The far-right and the environment: climate change denial, greenwashing, and the mantra of “personal responsibility”

By Electra Kleitsa

“You have to understand that the Amazon is Brazil’s, not yours… If all this devastation you accuse us of doing was done in the past the Amazon would have stopped existing, it would be a big desert.”

Jair Bolsonaro, former president of Brazil, in a 2016 speech where he dismissed satellite images showing extensive deforestation of the Amazon rainforest as “lies.”

“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Former US President Donald Trump posted this tweet in 2017, mocking climate change concerns and boasting about his country’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Whether in governments of countries like the US and Brazil or within smaller groups and organizations, the global far-right shares a common stance: they deny climate change and environmental risks while staunchly supporting destructive business activities. This allegiance is driven by their unwavering commitment to serving the interests of major industries such as energy, transportation, technology and food production.

Some are left behind, others pretend to evolve

While some factions remain entrenched in their positions, others in the far-right are showing signs of adaptability. They are gradually recognizing that their current stances appear disconnected from reality as the environment’s deterioration and the climate crisis gain prominence. In this context, certain segments of the European far-right are attempting to justify Europe’s closed-door policy toward “illegal immigrants” by asserting that these migrants deplete natural resources intended for local populations and exacerbate environmental degradation through their presence.

Beyond their emphasis on environmental “purity,” which they equate with national identity, their strategies to address the climate crisis lack novelty. Just as on other matters, they advocate for partial and insufficient measures within the framework of the capitalist system. Their positions involve advocating for select supposedly “green” forms of energy and promoting “green” entrepreneurship. Simultaneously, they echo the notion that individual behaviors hold the key to resolving environmental challenges.

Le Pen and Meloni: Shifting Environmental Rhetoric

Parties like Le Pen’s, which were once aligned with climate change denial, have now adopted a discourse centered around reducing greenhouse gas emissions and more broadly, environmental protection, albeit tailored to their own ideologies. Le Pen herself has put forth the notion that:

“Environmentalism [is] the natural child of patriotism, because it’s the natural child of rootedness… if you’re a nomad, you’re not an environmentalist. Those who are nomadic … do not care about the environment; they have no homeland.”

While it’s evident to individuals possessing basic common sense that the natural environment is a unified entity, not limited by human-imposed borders, Le Pen attempts to invert this reality by asserting that environmental protection equates to patriotism. She backs this ‘perspective’ with proposals ostensibly aimed at emission reduction, yet they primarily benefit a different segment of the energy sector. Ironically, these propositions carry environmental risks equal to, if not greater than, those they aim to mitigate. Notably, her party’s central energy-related proposition centers on the renewal and expansion of France’s nuclear power plants, which already account for approximately 70% of the nation’s total energy consumption.

Similar inclinations are mirrored by the Italian Prime Minister, G. Meloni, and her political party. As the ‘Brothers of Italy’ endeavor to project a more ‘moderate’ image while retaining clear their far-right characteristics, they find themselves compelled to address environmental concerns. In line with Le Pen’s stance, Meloni stated:

“There is nothing more ‘right-wing’ than ecology. The right loves the environment because it loves the land, the identity, the homeland.”

However, her party’s arsenal lacks substantial proposals to effectively combat the climate crisis, even in terms of emission reduction targets. Nevertheless, akin to Le Pen, the party decidedly favors nuclear energy. Under Meloni’s leadership, significant shifts are already underway in this field. In March of last year, the Italian parliament sanctioned the reintroduction of nuclear power plants as a form of energy production—a reversal from Italy’s stance since 1987, when the country closed its nuclear facilities following the Chernobyl disaster. This proposal actually originated from a smaller party but got governmental approval, with Environment Minister P. Frattin attesting to the safety and cleanliness of nuclear energy.

The Greek Far Right’s Environmental Posturing

The Greek far-right’s attempt to position itself as environmentally conscious lags even further behind its relatively sophisticated European counterparts. An illustrative example is I. Kasidiaris, who, during the 2019 election campaign as a representative of Golden Dawn, attempted to utter a few words on the subject.

In a rather general statement, he attributed climate change to the “international system of power”—the very entities responsible for “imposing globalization”, which, he claimed, “dismantles nations, homelands, and peoples”. He advocated for imposing sanctions on industries responsible for greenhouse gas emissions but his emphasis was on the need for individual lifestyle changes. Concluding his statement, he said that “nothing can change if each of us individually does not become aware, if we do not take the decision to change our way of life”, while he suggested opting for walking to the kiosk instead of driving a “polluting” car.

Much like in other fileds, the ostensibly anti-systemic far right proposes exactly what the system itself promotes: people should confront this problem individually, believing that its up to them personally to address it. Meanwhile, corporate leaders treat Earth’s resources as personal assets, endlessly polluting with impunity.

Ultimately, the imperative to serve the ‘national interest’ at any cost (or more accurately, the interests of big business—which paradoxically often includes multinationals rather than national entities) remains prevalent. The ‘governmental program’ of I. Kasidiaris’ present party ‘Greeks’ (soon to likely merge into the ‘Spartans’, the shell-party which was elected in parliament) articulates:

“Greek energy reserves constitute the foundation and impetus for the Greek economy’s surge. Devoid of harnessing our mineral wealth, immediate development remains untenable… In 1938, under Ioannis Metaxas, the inaugural oil drilling transpired in Katakolon in Ilia, while between 1970-73 Georgios Papadopoulos propelled exploration undertakings in Prinos for our nation’s benefit… The GREEKS party shall promptly proclaim the Greek EEZ, initiating the extraction of Greek hydrocarbons, catapulting the comprehensive growth of our national economy…”

Just a side note here, which shows the association of this party with the history of the Greek far-right, Metaxas was a dictator who took power with a coup in ’36 and Papadopoulos the head of the CIA-backed junta in ’67…

In essence, the ‘national interest’ supposedly leads to oil and gas extraction, primarily benefiting investors, while leaving in its wake environmental devastation and the wiping out of traditional sectors of the economy like fishing and tourism. And if the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons lead to heightened tensions or even ‘hot incidents’ with Turkey, that’s even better for the ‘Greeks,’ the ‘Spartans,’ and other facets of the Greek far-right.

Ultimately, the relationship the various far-right parties and organizations maintain with the environment remains intertwined with the enterprises that perpetuate its degradation. Whether they are climate change deniers advocating for the fossil fuel industry or the more ‘modernized’ factions endorsing ‘eco’ alternatives like nuclear power, the core essence remains the same.

On our side -comprising movements, the Left, and the billions worldwide grappling with the consequences of climatic catastrophe- the tasks are clear: champion the environment, contest the far right, and challenge the hypocrisy of capitalists and their system.

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