Jordan Peterson – Too Comfortable for Climate Solutions?

Lani Bond - Writer

Amidst the rise of climate change protests and continued advances in government pressure for action, it is incredible to be reminded of how the union of people - with a common motivation - can create such positive change.

After watching an interview with Jordan Peterson about climate change in 2018, I was disturbed by this highly influential psychologist’s adamance against the human ability to successfully find climate change solutions. As a best-selling author and public speaker with a large devoted fan-base, his opinions are highly influential to his followers. This article aims to challenge the inefficiency of narrow-minded thinking, questioning one of Peterson’s views: that political parties cannot be united in the fight against climate change.

Undermining Activism

The divide between the left and the right has historically led to political backlash against activists for any cause. In terms of climate change, its deniers are typically associated with right-wing parties, who are more capitalistic and profit driven, whilst activists are regarded as typically left-wing, and have more socialist values.

During a Q and A, Peterson (right-wing) belittles the motivations of young activists to fight for change in society. He accuses activists of “adopting pseudo-moralistic stances on large scale social issues so that they look good to their friends and their neighbours.” By “pseudo-moralistic”, Peterson is stating that a person’s desire to help create positive change is based on synthetic morals, and simply a disguise for their need to fit in with society. This is a largely false and narrow-minded generalisation.

Assuming no human has any legitimate morals, then perhaps for some it is subconsciously true – social pressure and mainstream media coverage of climate events could be encouraging young people to join their peers in rallying for positive changes, something that has happened throughout generations. This group mentality can be interpreted in many situations; youths can join gangs to look good to their friends and neighbours, students can join sports clubs to fit in with their friends and neighbours, people can agree with everything Jordan Peterson says to fit in with their friends and neighbours. It happens.

However, according to Adam Smith, the ‘Father of Economics’, humans are self-interested economic agents who will make decisions based on their individual profit. Therefore unless individuals can see some personal benefit, they are unlikely to act selflessly. Although this human trait has arguably contributed to the continuation of profit-driven stubbornness in businesses such as fossil fuel industries, it is possible that this trait can now be utilised further as a way of tackling climate change, for the benefit of all.

Socialism Vs Capitalism?

The main question posed in the interview (paraphrased) is “Could the catastrophic issue of climate change be the glue to unite the left and right political parties?”.
Peterson immediately answers simply, ‘no’, gaining a laugh from the audience. He continues to state:
“It is difficult to separate science from politics. Even if the claims are true, we have no idea what to do about it.”

Peterson quite rightly highlights that climate change is political. Denying climate change has been preferential for the right: fossil fuel extraction company Koch Industries, for example, spent over $120 million on financing groups to attack and undermine climate change sciences, as these findings disrupted ‘business-as-usual’. The left and right therefore differ in policies, however their combination has also led to significant changes: the outcry and insights of the left on climate issues have led to increased public awareness about the effects of our choices and consumer habits. Consequently consumer demands have changed – there has been a higher demand for vegan food, sustainable clothing, recycled items, low-emission cars etc. The change in the demand has thus led to a change in supply, demonstrating the effect of growing public awareness. Therefore the influence of socialist parties can cause strong positive alterations to consumer lifestyles.

This change was possibly enabled through the existence of the free markets: to remain profitable, businesses must change their approaches to keep customers happy. For example E-on, a fossil fuel industry, committed to adapting to the ‘renewable revolution’ following a 75% drop in shares after growing environmental and sustainability concerns. Capitalism, therefore, can be a slave to itself. Whilst simply changing shopping habits will not solve climate change, it demonstrates public willingness, and movements such as Extinction Rebellion highlight the need to target the deeper issues urgently. Thus with heightened pressure and highly motivated groups of people, Peterson is wrong in stating that there is nothing we can do about it.


In these interviews, Peterson’s opinions demonstrate his comfort in tradition - however he overlooks the benefits of change.

Of course the demands of the left are disrupting the preferences of the right, but change doesn’t happen without some compromise. In Western economies, businesses that are willing to adapt to the changing markets certainly can profit and thus benefit in a way that reduces environmental impact. Whilst large system changes and adaptations are needed to ensure ethical sustainability, especially in developing countries, politics-pride wars in Western societies will slow the process down. Denying solutions for fearing the discomfort of change is therefore inefficient in this situation.
Peterson says “Global Warming – good luck with that. I don’t see a solution.”

However simply stating that a solution cannot be seen does not mean it isn’t possible – statements such as this are blocking the view. As the pressure on governments continues and more worldwide campaigns are planned, it is clear that many are peering past. Therefore whilst public figures such as Jordan Peterson will have their own justifications in their beliefs about such topics, it is integral to remain vigilant whilst rethinking political relations and searching for the solutions, rather than accepting the barriers.

Photo credit:
Interview 1:
Interview 2:

E-on 9:25-11:55


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