Sunday, April 14, 2019

GWPF Newsletter: Finland's Climate Sceptic Party Set For Election Breakthrough

In this newsletter:

1) Finland's Climate Sceptic Party Set For Election Breakthrough
The New York Times, 12 April 2019 

2) Finland’s Populists Find Favour With Anti-Green Agenda
Financial Times, 11 April 2019 

3) White House: Climate Science Review Panel Taking Shape
Scientific American , 12 April 2019

4) Trump Signs Order To Speed Up Oil And Gas Projects
Associated Press, 11 April 2019 

Full details:

1) Finland's Climate Sceptic Party Set For Election Breakthrough
The New York Times, 12 April 2019 

HELSINKI, Finland — When they really wanted to rile up conservative voters this spring, the politicians from Finland’s nationalist party made a beeline for the rawest subject in this year’s general election. No, not immigration. Climate.

As Finland’s other parties competed with each other to offer ambitious climate goals ahead of Sunday’s general election, the Finns Party has seized on climate as a new front in the culture wars, warning its conservative, working-class supporters that they are being betrayed by urban elites.

Aggressive environmental measures will “take the sausage from the mouths of laborers,” warned a Finns Party politician, Matti Putkonen, in a recent televised debate. And, more important, from dogs and cats, whose food, he said, would increase in price by 20 to 40 percent.

“What are you going to say to the little girl or boy who cries when Mom and Dad say that they can’t afford it any longer?” he said. “And take the lovable pet to be put down?”

If that was not enough, he suggested contemptuously that, if the liberals got their way, dogs and cats would have to accept vegan substitutes for meat.

The Finns Party, which has taken a strident line against action on climate change, campaigning for parliamentary elections in Helsinki. Credit Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva, via Associated Press

“How long do you think,” he asked, “will it take for dogs, that is, Musti and Mirri, to learn how to switch to pulled oats?”

The anti-climate language, coupled with the party’s longstanding anti-immigrant line, has paid off. The Finns Party, which polled at just 8.1 percent last November, has risen in recent weeks to be the second most-popular party among prospective voters, with 16.3 percent support. According to Taloustutkimus, a market research firm, much of the surge has come from voters who did not take part in previous elections.

Finland’s general election has broken a well-established pattern in northern Europe, where one political cycle after another has been powerfully defined by the issue of immigration. In December, the Finnish authorities announced a series of cases involving accusations of sexual abuse and rape of girls by male asylum seekers and refugees, but it still did not become a central election issue.

Instead, much of the debate has been dominated by climate, with nearly every major party proposing its own plan to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. The proposals have been wide-ranging and, in some cases, aggressive, like an eco-tax on meat and airfare and restrictions on logging. But this pivot did not marginalize the Finns Party, whose leaders discovered they could mobilize their electorate by casting climate policy as an elite agenda that would hurt ordinary people.

Some analysts, watching the Finns Party’s rise, have suggested that emphasizing climate has actually helped the right wing.

“Well-meaning people wanted to make these elections climate elections, but they only set the table for an election victory for the Finns Party,” wrote Saska Saarikoski, a political columnist for Helsingin Sanomat, on Twitter. “Could we learn something from this?”

It was a carbon tax, increasing the cost of fuel, that ignited France’s Yellow Vest protests. Credit Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Already, many of Europe’s right-wing parties and movements have adopted similar emotional assaults on climate policy. It was a carbon tax, increasing the cost of fuel, that ignited France’s violent Yellow Vest protests. Germany’s far-right party, Alternative for Germany, has pushed back heavily against the science behind clean-air policy, which it has derided as “particulate matter hysteria.”

The lines clearly find an echo in Republican attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal in the United States, which portray liberal Democrats as Stalinists taking away people’s pickup trucks and hamburgers.

“No planes! No energy!” President Trump said in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric. ‘Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.’”

Stella Schaller, who has studied populist parties and their approach to energy policy, said climate may well become “a new line of conflict in European society, when topics like migration lose their explosiveness and tension.” The rhetoric serves to undermine trust in government and international institutions, she said.

“They use identity-laden frames, such as national independence, the homeland, our nature and environment,” said Ms. Schaller, a project manager at Adelphi, a climate think tank based in Berlin. “They make it an emotional issue by fueling fears of rising energy prices and higher consumer costs. The way they communicate about this is dramatic and personal.”

With right-wing parties now holding 151 of the European Parliament’s 751 seats, and likely to increase their share in May elections, opposition to climate policy could become more mainstream.

“The danger is that the mainstream discourse shifts toward more simplistic, nationalistic language, and that centrist parties adopt populist frames,” Ms. Schaller said.

Finland’s case is instructive. With its energy-intensive paper and steel export industries, Finland has not traditionally been at the vanguard of environmental policy, said Tuomas Yla-Anttila, a lecturer in political science at the University of Helsinki.

But political discourse was jolted, last fall, by the release of the a landmark report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warning that without profound reform, a warming climate could lead to food shortages, wildfires and a die-off of coral reefs much sooner than previously thought.

Young people in Finland were also powerfully affected by climate protests led by a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, and journalists quickly began casting the upcoming election as Finland’s first “climate election.” The range of policy became clear in the first televised debates, where nine parties were represented. Eight of them eagerly offered their plans to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.

And then there was Jussi Halla-aho, the chairman of the Finns Party, in vigorous, passionate dissent. His position is not to deny climate change, but to deny that Finland is obliged to make sacrifices to combat it.

“Climate hysteria wrecks the Finnish economy and industry, and it destroys the fruits of decades of work by citizens,” he said in a recent video blog on the subject, which went on to warn of “massive” fuel tax increases, “dramatic” tax increases on old vehicles, cessation of flights to Lapland and “overly ambitious” national goals that will “raise transport and heating costs to unbearable levels.”

“There has to be a limit to climate hysteria,” he continued. “Vote to get Finland back.”

Other Finns Party candidates have offered over-the-top variations on this message: “If every Finn shot himself, it would do nothing to stop climate change” (Juho Eerola, the party’s deputy chair); and “If Finns stopped driving cars, it would delay global Armageddon by one minute” (Kristian Laakso a candidate in the southeast district of Kaakkois-Suomi).

With this line of argument, the Finns Party has been able to attract working-class males — eight in 10 of its voters are men — from the Social Democratic Party, the country’s traditional left-wing party. David Arter, a political scientist who has followed the party closely, said the Finns Party has “sought to exploit its ostracized status for electoral gain,” and the mainstream emphasis on climate change, an issue that does not resonate with male traditionalists, has played into its hands.

This argument only resonates with a small part of the electorate, Mr. Yla-Anttila said, but could still have a significant effect. With nine parties currently represented in Parliament, the most popular party will get only around 20 percent of the vote, and a swing of 1 to 2 percentage points could propel the Finns Party into second place.

Candidates for other parties said that a false narrative had taken hold. “There’s been a vast amount of disinformation in these elections,” said Anita Hellman, who was canvassing for the first time as a Social Democrat. The Finns Party, she said, had spread misconceptions about her party’s climate proposals, leading voters to believe that “the Social Democrats will come and rip your car out of your front yard.”

Daniel Sazonov, who is running as a member of the National Coalition Party, said he has been taken aback by voters’ strong feelings about climate policy, which he said extended far past the younger group generally associated with climate action. And that much being said, on both sides of the argument, was, as he put it, “extreme.”

“Climate,” he said, “is as polarizing among voters as immigration.”

2) Finland’s Populists Find Favour With Anti-Green Agenda
Financial Times, 11 April 2019 

Finland’s rightwing nationalist Finns party [...] best known for its signature opposition to immigration is on the verge of a stunning resurgence in Sunday’s election after finding another way to stand out: hostility to policies designed to fight climate change.

Inspired in part by the “gilets jaunes” movement in France, the Finns have found that in a large, sparsely populated country, opposing green measures is not just at odds with mainstream thought but also resonates widely with voters.

The government has raised some energy taxes while several parties have proposed an end date for the sale of petrol cars, two of the policies the Finns most fiercely oppose.

“All the other eight parties are in agreement on the environment. But their plan is not economically credible. It is like this ‘them versus us’ stance,” said Sakari Puisto, a senior official from the party formerly known as the True Finns.

High energy and travel costs — one of the key forces behind the gilets jaunes — fall “especially hard on the ‘ordinary person’, said Mr Puisto. But he underscored that his party did not “believe or advocate civil unrest or disobedience . . . that kind of rioting does not fit with the Finnish mindset”.

After entering government for the first time in 2015, the Finns broke in two after a series of crises, its support in tatters. Opinion polls for Sunday’s parliamentary elections show the party has rebounded into second place, with more than 16 per cent of the vote.

Its re-emergence as a national force is likely to complicate forming a government after Sunday. No fewer than five parties are polling above 12 per cent but none is above 20 per cent, according to the latest polls.

The three-party rightwing government that ruled Finland from 2015 collapsed last month over its inability to pass a healthcare reform designed to tackle its rapidly ageing population. The opposition Social Democrats have led the polls for most of the past two years, potentially making them a rare centre-left winner in Europe.

But the momentum is all behind the Finns, who in some polls have doubled their support since December. That month reports emerged of a rape and sexual abuse scandal in the Arctic city of Oulu with about two-thirds of the 29 suspects reported to be foreign. “We had worried for years and years that something like this would happen,” said Mr Puisto. [...]

The comeback of the party poses a dilemma for the other parties — should they follow neighbouring Sweden and lock them out of government, or invite them in even if it has been a painful four years?

Risto Penttila, a prominent businessman and candidate for the ruling centre-right National Coalition party, said that Finland had a “proud tradition of co-opting difficult parties” such as the Communists during the Cold War.

“Responsibility makes you a lot more controlled. Co-opting the Finns worked really well. Then after they changed leader we went the Swedish way, which I think is unfortunate,” he added.

Ms Berner said there had been a hope that having the Finns in government would teach them “what it means to carry the responsibility of government . . . Now comes the question: is it impossible to work with the Finns?”

Mr Puisto urged the other parties to at least invite them into the opening round of negotiations for government formation, which is expected to last beyond May’s EU elections.

“The concern is real that they might treat us as outcasts. People don’t like that: that their vote isn’t heard.”

Mr Haavisto of the Greens agreed, saying: “I’m against this categorising that some are good and some are bad, some we talk to and some we don’t.”

Still, forming a coalition could take four or five parties, leading to difficult negotiations on the left and right.

Full story

3) White House: Climate Science Review Panel Taking Shape
Scientific American , 12 April 2019

A controversial plan by the White House to review the connections between climate change and national security might be led by a former official with the Department of Energy who oversaw talks about nuclear weapons tests with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Former Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, who served as chief negotiator for the Geneva nuclear testing talks from 1988 to 1990, is favored to lead the review panel, according to two sources involved in the talks. Robinson also directed DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories from 1995 to 2005 and was head of the nuclear weapons and national security programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Robinson has been quietly recruiting researchers outside the government to participate in the review panel, the sources said. He has been working with Steven Koonin, a New York University professor and former undersecretary for science at DOE during the Obama administration, to find participants.

C. Paul Robinson. Sandia National Laboratories

They have focused their recruitment efforts on a small number of climate skeptics with academic credentials, including Judith Curry, a former professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Richard Lindzen, a retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who has called those worried about global warming a “cult”; and John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and a newly installed member of EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Robinson’s involvement is notable because he doesn’t have a history of speaking about climate change, unlike other potential members of the panel. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from Florida State University and has spent much of his career specializing in nuclear weapons and national security.

Robinson was among dozens of signatories on a letter to President Trump in September 2017 encouraging him to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal signed by President Obama. The letter compared the benefits of exiting the Iran deal, which Trump ultimately decided to do, to the president’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

“We are unconvinced by doom-and-gloom predictions of the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA,” the signatories wrote, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The sky did not fall when you withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.”

The White House plan to review climate science resembles an earlier effort by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to conduct a “red-team, blue-team” review of climate science to highlight uncertainties in research methodology. Koonin and Will Happer, a member of the White House National Security Council who’s spearheading this review, were a driving force behind Pruitt’s plan.

Initial plans for the latest climate review included an effort to involve the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, but that appears to have been scuttled, according to one source involved in the discussions. Robinson sits on the executive committee of the governing board for the National Academies.

Another option that has been considered is to ask federal researchers to conduct the review, which would allow the panel to avoid federal disclosure laws. Last month, a group of prominent climate skeptics, energy industry officials and Trump allies wrote a letter to the president urging him to use outside researchers for the review.

“Insofar as an internal working group would consist of federal career scientists reviewing their own work, we think this alternative would be worse than doing nothing,” they wrote.

So far, the effort to recruit reviewers does not appear to include the nation’s top climate researchers at NASA or NOAA. The head of each organization told E&E News that they are not involved in the process. Neil Jacobs, the acting NOAA administrator, said the panel should stick to peer-reviewed research. And he defended the National Climate Assessment, one of the overarching pieces of research that would be reviewed by the White House.

Full story

4) Trump Signs Order To Speed Up Oil And Gas Projects
Associated Press, 11 April 2019 

The president is trying to make it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns.

President Donald Trump signs executive orders on energy and infrastructure at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas, on April 10, 2019.Jim Watson / AFP – Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday that he says will accelerate the approval of energy infrastructure projects in the United States.

Trump signed the executive orders before applauding union workers at a training facility in Crosby, Texas.

The president energy infrastructure is too often held back by special interest groups and others.

He particularly took aim at the state of New York, saying “obstruction” on a gas pipeline “does not just hurt families and workers like you, it undermines our independence and national security.”

Trump is trying to make it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns.

Trump will order the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new guidance that states will have to follow to comply with the Clean Water Act.

The second executive order will streamline the process for infrastructure projects that cross international borders. The move follows Trump’s decision to issue a new permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Full story

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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