Staring at the snow settling on a flower pot, in January 2013, Boris Johnson said he had an “open mind” as to “the encroachment of a mini ice age”, and cast qualified doubts about global warming. Indeed, his spewing contained the deep wisdom that “human beings have become so blind with conceit and self-love that we genuinely believe that the fate of the planet is in our hands”.
Johnson, here, hasn’t so much got his mind so open that his brain falls out, as his eyes so tightly shut that it squeezes his brain out of his ears and nose, dribbling onto his face. Boris Johnson outdoes even many of his competitors, much of the Conservative party, in his awful record on climate change: in rhetoric and beyond. I survey some choice examples.
In 2012, in his regular Telegraph column, Johnson played down the energy that could be supplied by green power in the UK. He regrets, it seems, that “[w]e are prevented [by Kyoto] from putting in a new system of coal-fired power stations”. In a classic evocation of nationalist and even xenophobic sentiment, he views importation of energy as “humiliating”. Yet, “as if by a miracle”, we have “the solution” — fracking! He repeats questionable claims about job creation, points to its ability to lower the price of natural gas, and even presents it as, somehow, green.
Sure, natural gas produces significantly less CO2 per unit energy than coal. Fracking, through leaks, releases significant quantities of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas. The energy intensity of fracking technology compounds this, making it significantly less green than “conventional” natural gas. Even switching from coal to natural gas and remaining content is like celebrating while you keep your foot on the accelerator, only applying slightly less pressure, yet hurtle at ever-increasing speeds towards a cliff edge.
In the Telegraph in December 2015, Johnson inverted his impressionistic conclusions from January 2013’s snow and dismissed a winter heat-wave as unrelated to global warming. Johnson is paid handsomely for his weekly column at the Telegraph, where he was previously Brussels correspondent (after being sacked from his previous journalist job for making up a quote).
The Telegraph is one of the most serious purveyors of climate denial in the UK media. Even in the last couple of years, long term columnists and former editors have promoted denial, and celebrated climate inaction. In January, the Independent Press Standards Organisation”forced the Telegraph to print substantial corrections to one such article.
In 2017, Johnson congratulated the government he was in for “continu[ing] to lobby the U.S. at all levels to continue to take climate change extremely seriously.” A change in his politics for the better? The money tells a different story. Later that year, he launched a new think tank, The Institute for Free Trade (IFT), with various links to anti-environmental groups and individuals.
In a 2018 trip, Johnson’s team had their “accommodation, travel and hospitality” paid for by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which has a history of spreading climate scepticism and opposing reductions, receiving significant funding from ExxonMobil. Most damningly, on 12 June this year, openDemocracy revealed that First Corporate Shipping, co-owned by Terence Mordaunt, a director of the Global Warming Policy Forum, the advocacy arm of the climatescience-denial “Global Warming Policy Foundation”, donated £25,000 to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt’s Conservative Party leadership campaigns.
In the leadership contest, his commentary on climate change has been notable, and noted, by its absence. His politics is reflected by his supporters in the Tory rank-and-file, of which 27% “would like to see less emphasis on climate change”, a significantly higher proportion than the average for all members.
We have no confidence in the ruling class to take even minimal substantive moves towards limiting climate change, let alone the serious systemic changes necessary to fully bring about a net zero economy. Still less do we have confidence in, or look to, any Tories to bring about this change. The prospect of a Prime Minister with politics like Johnson’s is nonetheless scary, and reaffirms the need for bold, assertive, socialist environmentalist campaigning.
One of Johnson’s only redeeming factors — in itself a double-edged sword, currently cutting us more — is his rampant opportunism, which means he could be susceptible to pressure to change his course.