The Ecologist

Wind power in Copenhagen, Denmark - representing everything the UK's Euro-sceptic right most hates. Photo: Johan Wessman / News Øresund via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
Wind power in Copenhagen, Denmark - representing everything the UK's Euro-sceptic right most hates. Photo: Johan Wessman / News ├śresund via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
More articles about
Related Articles

Why are the UK's climate change deniers so desperate to get us out of the EU?

Kyla Mandel /

25th January 2016

Anti-EU sentiment and climate change denialism go hand in hand, writes Kyla Mandel. But why? Partly it's down to a belief in unconstrained national sovereignty and economic freedom - threatened by the EU and climate change alike. But it's also because out of the EU, the UK could advance the anti-environment agenda the deniers so passionately believe in, with no one to get in the way.

Most policy solutions to tackle climate change and the types of policies that appear to come from the EU, have this in common: they can be perceived as threatening values of individual freedom, economic freedom, or the sovereignty of national governments.

Climate change deniers are quickly becoming some of Britain's most vocal Eurosceptics.

Prominent climate deniers including Matt Ridley, Owen Paterson, Lord Lawson, and James Delingpole join the roughly 50% of the British public who are in favour of the UK leaving the European Union.

Last spring, Prime Minister David Cameron promised in his Conservative Party election manifesto to hold a referendum on the UK's membership in the EU. It is expected that an in-out referendum will be held before the end of 2017.

But what does this group of anti-greens stand to gain from a 'Brexit'? Does the UK leaving the EU simply fall in line with their general politics, or is there a more specific 'brown' agenda at play?

"It's really ideological", said Nick Mabey, chief executive of E3G, a non-profit organisation focused on driving climate policy: "The package of what they see as internationalist, left-wing state intervention - which is a caricature of what climate policy is and why they don't like it."

Winter flooding - blame the meddling bureaucrats - not climate change!

The group kicked off the New Year with a deluge of articles blaming the EU for the unprecedented winter flooding across the country. According to the Met Office it was the UK's wettest December on record.

But according to James Delingpole, a former Telegraph blogger, climate change did not cause the flooding. Writing in The Sun on New Year's Eve, he blamed the "Brussels bureaucrats who, driven by lunatic green ideology, have made illegal the measures that might have prevented flooding." Namely, dredging.

Coal baron and Times columnist Matt Ridley chimed in on 4 January, with an article titled 'Don't Blame Climate Change For These Floods'. Like Delingpole, he pointed to the EU Water Framework Directive which prohibits governments from dredging rivers.

This was followed by former environment secretary Owen Paterson who presented the same argument on BBC Radio Four, saying that leaving the EU will help protect the country from flood damage. During the 2014 flooding Paterson was criticised by the then environment shadow secretary Maria Eagle for letting his climate denial "blind him" to the dangers of future flooding.

More right-wing climate change deniers backing Brexit

These articles come at the same time as Ridley and Paterson announced they had joined the group Business for Britain which launched a campaign on 6 January in north east England for the UK's exit from the EU.

These aren't the first climate deniers to launch a Brexit campaign however. They join Lord Lawson, ex-chancellor and head of the climate denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), who announced in October that he would lead the Conservative campaign to leave the EU.

It's not just climate deniers though but also their funders who support a British exit from the EU. Last November the Financial Times reported Michael Hintze, a known funder of the GWPF, was "close to donating a large sum to the EU Out camp".

And don't forget UKIP's Nigel Farage - famous for saying he has "no idea" about climate change - who has also given his support to the Grassroots Out campaign group, which plans to target 'ordinary' voters in the lead up to the referendum. But this isn't surprising given UKIP's raison d'être: fighting for UK independence. UKIP is also the only party to wholesale reject the idea that humans are impacting the climate.

"It's very counterproductive for the Out Campaign to have so many prominent climate deniers signing up to them because actually the majority of people in the UK are not climate deniers and it damages the [campaign] to have such prominent climate deniers in the anti-Europe camp", argues Mabey.

"Most people in the UK believe that climate change is happening and it needs to be solved, and they think it's more important than Europe if you look at the polling. So, in a sense, if I was running the Out Campaign I would be trying to persuade these people not to speak out because they poison the swing groups they need to capture to win the debate."

"It's not exactly an endorsement of whether you can trust the facts that they come [up] with on Europe."

Understanding climate-sceptic psychology

So how does this connection between climate deniers and Euroscepticism work on a psychological level?

As Kris De Meyer from the Department of Informatics at King's College London explained: "The majority of policy solutions under discussion to tackle climate change - international treaties or top-down government interventions - and the types of policies that appear to come from the EU - top-down regulations - have this in common: they can be perceived as threatening values of individual freedom, economic (market) freedom, or the sovereignty of national governments."

This can be seen for example in Delingpole's article when he "plays the card of national sovereignty under threat to reject both climate change and the European Union", says De Meyer. As Delingpole puts it in his article, "Far easier to blame 'climate change' than our unelected masters in Brussels."

This view is also expressed in a Newcastle Chronicle article by Ridley in which he writes: "Unelected EU judges have far too much power over our daily lives. If we vote to leave we can end the supremacy of EU law."

"People's prior opinions and values colour how we make decisions and evaluate new information", De Meyer said. "When new information jars with our opinions and values, it's as if we ask ourselves 'Must I believe this?'"

"This means that we are often too unquestioning in accepting arguments that support our worldview, and that we try hard to find fault with arguments when they don't support our worldview. Over a longer time, this process of evaluating information differently can strongly polarise public and political debates.

"Ridley, Paterson, Delingpole, and Lawson will be, to different degrees, driven by a perception of threats to these values of individual/market/national liberty, and hence make different but sometimes overlapping arguments for rejecting both [climate change and the EU]."

UK climate policy on the line

There is, however, another lingering question: is this just ideological, or would the climate-Eurosceptics see the bonus of a weakening in UK environmental policy if we left the EU?

Many argue that the impact of Brexit on UK climate policy would be a negative one. "The first thing is it would massively reduce UK influence on the world to determine climate change", said Mabey. "Politically it would generate huge pressure to water down the UK's role, and basically move more to a completely free-riding position."

For example, Mabey anticipates that Brexit would lead to a battle over the Climate Change Act. The Act doesn't require the UK to be part of Europe to exist however many would argue that on the grounds of competitive-ness, the targets within the Climate Change Act should be weakened.

This is something the Institute of Economic Affairs has long been arguing. (The free market think tank has been instrumental in building up British climate denial.) And, shortly after the Paris climate conference Benny Peiser, director of the GWPF, wrote an op-ed arguing this same point.

Of course, it's likely that Europe would insist the UK adopt EU environmental laws anyway in order to ensure future trade access agreements into the European markets he added. But, being outside the EU would mean the UK wouldn't have the ability to influence these regulations anymore.

And, while leaving the EU would in theory give the UK freedom to set its own standards and regulations, and in doing so could choose strong targets - say for fisheries or setting a carbon tax - the question remains whether this would work in practice.

Remember, the UK used to be known as the 'dirty man of Europe' - those in power at the time were not strong on environmental issues and it was the EU that pushed the UK to step up.

As Friends of the Earth Director Craig Bennett writes on The Ecologist today, "if the UK were to leave the EU all the indications from the early actions of the new Conservative Government are that it's our environment that would take a battering."



Kyla Mandel is Deputy Editor of DeSmog UK. She tweets @kylamandel.

This article was originally published by Some additional reporting by The Ecologist.

Also on The Ecologist: 'Outside the EU, the UK could again be the ‘dirty man of Europe'.



Previous Articles...


Using this website means you agree to us using simple cookies.

More information here...




Help us keep the Ecologist platform going

Since 2012, the Ecologist has been owned and published by a small UK-based charity called the Resurgence Trust. We work hard to support the kind of independent journalism and comment that we know Ecologist readers enjoy but we need your help to keep going. We do all this on a very small budget with a very small editorial team and so joining the Trust or making a donation will show us you value our work and support the platform which is currently offered as a free service.

Join The Resurgence TrustDonate to support the Resurgence Trust