Study Suggests Climate Change Is To Blame For The Rise Of “Manipulative” Populist Movements

Lewis Brackpool

A new study released in iScience is warning that climate change could impact the “speech complexity” and “productivity” of politicians, driving people to turn to populist movements instead as rising temperatures impact their cognitive function.

The study, conducted by Risto Conte Keivabu and Tobias Widmann, analyzed over seven million parliamentary speeches across eight countries, correlating them with daily meteorological data. The authors conclude that high temperatures reduce political language complexity, whereas cold temperatures do not.

Keivabu, whose research interests are in climate change, socio-demographic inequalities and demography, is one of Widmann’s academic assistants. Widmann has previously published articles with titles such as Does Radical-Right Success Make the Political Debate More Negative? and How Emotional Are Populists Really?

In the paper, Keivabu and Widmann also examine the “marginal effects by age and gender,” which allegedly reveals that older politicians are more affected by high temperatures at lower thresholds. These findings suggest that political rhetoric is influenced not only by strategic concerns, but also by physiological responses to environmental factors. The authors argue that climate change will ultimately result in politicians becoming more unproductive, and fumbling in their speech patterns. It also notes that rising temperatures will reduce human cognitive function overall.

The study goes on to take a swipe at populist leaders that use “less complex language” in order to “manipulate their voters,” with Keivabu and Widmann suggesting that the right-wing will benefit from the impact of climate change on intelligence.

“Studies indicate that language complexity of political language has steadily decreased over the past 200 years. Furthermore, concerns are often brought forward in connection to rising populist movements and prominent populist leaders, who allegedly use less complex political language in order to strategically appeal to and manipulate their voters,” they write. “Studies provided evidence for populists’ use of simpler political language and for the consequences of less complex language on voters.”

The release of the study appears to coincide with the recent wave of success right-wing candidates have enjoyed in Europe and the United States.

On social media, many political commentators who reviewed the paper’s findings expressed their criticism of the research.

Charlie Sansom wrote: “I find it intriguing, if not nefarious, to suggest that hot weather would impact the cognitive abilities of politicians to make speeches instead of the socio-economics of particular nations.”

He continues, “If you look at how articulate Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates is compared to the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, you’d forgive me for not highlighting their obvious oratory disparities. When you consider both men have studied at University level in two very different climates, it’s hard to imagine this study is anything more than climate propaganda used to preempt predictable political shifts around the world to the right.” 

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