This loopy idea that we can cover Britain in ugly disgusting ghastly windmills and that somehow our future energy needs will come from that. (Nigel Farage, Leader of UKIP, quoted in Ward 2013)
My latest paper [here or earlier version here] started from a co-incidence. I was driving to work noting the landscape of energy that I pass on the M5 – the solar farms on the Somerset levels, the wind turbines at Avonmouth and the signage to the various nuclear powerstations either being decomissionsed or built (supposedly). Around the same time, the leader of UKIP was on radio decrying them in the strongest terms. The germ of an idea took root.
The first insight of this paper was that UKIP was spending what seemed to be a lot of energy commenting on, well very largely, opposing renewable energy sites in rural areas. Several students had noted this in their dissertations and the others in the academic literature had also seen how groups in rural areas saw renewable projects as the antithesis of what they consider to be the countryside. This brings us to a distinction that Prof Mike Woods makes between the rural politics, that politics which is conducted in rural areas and the politics of the re-presentation of the rural, which is open to everyone everywhere and tends to be as symbolic as it is practical. It was the latter that it seemed that UKIP was engaging in, but they were also apparently hoping to get involved in rural politics.
Using some software (that is not uncommon at a University), I downloaded the entire Twitter feed for a couple of years of the UKIP spokesperson, then collected many of the reports and articles to which his tweets linked, I then collected Nigel Farage’s twitter account as well. Then through a process of coding both manually and through automation started to examine all of these tweets systematically for themes. Alongside this I collected newspaper reports about UKIP and renewable energy for the same period, adding that to the analysis.
The results were impressive, in that UKIP didn’t have much to say about rural areas or rural life, a brief discussion of pubs, hunting with hounds and references to litter louts. Their real interest in the countryside was opposing renewable energy projects, because of their symbolic role:
Most of all, I hate wind turbines because they’re symbols of monstrous pointless waste, and futile political correctness. (Roger Helmer, Tweet, 01 July 2012)
UKIP would prefer fossil fuels, nuclear energy and fracking rather than wind turbines or solar panels.
Far happier with a fracking well than with the four large wind turbines we actually have close to the village. (Roger Helmer, Tweet, 24 September 2013)
Their putative opponents are seemingly opposed to jobs, prosperity and industry are in the thrall of what is described as ‘climate alarmism’. Twitter is used to direct readers toward cliamte sceptic websites and foundations dedicated to the debunking of climate change ‘orthodoxy’, such as journalist’s blog piece which argues:
‘The man-made global warming scare story has not a shred of scientific credibility ’ and that its defenders hide behind a ‘barrage of lies, ad homs, coverups, rank-closings, blustering threats ’.
The newspaper coverage, in particular, letters written by UKIP candidates and supporters echo this scepticism towards climate change and the need for renewable energy projects.
Contemporary scholarship is increasingly showing that social media is used by those creating conservative political messages but also those movements that are what McCright and Dunlap describe as ‘anti-reflexive’ movements. The goal is not to contradict the arguments but to throw up doubt and questions about the underpinning science. Other studies how such groups and tactics were used in the rejection of the science behind the damage done by cigarette smoking, transfering their interests latterly to global warming. Opposing such tactics is not merely a matter of education but of debating these views and providing counter-arguments so that these arguments don’t get the chance to circulate without being challenged.