Tuesday, 12. May 2020, 19:00 - 20:30

From Climate Change to COVID: Navigating the Racist Pitfalls of Urgency

A publication launch and webinar panel

Sponsored by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Brussels, Institute for Race Relations, Political Research Associates, Movement Generation, and Ende Gelände

What do climate justice activists and organizers need to know about the ways racist right-wing groups leverage the politics of climate change and urgency? How does structural racism shape the global health outcomes of COVID-19? How are migration and anti-racist struggles adapting in different parts of the world? What does solidarity look like in the context of COVID-19?

Like climate change, the era of COVID-19 raises important political questions about how society can be re-organized to keep the people most vulnerable in transition safe. And like the politics of climate change, there is a growing risk of far right and authoritarian discourses seizing moments of crises to forward their racist and xenophobic agendas.

Hilary Moore is the author of the forthcoming publication Burning Earth, Changing Europe: How the Racist Right Exploits the Climate Crisis - And What We Can Do About It (Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-Brussels, 2020). With key analysis, current case studies from across Europe, and guiding strategic questions, this booklet is a toolkit in the project of resisting racist, xenophobic, and authoritarian influences in the political arenas of climate change -- in social movements, in parliament, and on the streets. Burning Earth, Changing Europe is for anyone who wants to learn more about keeping climate change a progressive issue.

Join Hilary in conversation with: 

  • Liz Fekete, author and director of Institute for Race Relations in London, England

  • Vincent Bababoutilabo, organizer with the NSU-Tribunal and the Institute for Black People in Germany

  • Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, collective member of Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project in the United States

The presentation will be a discussion between panelists followed by a questions and answer section with webinar participants. A recording of the presentation and ways to get a hard-copy of Burning Earth, Changing Europe will be sent after the webinar to the email of registered participants.


Im 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.

Hilary Moore

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