Populism and Denial of Science

"You can’t have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That’s a recipe for disaster. And I don’t mean just whether a politician is scientifically literate, but people who vote politicians into office."
Neil deGrasse Tyson

The populist head of state, despite all evidence, denies climate science. He (and it’s nearly always a he) does this in spite of even the most dramatic and disastrous manifestations of global warming. He does it because it’s the popular, common sense (in his mind) thing to do. More so, he does it because some of his financial backing and much of his success is derived from the few who have a vested interest in the extraction and burning of non-renewable fossil fuel. He does it because a majority of his supporters also support the populist notion that an economy based on fossil fuel use is strong, whilst one based on green, renewable energy is weak.

Sounds like Donald Trump, doesn’t it? Of course, it does. The description also fits Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, Jair Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil, and others. The rise of populism appears to be a global phenomenon with causes and repercussions beyond climate science denial. But let’s limit this discussion to these few gentlemen and their environmental policies.

Unless you are directly affected, the memory of even recent climate disasters, devastating as they were, fades quickly. It wasn’t so long ago that the Brazilian rain forest was ablaze, that there was flooding in the U.S. midwest, that there was a disastrous hurricane in the Bahamas, that Californians were losing their homes and in some cases their lives to wildfires. Yet for those of us fortunate enough to not be directly impacted, such events are no longer foremost in our minds. The most recent and still current climate emergency, the bushfires in Australia is still on our minds, so let’s consider it.

We are now watching the Australian bushfires in real-time, and the hellish scenes are even more dramatic than those we’ve nearly forgotten in California and Brazil. Dare we say that this is what climate change looks like? That events like this are our future, even in the best-case scenario? Mr. Morrison, like Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro, will not.



By many accounts, Morrison and his government have not handled the crisis well. Naturally, all Australians want it to stop, and of course, the fires must be fought to end the current emergency as quickly as possible. But in the longer run, Morrison is also still reluctant to admit and accept the larger crisis of global climate change. His government was partly responsible, at the United Nations climate talks in December, for blocking negotiations on policies designed to advance global climate goals. It’s not a coincidence that Australia is the planet’s largest exporter of coal.

The dirty fossil fuel industry has its hands around the neck of Morrison and members of his party. This, while they stuff his pockets with their nearly inexhaustible sources of funding. They even have Rupert Murdock, the media mogul, on their side. They promote the false view that the use of fossil fuels is good for the economy.

Despite this, Australians’ attitudes are changing. More and more are accepting the science of climate change and that all citizens of Planet Earth will need to change their ways. Perhaps even Morrison, although not Trump or Bolsonaro, will begin to do the right thing.

The populist view will always get and keep guys like these in power. Therefore, the populist view must be changed. As many as possible must be educated to understand and accept science. It’s our only hope.

Contributed by:
Dan Horvath
Blogger and Executive Committee Member, Sierra Club Portage Trail Group
See Their Go Green Go Profile Here

Header photo by: Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images

Body photo by: reliefrun.com.ca