Standing in front of the partial ruins of Rome’s Colosseum, Boris Johnson explained that a motive to tackle the climate crisis could be found in the fall of the Roman empire. He said that the weakness in the borders of civilization was what caused the collapse of civilization back then and now.
“When the Roman empire fell, it was largely as a result of uncontrolled immigration – the empire could no longer control its borders, people came in from the east and all over the place,” the British prime minister saidIn an interview On the eve crucial UN climate negotiations in Scotland. Civilization can go into reverse as well as forwards, as Johnson told it, with Rome’s fate offering grave warning as to what could happen if global heating is not restrained.
This narrative of ecological disaster and fears of mass immigration has been popularized by far-right fringe movements in Europe, the US, and is now gaining ground in mainstream politics. Johnson was not intent. He was following a current in rightwing thought which has shifted from dismissing climate change to using its effects to fortify ideological, often racist, battle lines. Many of these people are echoing ecofascist ideas from around the globe, which are often rooted in an earlier age blood-and-soil nationalism.
The US has a lawsuit by the Republican attorney general of Arizona has demanded the building of a border wall to prevent migrants coming from Mexico as these people “directly result in the release of pollutants, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere”. Santiago Abascal from Spain’s populist Vox party is the leader. called for a “patriotic” restoration of a “green Spain, clean and prosperous”.
The UK has a far-right. British National party has claimed to be the “only true green party” in the country due to its focus on migration. And in Germany, the rightwing populist party Alternative for Germany has tweaked some of its earlier mockery of climate science with a platform that warns “harsh climatic conditions” in Africa and the Middle East will see a “gigantic mass migration towards European countries”, requiring toughened borders.
Meanwhile, France’s National Front, once a bastion of derisive climate denial, has founded a green wing called New Ecology, with Marine Le Pen, president of the party, vowing to create the “world’s leading ecological civilization” with a focusYou can buy locally grown foods.
“Environmentalism [is] the natural child of patriotism, because it’s the natural child of rootedness,” Le Pen said in 2019, adding that “if you’re a nomad, you’re not an environmentalist. Those who are nomadic … do not care about the environment; they have no homeland.” Le Pen’s ally Hervé Juvin, a National Rally MEP, is seen as an influential figure on the European right in promoting what he calls “nationalistic green localism”.
Simply ignoring or disparaging the science isn’t the effective political weapon it once was. “We are seeing very, very little climate denialism in conversations on the right now,” said Catherine Fieschi, a political analyst and founder of Counterpoint, who tracks trends and populist discourse. There is an increasing strain of environmental populism, which replaces denial. has attempted to blend public alarm about the climate crisis with contempt for ruling elites, longing instead for a more traditional embrace for nature and kin, and calls to Forbid immigrants from entering areas with strong borders.
Millions of people are being forced from their homes by disasters like flooding, storms, and wildfires. This is mainly happening in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The United Nations hosted the August UN General Assembly. said Madagascar was on the brink of the world’s first “climate change famine”.
The number of people displaced around the globe will continue to rise, reaching as many as 900 million As high as 1.2 billion by 2050 by some estimatesMany millions of people will seek refuge in other countries. This mass upheaval of lives will lead to internal and external conflicts that could be devastating. PentagonAmong others, he has warned of violence.
The response to this trend on the right has led to what academics Joe Turner and Dan Bailey call “ecobordering”, where restrictions on immigration are seen as vital to protect the nativist stewardship of nature and where the ills of environmental destruction are laid upon those from developing countries, ignoring the far larger consumptive habits of wealthy nations. In an analysis of 22 far-right parties in EuropeThis thinking is common among right-wing parties, according to academics and “portrays effects as causes and further normalizes racist border practices and colonial amnesia within Europe”.
Turner, an expert in politics and migration at the University of York, said the link between climate and migration is “an easy logic” for politicians such as Johnson as it plays into longstanding tropes on the right that overpopulation in poorer countries is a leading cause of environmental harm. It is a bid by the right to take over the initiative on environmental matters that have been for so long the preserve of conservationists and center-left parties.
“The far right in Europe has an anti-immigration platform, that’s their bread and butter, so you can see it as an electoral tactic to start talking about green politics,” Turner said, adding that migrants are being blamed in two ways – first, for moving to countries with higher emissions and then adding to those emissions, as rightwing figures in Arizona have claimed; and secondly for supposedly bringing destructive, polluting habits with them from their countries of origin.
This mix of ethno-nationalist and Malthusian thinking is being used to create political campaigning. A political pamphlet described in Turner and Bailey’s research paper from SVP, the largest party in Switzerland’s federal assembly, which shows a city crowded by people and cars belching out pollution, with a tagline that translates to “stop massive immigration”. A separate campaign ad by SVP claims that 1 million migrants will result in thousands of miles of new roads and that “anyone who wants to protect the environment in Switzerland must fight against mass immigration”.
The far right depict migrants as being “essentially poor custodians of their own lands and then treating European nature badly as well”, Turner said. “So you get these headlines around asylum seekers eating swans, all these ridiculous scaremongering tactics. But they play into this idea that by stopping immigrants coming here, you are actually supporting a green project.”
Experts agree that the main cause of the climate crisis is wealthy people living in wealthy nations. The richest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, research has foundWith people in the US causingThe highest per capita emission level in the world. Adding new arrivals to high-emitting countries doesn’t radically ramp up these emissions at the same rate: a study by Utah State University found that immigrants are typically “using less energy, driving less, and generating less waste” than native-born Americans.
‘Protect our people’
Many people find the idea that personal sacrifice is difficult to swallow. While climate science is becoming more accepted by the public, and there is a growing concern that governments are not doing enough to limit global warming, support for climate policies plummets when it involves taxing gasoline or other impositions. According to a research paper co-authored by Fieschi, this has led to a situation where “detractors are taking up the language of freedom fighters”.
“We are seeing the growth of accusations of climate hysteria as a way for elites to exploit ordinary people,” Fieschi said. “The solutions that are talked about involve spending more money on deserving Americans and deserving Germans and so on, and less on refugees. It’s ‘yes, we will need to protect people, but let’s protect our people.’”
This backlash is evident in protest movements such the Gilets jaunes(yellow vests), in France. This was the longest-running protest group in France since the second World War. It railled against a carbon tax on fuel. Online, In memes, favored targets Greta Thunberg (or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez) are shown as Nazis or devils who intend to impoverish western civilization through their supposedly radical ideas about combating climate change. Fieschi said the right’s interaction with climate is far more than just about borders – it is animating fears that personal freedoms are under attack from a cosseted, liberal elite.
“You see these quite obviously populist arguments in the US and Europe that a corrupt elite, the media and government have no idea what ordinary people’s lives are like as they impose these stringent climate policies,” said Fieschi, whose research has analyzedThe climate conversation is currently taking place on Twitter (Facebook, Instagram) and other social media platforms.
This sort of online chatter has escalated since the Covid-19 pandemic started, Fieschi said, and is being fed along a line of influence that begins with small, conspiratorial rightwing groups spreading messages that are then picked up by what she calls “middle of the tail” figures with thousands of followers, and then in turn disseminated by large influencers and into mainstream center-right politics.
“There are these conspiratorial accusations that Covid is a dry run for restrictions that governments want to impose with the climate emergency, that we need to fight for our freedoms on wearing masks and on all these climate rules,” Fieschi said. “There is a yearning for a pre-Covid life and a feeling climate policies will just cause more suffering.
“What’s worrying,” Fieschi continued, “is that more reasonable parts of the right, mainstream conservatives and Republicans, are being drawn to this. They will say they don’t deny climate change but then tap into these ideas.” She said center-right French politicians have started disparaging climate activists as “miserabilists”, while Armin Laschet, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union who sought to succeed Angela Merkel, has said Germany should focus on its own industry and people in the face of cascading global crises.
The interplay between environmentalism and racism has some of its deepest roots in the US, where some of the conservation movement’s totemic figures of the past embraced views widely regarded as abhorrent today. Wilderness was viewed as something that could only be found in rugged, exclusively white masculinity in the 19th century. This manifest destiny required the expansion of a secure frontier.
John Muir, known as the father of national parks in the US, described native Americans as “dirty” and said they “seemed to have no right place in the landscape”. Madison Grant, a leading figure in the protection of the American bison and the establishment of Glacier national park, was an avowed eugenicist who argued for “inferior” races to be placed into ghettoes and successfully lobbied for Ota Benga, a Congolese man, to be put on display alongside apes at the Bronx Zoo. This focus on racial hierarchies would come to be adopted into the ideology of the Nazis – themselves avowed conservationists.
There has been something of a reckoning of this troubling past in recent years – a bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback flanked by a native American man and an African man is to be removedThe American Museum of Natural History in New York, and at least one conservation organization named after John James Audubon, is seen from the front. is changing its name. But, A resurgent right of a liberal environmental movement has taken up the issue of harmful overpopulation. The topic is now largely ignored.
Republicans are aware that many of their younger voters are turning off the climate denial and seeing their futures wracked by wildfire smoke, flood water, and they have seized this opportunity. “The right is reclaiming that older Malthusian population rhetoric and is using that as a cudgel in green terms rather than unpopular racist terms,” said Blair Taylor, program director at the Institute for Social Ecology, an educational and research body.
“It’s weird that this has become a popular theme in the US west because the west is sparsely populated and that hasn’t slowed environmental destruction,” he added. “But this is about speaking to nativist fears, it isn’t about doing anything to solve the problem.”
The spearhead for modern nativism in the US is, of course, Donald Trump who has, along with an often dismissive stance towards climate science itself, sought to portray migrants from Mexico and Central America as criminals and “animals” while vowing to restore clean air and water to deserving American citizens. The scientific denial might be reduced if there is a Trump presidency or a successful campaign led by one of his acolytes. However, the reflex nativism will not be lost.
The Republican lawsuit in Arizona may be a prelude to an ecological reframing of Trump’s fetish for border walls should the former president run again for office in 2024, with migrants again the target. “We will see weird theories that will spread blame in all the wrong directions,” Taylor said. “More walls, more borders, more exclusion – that’s most likely the way we are heading.”
A recasting of environmentalism in this way has already branched out in different forms throughout the US right, spanning gun-toting preppers who view nature as a bastion to be defended from interlopers – “a ‘back to the land’ ideology where you are an earner and provider, not a not soft-handed soy boy,” as Taylor describes it – to the vaguely mystic “wellness” practitioners who have risen to prominence by spreading false claims over the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
The latter group, Taylor said, includes those who have a fascination with organic farming, Viking culture, extreme conspiracy theories such as the QAnon fantasy and a rejection of science and reason in favour of discovering an “authentic self”. These diverse facets are all embodied in Jake Angeli (the so-called QAnon shaman) who was part of the rioters that stormed the US Capitol 6 January. Angeli, who was well-known for wearing horns, a bearskin headdress and a bearskin hat during the violent uprising, was sentenced to 41 monthsHe was sentenced to prison for his involvement in the riot. He was the subject of media attention. refusingYou cannot eat the food prepared in jail, as it is not organic.
Angeli, who previously attended a climate march to promote his conspiracy-laden YouTube channel and said he is in favor of “cleansed ecosystems”, has been describedAn eco-fascist is a term that describes someone who believes in the environment. has also been appliedPatrick Crusius is the Dallas man who was accused of shooting 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso in Texas in 2019.
In a document published online shortly before the shooting, Crusius wrote: “The environment is getting worse by the year … So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.” The shooting came just a few months after the terrorist massacre of 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand, with the perpetrator describing himself as an eco-fascist unhappy about the birthrate of immigrants.
Such extreme, violent acts erupting from rightwing eco-populist beliefs are still rare but the “‘alt-right’ has been adept at taking concerns and making them mainstream”, said Taylor. “It has fostered the idea that nature is a place of savage survival that brings us back to original society, that nature itself is fascist because there is no equality in nature. That’s what they believe.”
Advocates for people fleeing climate-induced catastrophes hope that there will be a shift in their favor, with some calling for a new international refugee system. The UN convention for refugees Does not recognize climate change and its effects as a reason for countries providing shelter to refugees. Further reform is required as a result of the increased number of forced displacements from drought, floods, and other calamities. However, the Convention could be closed for a rework due to the rise of authoritarianism and populism in many countries.
“The big players aren’t invested in changing any of the definitions around refugees – in fact the US and UK are making it even more difficult to claim asylum,” said Turner. “I think what you’re going to see is internally displaced people increasing and the burden, as it already is, falling on neighbors in the global south.”
The extent of the suffering caused global warming and the more severe responses that are required to it will ultimately determine the reactionary response. While climate action will be more demanded by people, restrictions imposed on governments will give the illusion of vindication to rightwingers warning about overreaching elites.
“My sense is that we won’t do enough to avoid others bearing the brunt of this,” Fieschi said. “Solidarity has its limits, after all. You want the best things for the children in the world. But ultimately you will put your children first.”