Politicians and activists on the Left often portray climate change as a risk so big that it threatens to cause the human race to go extinct. Logically this means that:

  1. If I have to choose between stopping climate change and supporting unions... I stop climate change.
  2. Inequality vs. climate change? Climate change.
  3. Preventing charter schools vs. climate change? Climate change.
  4. Affirmative action vs. climate change? Climate change.

In other words, it should logically be better to concede every single non-climate policy question to the Right, in order to adopt legislation required to prevent climate change. After all, it's better to live in a world entirely dominated by Right wing policies than to not live at all. But instead we constantly see the Left demanding both climate change to be stopped and various Left-wing policies to be adopted at the same time. I.e. Ontario had a "buy local" provision as part of their solar power program to support local unions, which is counter-intuitive if your primary goal is to fight climate change at all cost.

So why aren't we seeing this in practice? Does the Left not genuinely believe in climate change being a catastrophic risk to the planet? Why squabble over union rights if the fate of humanity is at stake?

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    The Left (and the USA in general) have religious world view. Admitting climatic sins and adhering to overall dogma is paramount. Actually fighting climate change is secondary since you always count on divine intervention provided you got the dogma right.
    – alamar
    Mar 17, 2023 at 18:08
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    Not sure that a good answer is specific to any one particular issue as it goes into the issue of log rolling and negotiations in the legislative process in general. Clear quid pro quos in vastly different subject areas rarely present themselves so clearly.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 17, 2023 at 19:34
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    Well, if you want to put it that way, you could add: "why not kill a few billions to save the rest; fewer mouths to feed, less climate change". Either we kill a few billions or we [all] die by climate change. Sounds "logical" no? Mar 17, 2023 at 20:15
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    This question rests on the dubious assumption that most left-leaning people believe that climate change is likely to kill the human species, as opposed to merely causing hundreds of millions of deaths. I have not generally seen that.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 17, 2023 at 21:01
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    If it's solely a "left vs right" issue, how to you explain the policies of the UK Conservatives? In fact, what are the positions of center right parties in Europe about climate risks? What you are basically proposing is to bribe bad faith actors to alleviate risks to everyone by pandering to their (unrelated) pet prejudices. Mar 17, 2023 at 23:33

4 Answers 4


Because most of what you mention are bad arguments and bad choices to begin with.

First you are giving people fake choices trying to claim that we can do one or the other.

  1. Support for unions has nothing to do with climate change and we can do both
  2. Inequality has nothing to do with climate change and we can do both
  3. Preventing charter schools have nothing to do with climate change and we can do both
  4. Affirmative action has nothing to do with climate change and we can do both.

None of your given examples are things that only one of them can be addressed at a given time.

Second is the fact that the compromise might not change anything at all. If the compromise is to have a smaller reduction and the crisis will hit in 75 years instead of 50 years (number made up for example) does that compromise really help? Sure we have more time to make more changes but we are just slowing down the when the problem will hit.

Third is the fact that when it comes to climate change (and environmental protection in general) is many of the chemicals in questions are bad for people in general. Even if it could be shown that they are not causing global warming reducing the amount in the environment is better for the health of the worlds population in general.

Really it boils down to us being able to tackle multiple issues at the same time.

  • we can do both => often we don't do any of them or only do the non-climate change part though? It seems like the Left should say Yes if offered a deal that banned unions while reducing net carbon to zero, but right now they're definitely not going to take such as deal. Mar 17, 2023 at 18:49
  • Points 1 and 3 would be detrimental to the climate movement. Ruining education and expanding corporate control sounds like a great way to make a bad situation worse, at least in my humble leftist opinion.
    – Warcupine
    Mar 17, 2023 at 18:52
  • @JonathanReez But that doesn't change the fact that we can do both and your latest example is something that the left would absolutely refuse to do under any circumstances. There is no way they would agree to ban unions regardless of what they would get considering how much unions have gained for the average worker.
    – Joe W
    Mar 17, 2023 at 18:53

... it should logically be better to concede every single non-climate policy question to the Right, in order to adopt legislation required to prevent climate change. After all, it's better to live in a world entirely dominated by Right wing policies than to not live at all.

That happens if everything is only seen as black or white. It's wrong to think of climate change and extinction as a binary phenomenon. The more is done there, the better the conditions for future generations will be. The less is done, the more future generations will suffer. But ... people will also suffer without strong unions, high inequality, bad school systems and all that other stuff. And suddenly the choice is not binary anymore but a mixture of everything, weighted by importance. Climate change is still one of the most important points, but not the only one.

And anyway, there is no reason to assume that the Right would actually start to believe in the threat of global warming and mass extinction just because there wouldn't be any unions anymore or other stuff. People who won't believe in science probably simply don't want to. Nothing is going to change that.

Who you might mean instead are those people that actually do believe in climate change but otherwise hold conservative views. It might be possible to win them over, but it's not sure how many of them are there. Maybe not a lot.

If you ask me, the only way to convince people of global change is having them experience it. If they do so, they'll finally change their mind, but by then it's probably too late for many species maybe even us, but if by chance we survive this, we could end up a lot wiser. It's the tiny light at the end of the tunnel.

  • The less is done, the more future generations will suffer => according to the dominant thinking among the Left, the future generations will entirely perish if we don't go to zero-carbon, no? So by that logic no other policy areas are really all that important. Mar 17, 2023 at 19:43
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    @JonathanReez Please stop making false claims that we can only do one issue at a time.
    – Joe W
    Mar 17, 2023 at 19:45
  • @JoeW I never said so, what I'm saying is that when dealing with an existential risk that the other side refuses to acknowledge, the logical approach is to concede everything to the other side for the sake of solving the existential risk. Mar 17, 2023 at 19:52
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    @JonathanReez You keep making assertions that if the left did this one thing the right would be all for climate change work. We are able to work on multiple polices at the same time.
    – Joe W
    Mar 17, 2023 at 20:06
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    @JonathanReez "future generations will entirely perish if we don't go to zero-carbon" I think this is an extreme position that is very likely not what "the Left" thinks (at least one person would probably survive even without fully zero-carbon). It's just what you define here as leftist position and it's so exaggerated, that it's very close to a strawmen argument. Mar 17, 2023 at 21:10

Imagine a valley with two farmers. They've both been pumping water from the aquifier to irrigate their fields. Now a scientist comes and says "you can't do that, cut your consumption by 50%." The left farmer believes the scientist, and suggests that they should both cut the consumption by half. The right farmer says he does not believe, and wants to pump the same amount as last year. If the left farmer is worried, the right farmer says, he could just stop pumping any water and they'd be down to those 50%.

The numbers in the example are of course made up to create neat results. But assuming the overwhelming consensus of the scientists is right, mankind will have to save so much of their emissions that any significant holdouts who do not cut their emissions are going to be a problem. In games theory, this is known as the tragedy of the commons, a kind of prisoner's dilemma with more than two players where the mutual cooperation strategies of the ordinary prisoner's dilemma don't work.

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    That's... not the point of the question? The question is why we the Left doesn't focus on cutting down total CO2 emissions at the expense of everything else, such as union rights, public schools support, affirmative action, bigger welfare state, etc. Surely it would be easier to pass climate change legislation if it contained nothing but right wing policies on everything that doesn't directly impact climate change? Mar 17, 2023 at 18:26
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    @JonathanReez, because that would be the left farmer in the metaphor when he gives in, cutting his business to the bone because the other farmer is stubborn.
    – o.m.
    Mar 17, 2023 at 18:34

Let's take a decision matrix, based on Conservative values and principles, taking into account that these are issues, climate change and progressive goals, are entirely unrelated.

IF climate change is not real:

Conservatives should not support an economically ruinous solution to a non-problem. And doubly not if it means accepting progressive goals they also find detrimental to society's good.

If climate change is real:

Conservatives should not treat it as a political bargaining chip because it will also impact their members. They should instead steer climate change mitigation in a direction corresponding to what they consider the best solution. And/or collaborate with the left. While continuing to oppose unrelated social goals they disagree with.

For what it's worth, this charge of bringing along items unrelated to climate change was also levied against the original version of the Green New Plan, associated with AOC, as it was (very) short on nuclear and hydropower while long on progressive social goals and unions.

Progressives should not expect principled conservatives to strike this deal. Nor should they bribe unprincipled conservatives to do so.
  • But wait… my question is asking why progressives won’t give up everything on their agenda except climate change. So if conservatives believe that climate change is not real, surely they’d still be happy to work on it if it means getting a policy win on every other political question? So one law would ban unions in exchange for banning fossil fuel cars. Another law would ban affirmative action in exchange for a carbon tax, etc. Mar 18, 2023 at 16:43
  • and my answer is that progressives should not expect principled conservatives to strike this deal. nor should they bribe unprincipled conservatives to do so. Mar 18, 2023 at 16:48

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