BURNING EARTH, CHANGING EUROPE:
HOW THE RACIST RIGHT EXPLOITS THE CLIMATE CRISIS—AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
About the publication
In Europe today, more people than ever before are convinced that climate change is a pressing political issue. This is not a win by default. People anxious about ecological catastrophe are vulnerable to racist, xenophobic and even fascist methods of addressing the climate crisis, especially as far right and populist actors are occupying more and more positions of power across Europe, emboldening racist violence in the streets.
Left and progressive movements must be more skilled in messaging, more precise in forging political alliances, and more articulate in positioning justice as a centerpiece of the climate struggle. The stakes are simply too high. This booklet represents a toolkit in that project: a roadmap for identifying what we must reject, how to counteract approaches adopted by the right, and how to keep climate change a progressive issue.
What can left-wing actors and movements do to prevent far right ideologies from shaping political responses to crisis, be it COVID-19 or climate change?
At the time of this writing, the United States has become the global epicenter of COVID-19, quickly surpassing China and Italy in confirmed infections and death counts. This information comes from the now defunded World Health Organization.
This moment is nothing short of profound. Typical life worldwide has come to a near halt. Global capital is stunted and scrambling. Within those cracks, grassroots mutual aid projects are blossoming and centering people’s fundamental needs. The scientific community is mobilizing to fill the gaps in understanding COVID-19, so that society can adapt to flatten the curve. Still, what comes next, or what large-scale adaptation will look like, is largely unknown.
Despite this vast unknowing, the COVID-19 virus also reflects what is already known to be painfully true: the current economic system and most governing institutions are not and will not keep people safe.
Previously vulnerable populations are bearing an undue risk — the people fleeing crises, people without housing or running water, people with limited or no access to adequate healthcare, people detained or incarcerated, and the people providing healthcare services with limited resources. Within an unprecedented pandemic, the burden of crisis is unevenly distributed along the lines of race, class, gender, nationality, ability, and age. Plainly put, the COVID-19 crisis is happening on top of existing crises.
One such crisis has the ability to make COVID-19 even more deadly: the global rightward shift in political influence. We can observe this trend with Donald Trump in the United States, Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Narendra Modi in India, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
In Europe, where political debates about survival and adaptation have gained importance through the crisis of climate change, there are more far right and right-wing populist politicians in parliament than ever before, according to the 2019 European election results. Beyond seats, we can observe a corresponding growth in far right think tanks and identitarian movements.
Far right political influence becomes dangerous when COVID-19 is used for scapegoating, conspiracy theories, and misinformation. Scapegoating, for example, can include accusing Asian people of being the cause of the virus, as seen in the United States, or blaming stigmatized people for the conditions they are forced to live in, such as the anti-Roma racism in Slovakia. Or more broadly,declaring that the behavior of “socially unadaptable people” is to blame for spreading coronavirus.
Reactions like these can normalize ideologies that prop up racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism which are then passed through the prism of COVID-19. In March 2020, Victor Orbán, who has used the pandemic to grab unprecedented power, recently said, “We are fighting a two-front war, one front is called migration, and the other one belongs to the coronavirus, there is a logical connection between the two, as both spread with movement.” Importantly, Orbán’s position on COVID-19 resonates with his party’s position on climate change.
It would be too easy to believe that only far right groups use racist narratives within the context of COVID-19 or climate change. There is a long history of environmental and climate movements reinforcing their growth and this finds a new hold in the era of Coronavirus. In its more liberal form, the idea that “humans are the virus” and “mother earth is healing” uses softer language in the discourse of overpopulation, the idea that there are too many humans and too few resources, which positions COVID-19 as a solution.
The pressing questions become: what can left-wing actors and movements do to prevent far right ideologies from shaping political responses to crisis, be it COVID-19 or climate change? How do far right ideologies influence right-wing understanding of these crises more generally? The process of formulating answers to these questions will better prepare left-wing and progressive movements to shape what is politically possible.
Contact the author
Hilary Moore has been writing about anti-racism and social movements for the last ten years. Her work focuses on the far right, climate change, as well as liberal and left forms of resistance.
- Publication: Burning Earth, Changing Europe Hilary Moore