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The right uses the climate crisis as an excuse for immigration
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The right uses the climate crisis as an excuse for immigration

The right uses the climate crisis to decry immigration


This story was first published in The Guardianas part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Standing in front of the partial ruins of Rome’s Colosseum, Boris JohnsonHe explained that the fall of Rome could be a motivation to address the climate crisis. He argued that the weakness of the borders was the key to the collapse of civilization 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 The day before crucial UN climate talksIn 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 combination of ecological disaster and fear of mass immigration is a narrative that has thrived in far-right fringe groups in Europe and the U.S. It is now spreading into mainstream politics. Johnson was not consciously intent to do so. He was following a current right-wing thought that uses climate change’s impacts to strengthen ideological and sometimes 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 United States 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.” In Spain, Santiago Abascal, leader of the populist Vox Party, has called for a “patriotic” restoration of a “green Spain, clean and prosperous.”

The U.K.’s far-right is thriving 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 right-wing 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 focusLocally 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. A growing strain of environmental populism is replacing denial. has attempted to combine public alarm over climate crisis with disdainful of ruling elites, longing to embrace nature and kin and calls for more traditional embrace. 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 right is losing its grip on climate denial. What’s replacing it might be just as scary. #ClimateChange #ClimateDenial

A water source in Mwamanongu, Tanzania. Photo by Bob Metcalf / Wiki

The number of people who are being displaced from around the world will increase further. As high as 1.2 Billion by 2050 by some estimatesWhile most people will move within their countries, many millions will seek refuge abroad. This mass upheaval of lives will lead to internal and external conflicts that could be devastating. PentagonAmong others, he warned that violence will escalate.

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 environmental issues that have been so long the preserve of conservationists and centre-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 right-wing 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. 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 one 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 depicts 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 wealthy people living in wealthy countries are the main culprits of the climate crisis. The richest one per cent of the world’s population was 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 U.S. causingThe highest level of per capita emission 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’

Nevertheless, many people find the idea of personal sacrifice difficult to accept. 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 drops when it comes to 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 can be seen in protest movements like the Gilets jaunes(yellow vests in France) – This was the longest-running protest movement in France since the Second World War. It railed against, among others, a. carbon taxFuel. Online, Favored targets include Greta ThunbergOr Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have been depicted in memes as Nazis, or devils, intent on impoverishing west 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.

France’s longest-running protest movement, the gilets jaunes, was formed in protest against a carbon fuel tax. Photo by Patrice CALATAYU/ Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“You see these quite obviously populist arguments in the U.S. 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 right-wing 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 centre-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 centre-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.

Green-cloaked Nativism

The interplay between environmentalism and racism has some of its deepest roots in the U.S., where some of the conservation movement’s totemic figures of the past embraced views widely regarded as abhorrent today. Wilderness was a concept that was viewed as bound 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 U.S., 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 removedFrom the American Museum of Natural History, New York. At least one conservation group named after John James Audubon. 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.

Supporting firefighting efforts at the Dixie Fire in Plumas Forest, Calif. on Sept. 7, 2021, soldiers dig a trench to surround a tree trunk that is on fire. Photo by The U.S. Army / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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 U.S. 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 American spearhead of modern nativism 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 Trump is elected again, or a campaign by one his acolytes succeeds.

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 U.S. 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.

Taylor stated that the latter group includes people who are fascinated by organic farming, Viking culture, and extreme conspiracy theories like the one described above. QAnon fantasy and a rejection of science and reason in favour of discovering an “authentic self.” These disparate facets are all embodied, he said, in Jake Angeli, the so-called QAnon shaman who was among the rioters who stormed the U.S. CapitolJan. 6. Angeli, who was famous 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 attracted media attention. refusingBecause it was not organic, you should not eat the food that was served to you in jail.

Angeli, who previously attended a climate march to promote his conspiracy-laden YouTube channel and said he is in favour of “cleansed ecosystems,” has been describedAs an eco-fascist, this term refers to someone who is concerned about 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 right-wing 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 those fleeing from climate-induced disasters hope for a shift in the opposite direction. Some are calling for a new international refugee program. The UN convention on refugees Does not recognize climate changes and their effects as a reason countries should provide refuge to refugees. Further reform is required as a result of the increased number of forced displacements from drought, floods, and other calamities. The convention could be reopened for a revision due to the increasing popularity of populism in many countries.

“The big players aren’t invested in changing any of the definitions around refugees — in fact the U.S. and U.K. 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 neighbours in the Global South.”

The reactionary response will be determined by the extent of global warming’s suffering and the severity of the responses. While climate action will be more demanded by people, restrictions imposed on governments will provide a sense that they are doing the right thing and will not be ignored by those who warn of 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.”

Research for this article was made possible with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Washington D.C.’s Transatlantic Media Fellowship.


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