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Wed 22 September 2021

As the climate emergency escalates, sparking a new migration crisis, ethno-nationalist forms of politics could undergo a revival, reports Thomas Perrett

In August 2019, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius was arrested and charged with capital murder after shooting 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. His manifesto – entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in an apparent reference to Al Gore’s film about climate change – described immigration as “environmental warfare” and claimed that “there is no nationalism without environmentalism”.

Crusius was a self-described ‘eco-fascist’, who believed that over-population had put a strain on the planet’s resources, and that the only way to mitigate climate change was to forcibly put a stop to mass immigration and multiculturalism. 

Traditionally, politicians and prominent figures on the far-right have disputed climate science and cast doubt on the existence of climate change, characterising environmentalism as a smokescreen for a wider critique of free market economics and the subtle advocacy of socialism.

During a debate in the German Bundestag in January 2018, for instance, the climate spokesman for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Rainer Kraft, accused other parties of practising “eco-populist voodoo” and the Greens for attempting to establish an “eco-socialist planned economy”.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) has promoted similar views. Its environmental spokesman Richard de Mos said in 2010 that the party would “not go along with the climate hype”. However, now that climate science is becoming increasingly irrefutable – with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report describing the climate crisis as a “code red for humanity” – and warnings abound on the increased frequencies of climate-induced droughts, floods and heatwaves over the coming decades, the global far-right is attempting to rebrand as the “true” environmentalists.

The Nazi slogan ‘Blood and Soil’ explicitly linked environmental conservation with racial homogeneity

Climate change is expected to displace populations around the world, as people living in soon-to-be inhospitable conditions seek refuge in the West, fleeing from predominantly Global South countries. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of people living in coastal areas at risk from rising sea levels during the past three decades has risen from 160 million to 190 million. 90% of them are from developing nations and small island states.

In response, many far-right politicians and figures will likely portray the climate crisis as an opportunity to secure Europe’s borders and to take action against the perceived threat of over-population. This ideological transformation is already beginning to take shape.

Spanish far-right party VOX – of which one MP, Francisco Jose Contreras, remarked that global warming would “reduce mortality caused by cold weather” last year – has shifted towards embracing an ecological political framework which emphasises localism, tradition, and the conservation of the environment. During a failed motion of no confidence against the Spanish Government last October, VOX leader Santiago Abascal advocated for an environmental programme that would create “green Spain, clean and prosperous, industrialised and in harmony with the environment”, arguing that climate change would become “one of the main challenges facing the European conservative movement in the coming decades”. 

This shift has been taking place across Europe.

In 2014, Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National launched its ‘New Ecology’ initiative, offering a “patriotic” and “realistic” alternative to mainstream environmentalism – situating environmental politics within a broader opposition to globalisation and arguing that mass immigration would lead to an over-consumption of resources, causing the despoliation of the natural world.

The ideological underpinnings of ecofascism have disturbing antecedents.

The idea that certain ethnic groups had a unique connection to the land and a stewardship over nature spawned the Nazi slogan ‘Blood and Soil’ – which explicitly linked environmental conservation with racial homogeneity. Many prominent Nazi figures sought to recast the relationship between the citizen and the state, envisioning a romantic connection between man and nature that would supplant Enlightenment notions of the social contract. Protecting the simplicity of rural, pre-industrial life from what they perceived as the disease of modernity became one of the central tenets of Nazi ideology.

For example, in 1934, German botany professor Ernst Lehmann said:

We recognise that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a reintegration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger… This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought.” 

For the Nazis, ecology was an antidote to the modern vulgarities of industrialisation and materialism, and the veneration of the purity and simplicity of nature was inextricably intertwined with a desire to purge racial minorities who were characterised as foreign interlopers.

Ecofascism has spawned a vast array of organisations and parties which have connected environmentalism to concerns over demographic change, migration, over-population, and over-consumption. Ecologist Garrett Hardin, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist, argued that the planet was analogous to a lifeboat and that surviving ecological collapse would require sacrificing poorer parts of the world.

To counteract this worrying ideological convergence, in which the far-right have attempted to latch-on to an ostensibly left-wing cause, it is imperative to dispel the myths perpetuated by ecofascists about the causes of climate change.

It is untrue that non-white hordes from the Third World are denuding the beauty of the natural environment through over-population. An Oxfam study has demonstrated that the world’s richest 1% are responsible for double the CO2 emissions of the poorest 50%; and that, between 1990 and 2015, CO2 emissions rose by 60% – but the increase in emissions from the top 1% was three times larger than the increase from the bottom half.

Many environmentalist and ecosocialist movements – from the ‘degrowth’ movement, which analyses how localism and regenerative farming alongside a universal job guarantee could restore well remunerated work to communities once decimated by globalisation; to movements for indigenous sovereignty – have outlined a communitarian approach to dealing with the climate crisis that avoids scapegoating minorities.

As it escalates, sparking a new migration crisis, ethno-nationalist forms of politics could undergo a revival as concerns over scarce resources mount. The far-right’s idealisation of rural life, its reverence for tradition, and its antipathy for globalisation have already allowed it to co-opt environmentalism for its own, nefarious goals. It is imperative, therefore, for others to outline a substantive, communitarian vision of how to restructure the economy along ecological lines, and to unequivocally reject this unsettling marriage of environmentalism and fascism.  

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