How Boris Johnson went from climate skeptic to eco-warrior
“Is all of this real? I never really believed it, ”Boris Johnson often joked to his inner circle of advisers when discussing measures to tackle climate change. As usual, he was half joking, but also half serious.
The Prime Minister admits that his own journey on this issue has been long. “I remember how some people laughed at wind power 20 years ago and said it wouldn’t rip the skin off a rice pudding,” he told the virtual conference of the Conservative Party a year ago, when it announced that wind farms could power every home in the UK within a decade. The allies admit he was laughing at himself. In 2012, it was Johnson who said there could be no justification for “crucifying our landscape with wind farms that, even when on the move, would barely tear the skin off a rice pudding” .
Today Johnson says, “To fit Gordon Gekko: green is good, green is right, green works. He says the Cop26 climate summit he will host in Glasgow must be a “turning point for humanity”, telling him to “grow up”. As he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month: “It’s time for us to heed the warnings of scientists – and to watch Covid, if you want an example of dark scientists who have reason – and to understand who we are and what we do.
Johnson has indeed traveled a lot since his days of climate skepticism. The telegraph of the day columnist who certainly did not “follow the science”. When scientists linked the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to sea level rise, he said: “There is no evidence that the planet is suffering from the extreme weather conditions associated with climate change.
In December 2015, he wrote: “I am sure these world leaders were fueled by a primitive fear that the current hot weather is somehow caused by humanity; and this fear – as far as I understand the science – is also baseless. There could be all kinds of reasons I was sweating at ping pong, but they don’t include global warming.
He even suggested that climate skeptic (and now vaccine conspiracy theorist) Piers Corbyn might be right. In 2013 he said Telegraph readers: “I speak only as a layman who observes that there is a lot of snow in our winters these days, and who wonders if it might not be time for the government to start taking it seriously. the possibility – however remote – that Corbyn is right, “he said. He wasn’t talking about Jeremy.
During his visit to New York City last month, Johnson conceded: “If you were to delve into some of my articles from 20 years ago” some comments “weren’t entirely supportive of the current struggle.”
When the unlikely leader of what he calls a “green industrial revolution” is asked about his conversion, he invokes John Maynard Keynes’ explanation, saying: “Facts change and people change their minds and points of view. view and this is very important too. Close allies say Johnson thinks the case for action has become “quite convincing” and is “very gripped by this issue,” while viewing it in a slightly different way than those who only view it. as a reduction in carbon emissions.
A crucial step in his journey came when he was convinced of the potential of green growth; the “net zero” strategy unveiled last week promises 440,000 green jobs by 2030. Johnson hopes many will be on the Red Wall seats in the north and the Midlands. Insiders say he has been passionate about boosting jobs for the past few years and talks about it in all climate talks. Johnson believes the Cameron government has not reaped a significant enough reward in domestic production and jobs from its investment in renewables. As he said: “It is vital for all of us to show that it is not just a politically correct and costly green act to shake the rabbit… It is about growth and jobs.
Johnson’s conversion is not a cynically timed “greenwash” for Cop26 – an opportunity to showcase the work of “Global Britain” but one that also carries a risk of failure. But it is telling that he is talking about his climate skepticism of “20 years ago” when his change of mind appears to be much more recent. The issue was not a priority during his time at the Foreign Ministry, when the number of officials working on climate change fell by nearly 25%. On the day he became Prime Minister in 2019, he said Britain was “the world leader in battery technology that will help reduce CO2 emissions, fight climate change and create green jobs. for the next generation “.
This is the year his relationship with his third wife, Carrie, became public. She is an activist for animal rights and plastic pollution. “It seemed to be mostly about Carrie,” a former Johnson aide told me about his green conversion, “but he also responds to elite fashion. He can feel fashion changing. So like on [support for] same-sex marriage, it will simply absorb what surrounds it.
Johnson’s circle of friends includes such green figures as Zac Goldsmith, a FOC (friend of Carrie) he made a peer and Minister of the Environment. Zac’s multimillionaire brother Ben, an influential financier and environmentalist, chairs the Conservative Network for the Environment and funded the election campaign of Michael Gove, who appointed him to his department’s board when he was secretary of the environment. Ben Goldsmith describes Johnson as “The first true environmentalist prime minister we’ve ever had,” but later conceded that Margaret Thatcher had a right to the mantle. (She raised concerns about global warming in the late 1980s, but then accused leftists of hijacking the green movement.)
Maybe Johnson has green blood. His father, Stanley, is still revered among environmental groups for drafting the EU Habitats Directive as an official of the European Commission. Maybe there’s a direct line between that and Johnson’s ‘building the beaver’ joke at this month’s Conservative conference.
Green groups give the prime minister credit for the “net zero” strategy, but given his track record, some remain cautious about the reality of his conversion. One activist said: “We have to give him the benefit of the doubt. He says very good things. But the real test will be whether he can withdraw the money from the treasury to make the strategy work. ”
There was certainly some tension between Johnson and Rishi Sunak before the program started. Sources in Whitehall suggest the Prime Minister has told his Chancellor that he considers ‘net zero’ as important as his ‘leveling up’ agenda. He insisted on £ 5,000 grants to encourage households to replace gas boilers with heat pumps and on eco-taxes on electricity costs to eventually switch to gas bills.
Johnson is convinced that public investment is needed to revive the heat pump market and bring down prices, as has happened with offshore wind. But a renewable energy expert advises caution, warning: “You can’t just do a cut-and-paste job for gas boilers. It will require a lot more government funding than it has committed to. ”
Critics accuse Johnson of speaking out about the benefits of tackling climate change without preparing the public for the necessary unpopular lifestyle changes – whether it’s flying less, eating less meat, or higher fees or taxes. on the “bad” environments. His promise in the foreword to the strategy that the UK could “rebuild greener, without even a hair shirt in sight” was Johnson’s classic cakeism and optimism.
However, Johnson faces conflicting pressure from Tory MPs worried about the cost of ‘net zero’, who believe he has gone ‘non-conservative’. Some even claim that the problem could destroy their party, opening the door for a Nigel Farage figure to exploit the public backlash. The telegraph, whom Johnson still describes as his “real boss” according to Dominic Cummings, urged him to put the brakes on his advisers so that he does not allow “a puritanical, anti-growth, anti-consumerist green movement to take hold of it. State and impose its cultural revolution. on the population by decree ”.
When Johnson leaves Downing Street, could he return to the seizure and resume his life as a climate skeptic? Telegraph journalist? No, he’s gone too far on this trip to turn around.