The far right on our warming planet

Sam Moore and Alex Roberts, The Rise of Ecofascism: Climate change and the far right, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2022, pp. vii and 171.

Reviewed by Mike Makin-Waite

As climate change becomes more and more of an issue, what new forms of ‘extremist’ politics could it generate?

One strong response to this question from many environmentalists will be that the problem is that ‘extremists’ are already in charge – the ‘world leaders’, politicians and business executives who are committed to economic systems which are surely destroying our ecosystems.

In different registers, this argument is advanced by activists in groups and networks such as Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace, green party members in many countries, workers with a wide range of non-governmental organisations, and indigenous people’s representatives.

Against this, the most familiar far-right positions are those which deny that climate change is happening: populist leaders including Trump, parties such as Alternative für Deutschland and small groups including For Britain are amongst those who have argued that calls to reduce CO2 emissions are based on ‘false science’, and form part of a left-wing conspiracy to establish social control.

This far-right denialism has already had serious negative and dangerous effects. It combines opposition to immigration to richer countries with support for the short-term material interests of the extractivist and polluting industrialists who want the burning of fossil fuels to continue as a central component of our social arrangements. It also taps into people’s desperate desire to ‘wish it wasn’t so’. Most people in Europe, North America and Australasia want to cling to the benefits and consolations of the consumerist system, even though they share in the growing awareness that the ways we live are threatening our existence: this worrying contradiction is disorientating. For now, those politicians who are telling strident lies about the challenges we face are able to gain support through their inaccurate reassurances.

But what if the far-right shifted its position, recognised the reality of environmental breakdown, and recast their politics so as to manage the problems and issues which are coming as a result?

In their important and – this reviewer fears – all-too-prescient book, Sam Moore and Alex Roberts show that such a change of position could have even worse consequences (and there are signs that key elements of the far right, including Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, are already making this shift).

Dispensing with the myth that, somehow, the urgent need to respond to climate change will see political leaders and campaigners uniting around a sensible, rational, ‘science-based’ consensus about what needs to be done and taking necessary steps in an orderly way, Moore and Roberts note that ‘climate systems breakdown will only get more intensely politicised from here’. As this happens, the escalating crisis will ‘provide opportunities to all parts of the far right’, even though people on this part of the political spectrum currently hold ‘splintered’ and varied positions.

The authors (whose regular podcast, 12 Rules For What, provides a valuable way in to debates about the nature of the far right and appropriate responses) consider three different types of organisation: political parties who are part of ‘an emerging ‘environmental authoritarianism’; newer far-right and fascist movements which are not interested in immediate electoral success, including Generation Identity and CasaPound Italia; and networks – sometimes virtual – of ‘ecofascist’ terrorists, including the murderer who killed 51 people in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.

They discuss how these disparate organisations and individuals draw on elements from the complex and contradictory history of ‘far-right ecologism’, surveyed and summarised in an early chapter.

The details of how political parties and activists (of any hue) respond to events resulting from the growing climate emergency will be shaped by a great variety of specificities and contingencies which cannot be precisely foreseen. But Moore and Roberts’ warning is that – should far-right movements succeed in ‘scaling up’ so as to secure and maintain government power – there are two broad possible future scenarios. The first they call ‘Fossilised Reaction’, in which far-right politicians and parties would be ‘protective of fossil capital’. Though it would continue to deny the realities of climate change, this incarnation of far-right climate change reaction would see ‘the militarisation of society against all kind of threats’, including the physical and meteorological effects of global warming, and the large-scale migrations of people which these will lead to.

In the second scenario, the far-right develops and steers the machinery which is already being developed by increasingly securitised and authoritarian capitalist governments into a future which Moore and Roberts describe as ‘Batteries, Bombs and Borders’. In this, the far right recognises that climate change is happening and organises its politics around mitigation, and ‘the geopolitically fraught process of securing the resources for a green energy transition’, but ‘deepens global inequalities in pursuit of it’.

In so far as far-right movements are not incorporated into one of these alternative possible systems of governance, nativist movements ‘might also spawn another far-right project’: ‘Climate Collapse Cultists’. Some activists would turn to terrorist violence: others would seek to isolate themselves from the world (and these two impulses can go together).

The Rise of Ecofascism is unfortunately too short to allow its authors to fully explore some of their key concepts and the debates around them: discussion on the specific nature of fascism, for example, is hurried and assertive, rather than systematically argued. Nevertheless, the book is studded with precise insights, including on ‘the governance of crisis’, which is ‘always complex and multifaceted, and often suddenly amplificatory of dormant social forms’. A thoughtful closing chapter identifies some of the challenges involved in working for the progressive goals of solidarity and justice in our warming world, promoting the need for ‘ecologies of liberation’ rather than ‘ecologies of domination’, and arguing that ‘tactical / strategic heterogeneity is a source of strength for social movements’.

Moore and Roberts close by stating that ‘it is incumbent upon all of us to prepare ourselves for the coming crises, and all the attendant politics it will bring’. Their worrying, thought-provoking book is a resource for such preparation.

Review published February 2022.

Illustration. In the 1930s, Rolf Gardiner organised The Springhead Ring, holding regular camps at a farm in Dorset. Moore and Roberts quote a description of him as a ‘Nordic racialist, a pagan, and a keen supporter of Nazi rural policies’. Gardiner’s stated aim was to counter the effects of the economic depression by creating a `reinvigorated stock of countrymen’ from the ‘unused material of the towns’.