Catastrophic fires and the far-right’s denialism

A protest to demand climate action, Sydney, January 10.
A protest to demand climate action, Sydney, January 10. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

For most people, “ecofascism” sounds nonsensical, a portmanteau made up of irreconcilable opposites.

Environmentalists adhere, for the most part, to progressive politics, with fascists glorifying everything that ecologists generally oppose.

The bushfire emergency has opened urgent new debates about the politics of climate change. As they play out, we need to acknowledge the possibility that an environmentalism of the far right could grow.

At the moment, of course, that seems a long way off.

Most right-wingers reject climate science, denouncing fears of global warming as a scare campaign by socialists and the United Nations.

If anything, the Australian fires led far-right activists to double down on denialism — the alt-right sites in the United States have, for example, blamed the fire deaths on a supposed arson campaign.

Yet, in the past, various groups and organisations associated with the far right have espoused an environmentalism associated with racial exclusion.

In France, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally group, now says she wants to create “the world's leading ecological civilisation”, a project she associates with strengthening borders.

Le Pen calls those who don't care about the environment “nomadic” (a term with distinct anti-Semitic overtones), suggesting “they have no homeland”.

Similarly, in the US, alt-right leader Richard Spencer calls for white people to become stewards of their environment, while far-right commentator Ann Coulter tells her readers to choose between a “Green America” and a “Brown America” (that is, one housing Latin American immigrants).

Already, we can get a glimpse of the strange politics of the future by looking at the reaction to this year’s horrific fire season. 

Most shockingly, the Australian man who massacred 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch last year proudly proclaimed himself an “eco fascist”.

“There is no conservatism without nature,” he wrote in his manifesto, “there is no nationalism without environmentalism”.

His atrocity has now inspired several other fascist murderers, including several who cited the environment as motivation.

For instance, the young man responsible for a massacre in El Paso used the ecological damage in Texas to justify racial murder.

"If we can get rid of enough people,” he wrote, “then our way of life can become more sustainable”.

An enthusiasm for violence — up to and including murder — distinguishes authentic fascists from other currents on the far right.

Like Mussolini and Hitler, fascists see physical force as a means and an end, both a tool to achieve political change and a method for personal transformation.

It’s a perspective that — thankfully — few others share.

Yet the fascist opposition to refugees and immigrants resonates much more widely.

Think, for instance, on the centrality of border protection in mainstream Australian politics. It's not so far-fetched to imagine local politicians, unwilling or unable to address carbon emissions, scapegoating immigrants for Australia's environmental woes.

After all, global warming will eventually, we’re told, result in millions of climate refugees. In that context, we can imagine right-wingers calling for more detention centres, more tow-backs and more deterrence — and justifying such policies in the name of the environment.

Writer Naomi Klein discusses what she calls “climate barbarism”: a response to the ecological crisis based on authoritarianism and xenophobia.

Already, we can get a glimpse of the strange politics of the future by looking at the reaction to this year's horrific fire season.

Across social media, you can find people attributing the blazes not to climate change but to the greenies who (they claim falsely) prevented backburning.

Most of the time, such arguments rehearse old-fashioned denialism.

But some of them adopt a weird “green” rhetoric of their own, insisting, for example, that in order to save flora and fauna, national parks need to be logged or shut.

The far right traditionally grows in the context of political despair, as anger and fear about economic or social crisis gets channelled into scapegoating and bigotry.

Today, the scale of the environmental catastrophe leaves many people feeling understandably bleak about the future.

If we don’t offer progressive alternatives, then deeply reactionary ones will get a hearing.

[Jeff Sparrow will speak at the launch of his book Fascists Among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch Massacre at the Newcastle Resistance Centre on January 23. This article was first published by the Newcastle Herald.]