Jeffrey Heninger


Environmentalism's Partisanship

Wiki Contributions


A lot of the emphasis is on climate change, which has become partisan than other environmental issues. But other environmental issues have become partisan as well. Here's some data from a paper from 2013 by D.L. Guber, "A cooling climate for change? Party polarization and the politics of global warming."

The poll you linked indicates that Republicans in the Mountain West are more concerned with the environmental than Republicans in the rest of the country. There is a 27 p.p. partisan gap on the energy vs environment question (p. 17) - much less than the 55 p.p. partisan gap for the country as a whole. The partisan gap for whether "a public official's position on conservation issues will be an important factor in determining their support" is 22 p.p. (p. 13), with clear majorities in both parties. Climate change is somewhat less of a concern than other issues, which I would guess is because it is more partisan, but not by that much (p. 21). 

In the Mountain West, it looks like there is some partisanship for environmental issues, but only the amount we would expect for a generic issue in the US, or for environmentalism in another country. This is consistent with environmentalism being extremely partisan on average over the entire country. The Mountain West is less than a tenth of the country's population and has an unusually impressive natural environment.

Environmentalism started to became partisan around 1990. Nixon & Reagan both spoke of the environment in these terms.

I think that this is a coincidence. Japan has low partisanship for environmentalism and has less nuclear power than most developed countries (along with low overall partisanship). The association would be between three things: (1) low partisanship for environmentalism, (2) high overall partisanship, and (3) lots of nuclear power plants. There aren't enough countries to do this kind of correlation.

From the introduction to the last post in this sequence: 

Environmentalists were not the only people making significant decisions here. Fossil fuel companies and conservative think tanks also had agency in the debate – and their choices were more blameworthy than the choices of environmentalists. Politicians choose who they do and do not want to ally with. My focus is on the environmental movement itself, because that is similar to what other activist groups are able to control.

The motivation for this report was to learn what the AI safety movement should do to keep from becoming partisan. 'Meta doesn't lobby the government' isn't an action the AI safety movement can take.

Thank you !

The links to the report are now fixed.

The 4 blog posts cover most of the same ground as the report. The report goes into more detail, especially in sections 5 & 6.

I think this is true of an environmentalist movement that wants there to be a healthy environment for humans; I'm not sure this is true of an environmentalist movement whose main goal is to dismantle capitalism.

I talk about mission creep in the report, section 6.6.

Part of 'making alliances with Democrats' involved environmental organizations adopting leftist positions on other issues. 

Different environmental organizations have seen more or less mission creep. The examples I give in the report are the women's issues for the World Wildlife Fund:

In many parts of the developing world, women of all ages play a critical role in managing natural resources, which they rely on for food, water, medicine, and fuel wood for their families. Yet they often are excluded from participating in decisions about resource use.[1]

and the Sierra Club:

The Sierra Club is a pro-choice organization that endorses comprehensive, voluntary reproductive health care for all. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are inalienable human rights that should be guaranteed for all people with no ulterior motive. A human rights-based approach to climate justice centers a person’s bodily autonomy and individual choice.[2]

It's hard to date exactly when many of this positions were adopted by major environmental organizations, but my impression is sometime in the 1990s or 2000s. That's when the Sierra Club started making presidential endorsements and when several major environmental organizations started promoting environmental justice.

This mission creep is part of the story. Allowing mission creep into controversial positions that are not directly related to the movement’s core goals makes it harder to build bipartisan coalitions.

  1. ^

    “Women and girls,” World Wildlife Fund, Accessed: March 28, 2024. https://www.worldwildlife.

  2. ^

    The Sierra Club and population issues,” Sierra Club, Accessed: March 28, 2024. https://www.sier

    The title for this page is not explicitly about gender, but to get to this page from the “People & Justice” page, you click on “Read more” in the section: “And our future depends on gender equity.”

This is trying to make environmentalism become partisan, but in the other direction.

Environmentalists could just not have positions on most controversial issues, and instead focus more narrowly on the environment.

There is also the far right in France, which is not the same as the right wing in America, but is also not Joe Biden. From what I can tell, the far right in France supports environmentalism.[1]

Macron & Le Pen seem to have fairly similar climate policies. Both want France's electricity to be mostly nuclear – Le Pen more so. Both are not going to raise fuel taxes – Macron reluctantly. Le Pen talks more about hydrogen and reshoring manufacturing from countries which emit more (and claims that immigration is bad for France's environmental goals). Macron supports renewables in addition to nuclear power. The various leftists seem to be interested in phasing out nuclear & replacing it with renewables. None of the parties dismiss climate change as an issue and all are committed to following international climate agreements.


  1. ^

    Kate Aronoff. Marine Le Pen’s Climate Policy Leans Ecofascist. The New Republic. (2022)

I think it was possible for the environmental movement to form alliances with politicians in both parties, and for environmentalism to have remained bipartisan.

Comparing different countries and comparing the same country at different times is not the same thing as a counterfactual, but it can be very helpful for understanding counterfactuals. In this case, the counterfactual US is taken to be similar to the US in the 1980s or to the UK, France, or South Korea today.

I think you should ask the author of the song if it's referring to someone using powerful AI to do something transformative to the sun.

This is extremely obvious to me. The song is opposed to how the sun currently is, calling it "wasteful" and "distasteful" - the second word is a quote from a fictional character, but the first is not. It later talks about when "the sun's a battery," so something about the sun is going to change. I really don't know what "some big old computer" could be referring to if not powerful AI.

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