Swedish Far-Right Politician Talk Nonsense About Climate Change

letter to the editor by SD politician

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:

Escalator of doubt

For more on this particular climate change trope, go here and here.

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.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

4 thoughts on “Swedish Far-Right Politician Talk Nonsense About Climate Change

  • July 27, 2015 at 00:57

    Emil Karlsson,

    “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”

    The third largest political party in Sweden is a fascist party? That’s pretty disturbing. Hope their popularity is just a short term trend

    • July 27, 2015 at 10:48

      According to recent opinion polls, they are close to be the second largest at around 17-20% of votes. However, the most credible opinion poll companies has systematically underestimated voter support for this party compared with election results for the 2-3 most recent elections.

      Their popularity is unlikely to be short-term as it has increased steadily over the years. Large political scandals, such as:

      – “The iron pipe scandal” (Järnrörsskandalen) whereby two senior politicians in the Swedish Congress were out on the town armed with iron pipes, threatening to hit an old man and called a young woman a whore. The Wikipedia page about it is a bit tendentious, but this news item gives a fair description of the events. So far, their best defense has been that it was “really just aluminum pipes”. These were the people who would have been the Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice had they won the election.

      – Gambling scandal: party leader is a suspected gambling addict as he lost 1/2 million Swedish Crowns (little less than 60k USD) of his own money on gambling sites.

      – Women’s association: they conned the government for millions by claiming that they had a women’s association tied to the party that did not actually exist at the time.

      – Fake Pride scandal: they are currently organizing a pink washing Pride parade (“Pride Järva”) through an area were a lot of immigrants live at the same time as the organizers compare gays to pedophilia, bestiality and incest (mere days before official Stockholm Pride starts that covers that area).

      …has not even put a dent into their popularity. It should be also noted that their party leader took half a year off after the election (presumably due to a burnout) and that did not affect ratings.

      Mainstream Swedish politicians have tried ignoring the problem, arguing against them or trying to steal their questions. Nothing has worked. All approaches lead to increased popularity for SD.

      Right now, there are probably three ways they can implode:

      (1) they screw up royally (need more or less Watergate proportions)
      (2) they get into the ruling coalition (this usually means losing support in the election after, compare with Norway). At the moment, all other parties refuse to cooperate with them on a national level.
      (3) the December Agreement breaks up and the conventional political parties become more different: the social democrats become more socialist (currently run by the more right-wing business left) and the moderates become conservatives (currently dominating worker and job issues).

      (2) is obviously dangerous, but a lot of Swedish commentators have been complacent by claiming that the support just comes from people who are disgruntled and not “actual racists” or that it is a short-term popularity (comparing it to a party that existed in the 1990s called New Democracy that did implode after one election).

      (3) It is a bad agreement, but it was the only option if we wanted to have a working budget and not allow extremists to have influence. It is really annoying that consensus politics breeds extremist support.

    • July 28, 2015 at 23:36

      Emil Karlsson,

      Well that’s bad news. I don’t know much about the Swedish Government, or the Swedish constitution, but I hope there are enough checks and balances to keep the Swedish “Democrats” from getting everything they want. Maybe some of the really bad things they want could be challenged in your courts if they happen to become law?

    • July 29, 2015 at 23:27

      Sweden has a unicameral parliament and seats distributed by % votes in total (so no Electoral College).

      The Speaker of the Parliament (“Sveriges riksdags talman”) is a non-political position and the foremost representative of the Swedish parliament, even above the Prime Minister (but below the King who is technically the Head of State but does not have any power). The Speaker is the most powerful person in Sweden and there is no political way to depose him or her until next election, not even by Parliament vote.

      The Speaker is elected at the first meeting after an election and, according to tradition since 1982, comes from the largest party in the parliament majority. If the left wins, the Speaker comes from the Social Democrats, if the right wins, it comes from the Moderates. If SD becomes the second largest party, it is unclear what will happen, perhaps the largest coalition even if it is not enough to take parliament majority. There are no set rules for the election of Speaker.

      The Speaker leads the negotiations for what coalition will take power over the government and which candidate is appropriate for Prime Minister. So while the general election is an election for different parties for the Parliament, this does not by itself install a Prime Minister. This usually starts by the Speaker proposing the head of the largest party in the largest coalition. This selection is then presented to the parliament for a vote.

      To win that vote and become Prime Minister of Sweden, the candidate need only have less than 50% of votes against him or her (“negative parliamentarism”). Take note, this means that he or she does not need more than 50% support, just less than 50% opposing. If you win, the candidate is installed as a Prime Minister and the coalition under him or her takes charge of the government and can start putting together different Ministers.

      The party leader of SD (Jimmie Åkesson) could win the vote for Prime Minister since it is customary to let the biggest coalition get their Prime Minister and so other parties may lay down their votes (or they could dislike SD so much as to break custom).

      The real political battle is about the budget. Here you can vote against the budget proposal put forward by the ruling coalition. If the budget falls, a government crisis takes place. Not just any crisis, but the largest crisis in modern history of Sweden. Even bigger than what happens in the U.S. when the politicians cannot agree on a budget. There are four options:

      (1) the leading coalition resigns and the Speaker tries to install a new coalition.
      (2) new election (happened only 1887, 1914 and 1958).
      (3) the leading coalition rules on the fall budget of the opposition and cannot do any of their own reforms (never to my knowledge happened before 2014) for at least six months.

      The fall budget of the Social Democrats fell in 2014 and the threat of a new election was announced (leader of Social Democrats was formerly a big union boss and is used to the possibility of threatening with strikes), but you have to wait at least 3 months from regular elections to have it. After intense negotiations, all the other parties besides SD and the Left Party agreed to never vote against the budget proposal of the leading coalition for a few years. This became known as the December Agreement (“Decemberöverenskommelsen”). This left many voters feeling betrayed and many may have gone over to SD. It is a shit agreement for sure, but it is by far the best option at the time (only alternatives were concede influence to SD or never have being able to rule with your own budget for the foreseeable future).

      In terms of continued support, it is a bad idea for far right parties to sit in government. They almost always lose on it. Instead, they typically exert their influence by promising to vote for one of two major coalitions if they concede certain policy issues, such as immigration and shape proposal more in line with the far right way of viewing things. This is called being the Master of the Scale (“Vågmästare”), since you alone can tip the balance and so coalitions have to suck up to you to get your budget votes.

      So at this point, SD most likely want influence and not sit in Government, but they change their minds back-and-forth once in a while. In the recent yearly party leader summer speeches on the island of Gotland (“Almedalstal”), Åkesson said he wanted to be Prime Minister.

      Unlike the American Constitution, the Swedish Constitution (“Sveriges grundlagar”) is sparse on specific issues and only has four parts: (1) how government and parliament should work (including some general treatment of the rights of citizens), (2) who is in line to the King, (3) freedom of speech and (4) freedom of the press.

      In Sweden, the courts can only set aside laws that violate the Swedish Constitution on single prosecutions (concrete judicial review, “konkret lagprövningsrätt”). There is no way for the court system to declare laws unconstitutional in the general case (abstract judicial review) and thus invalidate it. We have judicial preview in Sweden as well, whereby legal experts such as current and former members of the Swedish Supreme Court can review law proposals at the request of the government or some parliament coalition to see if they contradict the Swedish Constitution, but their decisions is not legally binding.

      The most likely threat in the common election is SD influencing budget proposal, such as less money for immigration-related issues. If they gain more support, SD might get Prime Minister position, but the budget would be hard to get through. So SD would need 50% of votes to take absolute control of the government.

      This was the case for the Social Democrats in 1940 and 1968 and for the war coalitions (“Samlingsregering”) of the union crisis with Norway in 1905 (Government Lundeberg) and after the Soviet attack on Finland in 1939 (Government Hansson III). They have had 40-54% of voter support between 1930 and 1990 making it one of the most successful parties in the history of the free world. So it is only recently we have had this kind of haggling between parties and coalitions.

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