing too heavy a financial burden on individual consumers. In Germany, where the heat pump installation law reportedly cost homeowners $7,500 to $8,500 more than installing gas boilers, policymakers quickly reversed course. But by then, the number of members of far-right parties had already increased.

Lee Beck, senior director for Europe and the Middle East at the energy think tank Clean Air Task Force, believes that developing climate policies focused on economic benefits and energy security could be a better path to sustainable change. So far, that's the approach President Joe Biden has taken, focusing more on tax credits and benefits for electric vehicles and heat pumps than outright bans.

Most of Europe has long escaped the cultural and political divide that has gripped Australia and the United States. But with the far-right's push for a greater share of the vote, the situation could change.

“I worry about increased political polarization on the question of climate and its roots”, argues Ms. Beck.

Some political analysts predict a significant shift to the right during the European elections in June. If this happens, it could slow down the green transition that Europe has carried out so far. “We could see a fairly sharp reduction in new shares,” says Voeten.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116