Eco-fascism: How an extreme-right vision of ecological disaster and anti-migration is trying to reframe the climate debate – and how development practitioners should respond – Mona Soussi

Eco-fascism, as defined by open democracy, can be understood as a radical blend of ethnonationalism and authoritarianism.” It is a far right, radical environmentalism that encompasses Malthusian and white supremacist ideologies.

Globally, there have been at least 16 major violent attacks clearly linked to white supremacist ideology since 2011. While most far-right extremist terrorism is linked to hatred of migrants and multicultural communities, eco-fascism, which blends this hatred with purported concern for the environment, gained global attention this year following two mass shootings where both perpetrators identified as eco-fascists in their so called manifestos: the El Paso shooting in the US (where Mexicans were deliberately targeted) and the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand (where Muslims were deliberately targeted). In the El Paso shooter’s anti-immigrant ramblings, titled “An Inconvenient Truth” (presumably after Al Gore’s 2006 climate documentary of the same name), the shooter stated that we needed to “get rid of enough people” in order to protect diminishing resources.

The Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, titled “The Great Displacement”, described immigration as “environmental warfare” and stated “there is no nationalism without environmentalism”. While climate change denial has often been associated with the right, an increasing number of extreme far-right supporters have incorporated select elements of climate science into their white supremacist ideology.

Eco-fascism is not a new phenomenon. As argued by Peter Staudenmaier, environmental arguments played a strong and malevolent role in the Holocaust and National Socialist thought as a whole. However, the concept has seen a revival in recent years. While some argue that this revival is generally restricted to a small number of young, extreme-right wingers active in niche online forums, this complacency is dangerous. In recent years we have seen the influence of eco-fascism well beyond shady online discussion groups, with outbursts of environmental nationalism not only in the form of mass shootings but also entering into electoral politics.   

For instance, a spokesperson for Marine Le Pen’s far right National Rally Party in France played on environmental concerns in a bid to win votes during the European Parliament elections earlier this year. A spokesman for the party stated, “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet”. The populist Five Star movement in Italy has also been seen to adopt environmental nationalism.

In her new book On Fire Naomi Klein writes that unless we see a significant change in how our societies respond to the climate emergency, we are going to see elements of eco-fascism more frequently as a warped rationale for both enhanced border control and refusal to live up to our collective responsibility to reduce emissions [1].

It is important to remember that the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population are responsible for 70% of global emissions.  However, the impacts of these emissions will hit the poorest hardest. In 2018, a World Bank study estimated that by 2050, more than 140 million people could become displaced within their own countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America because of climate stresses unless urgent climate and development action is taken. Those displaced by environmental factors are often the poorest and most vulnerable within developing countries.

In contrast to the views of eco-fascists, few of the people most adversely affected by climate disruption will have the resources or networks to migrate to rich Northern states. While many will migrate internally and some will cross borders into neighbouring states, few will make their way further afield.  Indeed, one of the most pressing developing challenges is that of trapped populations, too poor to be able to devise coping mechanisms, including migration, in the face of environmental deterioration and climate shocks. The world’s states are yet to agree on a protection protocol for the environmentally displaced (or indeed those trapped), which may exacerbate their vulnerability.

Any efforts to raise awareness of the impacts of climate disruption should depict migration (both domestic and international) as one of a range of positive adaptation strategies to environmental deterioration and climate shocks – allowing people to move out of increasingly uninhabitable areas and seek secure livelihoods elsewhere.  The political institutions and commercial practices that have allowed climate disruption to continue in recent decades should be the focus of effort, while the fallacy that resource deficiency and climate disaster is caused by population growth and migration from the poorest countries of the world must be loudly refuted.

As development practitioners, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the language used to describe the migration and displacement caused by climate disruption places the safety of those affected at the forefront. To frame climate disruption related migration as primarily a threat to the integrity of borders in the Global North is a complete misconstruction of both the phenomenon of climate disruption and that of migration.

  1. Klein, N. (2019). On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal. Allen Lane UK

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