The Ecological Philosophy of Right-Wing Environmentalism

Navya J

The Far Right has moved from climate denial to obstructing climate action by seemingly accepting the climate crisis’s existence, this provides the Far-Right a powerful new set of justifications which the far-Right can use to ‘Other’ migrants and leftists while appearing as progressive actors.

This alludes to the term avocado politics – an ironic nod to a line that was used back in the 1970s and 80s to describe the green parties in Western Europe, ‘Watermelon Politics’ — green on the outside, red on the inside attempting to justify racist, reactionary, and totalitarian policies.

The pertinent crises are increasingly characterized by political intersections of the climate crisis, which awaits a dangerous and destabilized world, and the crisis of democracy, both a product of the mainstream political project of the authoritarian right.

The Far Right has played its part in blocking action on climate breakdown in recent years. We’ve learned enough about the rhetoric of corporate denial machine, meanwhile, the obstruction to a zero-carbon future has moved into the focus of the public and researchers, surreptitiously funded by conservative think tanks, disseminated popularly via big-tech structuration, even further lobbied into actual laws by the dirty money of the petrochemical industry.

On the other hand, we must understand that to profoundly address the climate and ecological emergency, we must democratize the economy, redistribute wealth, and ensure decent living standards for all people. Surely, then, it follows that any real attempt to combat climate change will have to divest from neoliberal capitalism — or indeed modern-day fascism.

In 2016, it emerged that four years earlier Donald Trump stated his belief that the ‘concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese.’ There has been a considerable level of historical approach to right-wing environmentalism, which we ignore at our peril.

The Nazi Party used environmentalism as a propaganda tool to recruit more members and improve their public standing, but quickly abandoned any ambition concerning environmental legislation as soon as the war started.

Since the days of Nazi Germany, this faux environmentalism has been continuously recycled by far-right and extremist groups as a justification for unjustifiable beliefs.

‘Right-wing activists are now cultivating their ecological philosophies, according to Sam Knights from

‘Fascists have, in the past, been able to synthesize far-right ideology with a kind of basic, unnuanced environmentalism. Therefore a right-wing movement may emerge in the years to come that not only acknowledges the severity of the crisis but also uses the reality of climate change to justify an increasingly authoritarian and reactionary response.’

For example, more than a decade ago, in December 2009, the extreme-Right British National Party put together a briefing paper entitled ‘Debunking Global Warming’ concerning COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, pressed ahead well into this year’s COP26. 

The paper attempted to refute the scientific evidence that human activity is driving climate change by, for example, stating that there was once farming on Greenland (a classic within obstructionist argumentation) and by pointing to a washed-out observation by Joseph Goebbels that if ‘something is repeated often enough, even the most skeptical will believe it.’

Similarly, in the run-up to COP15, the radical-Right Danish People’s Party gave voice to those not agreeing with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in an ‘alternative climate conference,’ according to a report on Open 

In 2009 the Chair of the G77 said ‘we are being asked to sign a suicide note, with the money on the table not even enough to pay for our coffins, as rich countries pushed the 2 Degrees Celsius target’. In 2021, developing countries say that ‘inaction by rich countries is the willful & deliberate killing of millions and that 1.5 C is to barely stay alive and 2 C is certain death’.

The Political Flummery of a Malthusian Trap

Right-wing political concerns over immigration and further straining of resources are rooted in the more apolitical fear of overpopulation. Malthus’ predictions have been theoretically and statistically been proven wrong several times, and his views have been criticized across the

political spectrum as overly pessimistic and inhumane. Malthusianism becomes dangerous when its questionable science is taken seriously by lawmakers. In the mid-19th century, the British government scrapped many welfare programs designed to provide food to the poor, basing this decision on a Malthusian argument that helping the poor only leads to these groups having more children and thereby increasing poverty. 

But where do far-Right parties stand today when it comes to climate change?

What can we expect them to make of COP26?

Recent research has shown that outright denial has not entirely vanished, ‘with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) now arguably the most powerful European party taking such a stance.

‘In its manifesto for the recent general election in 2021, the party claimed that it ‘has not yet been proven that humans, especially industry, are significantly responsible for the change in the climate,’ write Bernhard Forchtner and Balsa Lubarda.

Yet, overall, the focus on climate has seemingly shifted away from denial and towards obstruction via opposition to climate policies.

For example, Open Democracy’s recent research at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right on Far Right parties in the European Parliament between 2004 and 2019 found that only slightly above 10% of the contributions to plenary debates and explanations of the vote are outright denying climate change.

Instead, the single most often used argument concerned warnings about the economic implications of climate. Viktor Orbán, whose party has long accepted the anthropogenic nature of climate change dismissed EU in the run-up to COP26, the conservative-turned-far-right Hungarian prime minister plans to tackle climate change as a ‘utopian fantasy’, claiming, ‘and utopian fantasy kills us – that’s the problem with energy prices as well.’

Likewise, the AfD’s environmental spokesperson in the European Parliament, Sylvia Limmer, also objects to COP26, which she has criticized for being another attempt by a ‘self-proclaimed climate elite’ to squeeze money out of, and to discipline, the population, as well as for its hypocrisy and ‘green paternalism’.

Another study on right-wing populist parties in the European Parliament similarly emphasized the significance of arguments relating to the economic harmfulness of carbon-reduction measures. It also showed that far-right parties predominantly voted against, or abstained from voting, when it comes to climate legislation.

So even without explicit, outright denial, the Far Right does not commit to the necessary climate policies.

To counter the dangerous rhetoric of these groups, we need to respond with action that proves them wrong. When right-wing leaning politicians lament increased rates of poverty and joblessness, they often blame overpopulation and immigration.

People need to know that it is market failures and runaway capitalism that create inequality, not too few resources for too many people. It is mismanagement of natural capital that leads to environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, not immigration. 

And it is empowering women and supporting education and economic growth in poor countries that stabilizes population numbers, not forceful population control.

Charting a Future After The COP26

As climate change creates increased scarcity over the coming decades, it is unknown whether wealthy countries will choose to hoard their resources or share them with the developing world. 

Fascism has often been described as capitalism in decay. The ecological emergency is surely the clear proof of this. Our political and economic elites either do not understand the ramifications of their actions, which have driven the climate crisis or simply do not care enough to stop it.

Will wealthy nations passively permit climate change to fuel global migrations at an unprecedented scale, or will they finance adaptation measures in the developing world?

Will nations with high resilience lock out everybody else, or will they recognize that doing so would only reinforce these abhorrent and extreme ideologies that never really went away? Or will we keep waiting to add insult to injury while overseeing the world’s remaining carbon budget being sacrificed so the global elite can keep their lavish lifestyles, while they take private jets to climate conferences so they can give the impression they care?

Or we convenience ourselves with the renegade Virgin founder Richard Branson, a leader in this billionaire greenwashing, making climate pledges he didn’t follow through on, while expanding his airline business. Similarly, Elon Musk claims to care about the climate to sell more automobiles, while criticizing public transit and trying to stop high-speed rail projects. 

Accepting climate migrants and investing more in improving resilience in developing countries will be important acts of solidarity that not only acknowledge the past responsibilities of wealthy nations, but also work towards building a future more equipped to counter climate change.

Appropriate industrial policies and financial support for those in need (including that outside of the Global North) are a starting point – one that takes people on board instead of leaving the field to the far-right.

COP26 had better get serious.

Navya J is Student, Master’s in Development and Labor Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University Delhi.

Views are personal

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