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Never mind a Brexit recession, Leave voters don't believe in climate change

Leave voters' disregard for the facts extends far beyond the NHS and the economy. 

Last night, lead campaigners from both the Leave and the Remain camps participated in the BBC’s live “Great Debate” on the EU referendum at Wembley Arena.
Pounding the table with arguments about unelected Brussels burdening us with regulations, the Leave campaign again did its best to avoid facts. Instead, the appeal was to hard-wired instincts of English exceptionalism  The New York Times refers to this as a campaign “with sharp tones of xenophobia, racism, nativism and Islamophobia.” 
How does the Leave campaign get away with this on such a consistent basis?
Facts appear not to be a major priority for many Leave voters. That is clear when you look at science. In a ComRes poll of 1,616 prospective voters, Leave supporters were revealed to be much more likely to question science, climate change and evolution.

Vote Leave for climate change denial

Many on the Leave side seem to distrust both the scientific community and British media. Nearly half think scientists and academics have too much influence over British politics. Two in three believe that the media exaggerates the level of scientific consensus on climate change.

This divide is particularly clear when it comes to climate change. One in five Brexit supporters disagree that humans cause climate change. In fact, Leave voters are almost twice as likely as Remain voters to deny manmade climate change. 

And when it comes to a far more well-established scientific theory, evolution, Brexit supporters are even more sceptical. Nearly half of Leave voters agree that those who question evolution “have a point”.
This discord does not only pose a challenge for British academics and journalists. Such beliefs also create fertile ground for false claims and emotive statements which are not grounded in reality. And that extends to arbitrary allegations about Europe and immigration.
One of the defining moments of the referendum campaign came when Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston loudly quit Leave. She called the claim Brexit would free up £350 million a week for the NHS "simply not true". Yet the Leave campaign continued to plaster the false claim on buses. And with one week to go to the vote, pollsters Ipsos Mori found nearly half of Brits still believed it.

The facts point in one direction

Drawing the line directly from science to the uncomfortable referendum debate we find ourselves in may not be clear cut. 
But the case of NHS statistics show the way people choose to judge – or not to judge – facts has everything to do with the referendum debate.
After all, there is overwhelming consensus of the damage Britain could do to its economy by leaving the EU. There is evidence from the Bank of England, HM Treasury, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, PwC, Oxford Economics, the Centre for Economic Performance and others. 
The Leave campaign would never have been able to make many of its claims if more voters were prone to fact-checking and less prone to fear-mongering. 
It’s also worth asking why climate change isn’t higher on the agenda. This is particularly odd given that immigration has been a main point of discussion. Unless we increase our efforts against climate change significantly, future levels of climate refugees will dwarf what we see in Europe today
Serious topics, however, require careful examination of the facts. And these make it clear that remaining in the EU is the best choice for Britain’s future and for the climate.

Assaad W. Razzouk is a Lebanese-British clean energy entrepreneur, investor and commentator. He is Group Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Sindicatum Sustainable Resources.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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