Many of us in the climate justice movement believed that people and policy makers would react to the increasingly dire scientific data in some rational way. Informed about the danger, they would work to emit fewer heat-trapping gasses. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the extreme weather events and unhinging of the climate system has coincided with the surge of a political force that denies the very existence of the problem. Two trends now intersect: rapidly rising temperatures and a rapid advance of the extreme far-right.
This isn’t just happening in the U.S. Extreme right-wing parties and authoritarian leaders have gained power throughout Europe. And though each country has its own distinct context, we can see a systemic tendency merging at a particular moment in the history of capitalism. Universal themes unite these reactionary forces.
Whether it’s the AfD in Germany, the Fidesz Party in Hungary, Lega and the Brothers of Italy, or the Progress Party in Norway (the list goes on and on), a common thread running through their platforms is both climate denial and a vicious ethno-nationalism. For these modern crusaders, the threat is not global warming, often dismissed as a “hoax”, but enemies at the gate, “a flood of immigrants”, Muslims, Jews, or others perceived as corrupting traditional (mostly white) cultural norms. Those who know the history of the 20th century will find these trends eerily familiar and terrifying. These paranoid, toxic themes will also sound familiar to those paying attention to current U.S and Montana politics.
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Just as melting ice caps create a self-reinforcing feedback loop, climate induced drought, rising seas and heatwaves create a frightening social feed-back loop. The more people are forced off their land and migrate, the more traction these racist, nativist tropes seem to gain and the stronger these climate change denying parties grow.
Why should the far right feel threatened by a shift from fossil fuels to renewables? Many see it as a conspiracy to tax and regulate and grow government. Others view fossil fuel as a birthright, a form of national wealth and power to be used to out-compete other nations. For them, any attempt at cooperation or mitigation is viewed as capitulation to “the globalists,” those promoting a “New World Order.” These views are naturally encouraged by those whose profits and power relies on the continued burning of fossil fuels.
Those who fear being “replaced” by people of color are often the same people who fear replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. We can hope that someday these people will see past skin pigment, religious affiliation or cultural difference and learn to follow the money. The linkage between record fossil fuel profits and growing climate chaos should be obvious to all. But until that day, those fighting for climate justice and those standing up to racism must join forces. The extreme Right’s xenophobic, ecologically destructive agenda must be resisted at every turn.