The Sweden Democrats (SD) is a far-right populist and anti-immigration political party in Sweden. With its roots in Swedish Neo-Nazism of the late 1980s and early 1990s1, it has no resemblance to the Democratic Party in the United States. In fact, they are more similar to the British National Party and during the past 20 year it has tried to white-wash its image in various ways. In the last election (2014), they received almost 13% of votes and became the third largest party in Sweden. Recent opinion polls indicate that their numbers are rising. Many political commentators think that this is due to the recent election debacle, where neither the left or the right achieved majority and SD threatened to vote against any budget regardless of origin (and did so once) unless they were given strong influence on immigration. This led the other parties to create a cautious truce called the December Agreement, whereby they would not vote against the budget delivered by the largest coalition. Some voters considered this to be a betrayal and may have shifted allegiances to SD to voice their disagreement.
Recently, Josef Fransson (industry-political spokesperson of SD) and SD-supporter Sandra Palenryd (secretary at Halmstad Hylte) wrote an ignorant screed (webcite) against mainstream climate science and got it published as a letter to the editor in a local newspaper called Hallandsposten (“The Halland Post”). It regurgitates many of the same climate denialist assertions that have been refuted a thousand times before. It is noteworthy, however, that the official position of one of the largest political parties in Sweden is so deeply anti-scientific (they even go so far as to deny the existence of a current warming trend) and how this risks influencing public policy depending on the results of the next election. It would be a disaster if Sweden had its scientific research and reputation so easily undermined by unreasonable forces like SD. Thus, this merits a point-by-point refutation.
Listening to mainstream climate science is not “going with the flow”
SD bases their political policy on being “politically incorrect”, “fighting the establishment” and “going against the flow”. To put it simply, they have marketed themselves as being pretty much contrarian to most things. Fransson and Palenryd portrays the situation as if all the other political parties have been put under the spell of mainstream climate science and that they are the only ones that have not been brainwashed and thus are able to think critically about the topic. However, this is not even remotely close to being true. Most political parties might say that the accept mainstream climate science and that they care about the environment, but direct political action has been sparse, both in Sweden and globally. Most international climate meetings end in frustration.
Needless to say, rehashing stale myths about climate change science has nothing to do with “taken the time to carefully familiarize themselves with climate science” (my translation).
The fact that other factors exists does not mean that CO2 is any less relevant
Fransson and Palenryd complains that the relationship between CO2 and warming is not linear. An odd complaint, it seems, since they just admitted that the relationship exists (just that it is not linear). So is it logarithmic? Exponential? They do not say. Probably they meant to argue that we can increase CO2 exponentially and this will allegedly only have a modest impact on warning. However, this fails to take into account that the levels of CO2 are rising sufficiently fast that even a logarithmic relationship is bad news.
There is a current warming trend
Climate change denialists often claim that there has been no observed warming since 1998. This is false because they have cherry-picked that starting point because there was higher-than-normal average global temperatures due to El Niño. This graphic illustrates their debating tactic:
Well-defined error bars is not the same as “uncertain”
A common trope among climate change denialists (and science denialists in general) is to overplay the unknowns and uncertainties of research in order to undermine the evidence. However, there are always going to be residual uncertainties in research and so the question rather becomes whether or not the accumulated scientific knowledge is enough to offset the residual uncertainties. In the case of climate change, we now know enough to say with confidence that there is a current warming trend and that this has been strongly influenced by human emissions. Furthermore, well-defined error bars is not the same as being uncertain. It is an honest way to indicate the most plausible value and the range of credible values.
Sweden does not have the lowest CO2 or GHG emissions in the industrialized world
Fransson and Palenryd claims that Sweden “has the lowest emissions in all of the industrialized world” (my translation). This is stunningly incorrect. According to the Millennium Development Goals Indicator, there are seven or thirteen developed countries (2012 data from UNFCCC series or 2011 data from CDIAC series, respectively) with strictly lower CO2 emissions per capita than Sweden. Data available from here. Selection criteria were Goal 7, target 7.A, Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tons of CO2 (UNFCC) and Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tons of CO2 (CDIAC) respectively. Looking at global data, there are even more countries (~140) with a per capita CO2 emission less than Sweden. Similar results exists for total greenhouse gas emissions according to the CAIT Climate Data Explorer (historical emissions).
“Tragedy of the commons”-excuse underplays the importance of influence
The authors argues that Sweden emissions are such a tiny part of global emissions that it does not matter what Sweden does. While this may be true if you only examine direct effects, it is also important to take indirect effects into account. Fransson and Palenryd seem to understand this when they say that “the only significant thing that Sweden realistically can contribute with is research and development for the kinds of energy that replaces the fossil ones and that are so cheap that even poorer countries can afford it”. Surely, if Sweden’s influence is so small, then this research too would be negligible since other countries can invest much more into research than Sweden can. In the end, Fransson and Palenryd tries to have their cake and eat it too. If Sweden can influence others through research results, then so too should they be able to through climate action. For instance, it might be influential on other countries if Sweden restricts greenhouse gas emissions, even though, according to the logic put forward by Fransson and Palenryd, “we do not need to” or “it would be very expensive”.
Nuclear power is unlikely to work in isolation
Being too overcautious against nuclear power may have meant an unnecessary reliance on getting useful energy from dirty carbon. Nuclear power certainly have an important role to play in current and future energy politics. However, this may be difficult at times because of public and political opposition, the problem of storing nuclear waste and the fact that uranium mining is a dangerous complicated process that might be difficult to get going on a large scale in many underdeveloped countries. This means that it is unlikely that nuclear power can stand as the only alternative to dirty carbon. Renewable sources are going to be very important in going forward with alternative sources of useful energy.
1 According to Expo (a private foundation dedicated to monitoring racism and hostility to immigrants), ~60% of members in the party board 1989-1995, ~40% of election candidates in the 1994 election and ~50% of election candidates in the 1998 election had connections to the Nazi movement before, during or after their time in the party.