There are many reasons why mainstream parties should take a stronger line challenging the UKIP leader's policies, his reckless approach to climate change is one of them
Nigel Farage said something ridiculous this week, or rather he said something else ridiculous this week.
Prior to suggesting "it isn't too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that's not openly ostentatious" the UKIP leader reportedly offered one of his periodic takes on the latest climate science. As you would expect, it was about as well informed as his views on modern parenting, even if the less high profile comments on global warming failed to spark questions as to the precise nature of the experiences that qualify him to judge the correlation between breast-feeding difficulty and ostentation.
Answering questions from young people at a Leaders Live event in London, Farage reportedly responded to a question about whether he believed in climate change with an answer that suggested he had wrestled with one of the most widely reported and closely analysed phenomena of our age and concluded he had no idea what he thought. "Do I believe in global warming? I have no idea," Farage said, an answer which at least had the benefit of honesty even if it runs counter to the old Neil deGrasse Tyson truism that "the good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it".
Farage then went on to offer some utterly bizarre non-sequiturs that suggested he cannot even be bothered to try and properly master the climate sceptic arguments he would obviously like to adhere to. "The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was set up to prove global warming, so it is doing its job," he said. "Since the 1970s temperatures are warmer now than they were. But I remember that in the early 70s the consensus then was we would be going in for a period of global cooling. Be careful of the scientific consensus." What, no spin about a global warming 'pause'? No nuanced argument about how it may be more cost effective to prioritise climate adaptation? Just a garbled recollection that some scientists once thought temperatures may cool, as if all the best scientific inquiry simply ceases once scientists have identified a trend that fits with your ideology.
In fairness, this is not even close to the most ridiculous thing Farage has said about climate change. For that we have to go back to his performance on one of those relatively rare occasions he turned up in the European Parliament, during which he lambasted Commission President José Manuel Barroso for his pushing through green policies at a time when some US scientists were predicting we are "going into a period of between 15 and 30 years of global cooling". To support this claim Farage offered two photos of the Arctic ice cap showing that the more recent year showed more ice than the previous year, as if this was the smoking gun disproving decades of scientific evidence. In fact, for Farage these two data points were so compelling that when Barroso responded by highlighting how the vast majority of scientists are concerned about manmade global warming the UKIP leader thought he would win this particular debate by grinning and ostentatiously holding up his two satellite images in a manner that would make anyone who values the scientific process deeply uncomfortable.
As always with Farage it is tempting to ignore this scientific illiteracy and gloss over the anti-clean tech, Climate Change Act repealing policies it informs, just as it is tempting to ignore the racism and sexism the UKIP leader occasionally spouts (and if you cannot see that sneering "you know what the difference is" about different nationalities is racist or accept that suggesting women attempting to feed their babies should sit in a corner is sexist I can't help you).
But the three main political parties, the business community, and the vast majority of people who would never countenance voting for UKIP have tried ignoring the party's more ridiculous and offensive policies and statements for several years and it hasn't really worked. As a growing number of political commentators have begun to observe, the answer for the mainstream parties lies not in trying to emulate the insurgent UKIP, but in taking it on and arguing long and loud about the many flaws in its policies and the misinformation and divisiveness it peddles. Climate policy is just one of the many, many areas where UKIP's recklessness deserves to be interrogated.
Earlier this week, both the CBI's John Cridland and Green Alliance's Matthew Spencer told an audience of green executives at the Environmental Industries Commission Annual Conference that while most voters do not consider environmental issues directly when putting a cross in a box they tend to regard it as a basic competence issue when assessing political leaders. Climate change may not be a top priority for voters, but numerous polls have shown majorities of the public are concerned about climate risks, place huge value in their environment, and are broadly in favour of clean technologies. Serious political leaders know this and know that a credible position on environmental issues is essential if they want to be taken seriously by both the public and the business community. Farage's position on climate change and complete lack of a position on other environmental issues is one of many policies that demonstrate he is not a serious political leader.
As the mainstream political leaders continue to thrash around for a strategy for tackling UKIP, they should consider the weaknesses inherent in an apparently libertarian party that wants to block renewable energy projects regardless of what local communities may want, as well as the ridiculousness of a leader who reckons two photos of the Arctic can somehow be taken as evidence climate change isn't worth worrying about. They should also declare publicly that if you want to be taken seriously as a politician you need to have a serious response to serious challenges - simply shrugging your shoulders and saying you have "no idea" what you think is not good enough.
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