Notes From the Margins…

Burn Baby Burn

  • July 28, 2019
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There are many reasons to despise and resist the rightwing ‘populist’ politics that are poisoning democracies across the world in the second decade of the 21st century.  The racism and white supremacism that so often underpins these movements; the dehumanisation of immigrants; the authoritarianism; the deep seam of dishonesty if not outright corruption that so often seeps through their ‘antiestablishment’ agendas; the anti-intellectualism, paranoia, and fanaticism; the nationalist hubris, the gloating cruelty and spurious victimhood –  all these tendencies pose a direct a clear and present danger to democratic politics, to social coexistence,  to the rights of migrants and minorities, which is likely to increase in intensity unless we can find a way to stop them.

But there’s another urgent reason to oppose these movements which tends to receive less attention: their deeply-rooted climate change denialism and hostility to environmental politics.

Evidence of these tendencies isn’t hard to find.  Last month Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic,  vetoed efforts to reduce C02 emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement.  In May this year, the deforestation of the Amazon reached record levels, with the disappearance of 739 sq km in 31 days – the equivalent of 2 football pitches per minute.  In the United States, Trump has gleefully torn up much of the environmental legislation of the last few decades to reward the fossil fuels industries that funded his campaign.

For these governments and for many of their supporters, the notion of a ‘climate emergency’ tends to be dismissed as ‘fake news’ or a leftwing conspiracy.  In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s foreign minister Ernesto Araújo described climate change as a ‘Marxist plot’ designed to ‘instil fear’.   According to Araújo  ‘The left has sequestered the environmental cause and perverted it to the point of paroxysm over the last 20 years with the ideology of climate change, climate change.’

One can only wonder at the unbounded evil of ‘the left’ and its mysterious ability to get the world’s leading scientists to do its bidding.  In rejecting a scientific consensus that is virtually unanimous on the human contribution to our warming planet and presenting anthropogenic climate change as another expression of ‘woke’ effeminate liberal-left ‘culture’, populist climate change denialists like Araújo are not only making it more difficult to take mitigating or preventative action to deal with  our ongoing climate emergency; they are actually taking action to accelerate it.

For these movements, anything that ‘the left’ supports is fake, wrong, or irrelevant.   Their ‘scepticism’ isn’t only due to the ideological ‘culture wars’ being waged by rightwing populists and the organisations and individuals that support them.  Material interests are also at play here.   Many of the groups that attack environmentalist activists like Greta Thunberg are funded or part-funded by fossil-fuel industries.  The conservative student organisation Turning Point has solicited funds from what its founder Charlie Kirk calls the ‘fossil fuel space.’

Here in the UK the former revolutionaries-turned-rightwing libertarians at Spiked Online have received $300,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation.  The co-owner of Koch Industries does not give money like that away for nothing, and no one will be surprised that Spiked have made climate change denialism one of the hallmarks of its dreary ‘contrarian’ provocations.

Similar connections can be found in the rightwing populists now waging war against ‘liberal elites’ across the world.  Jair Bolsonaro’s election campaign received strong support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector.   Since his election, and Bolsonaro has stripped power from indigenous communities to decide land claims in the Amazon and handed it to the Agriculture Ministry.

This is not just a threat to Brazil’s indigenous communities; the rampant deforestation that Bolsonaro has unleashed poses a direct threat to the planet itself given the crucial role that the Amazon plays in carbon sequestration.  None of this bothers the fascistic president, who now boasts that ‘the Amazon is ours’ – a first person plural that essentially refers to the industries that he represents.

All these movements are coming to power at a critical period, in which the action that we take or don’t take will determine whether or not the planet remains habitable in the future.  This summer fires have raged across the Arctic – reducing one of the earth’s great refrigerators while simultaneously burning through carbon peat stores and releasing more greenhouse gases. Temperatures across the world have broken records this summer, as they have year after year.

Again and again scientists have warned us that we need to take urgent preventative action immediately.  From Bolsonaro to Trump, to the hard-faced zealots of Turning Point and Spiked, the new populists turn their stony faces away and dismiss all this as a leftwing conspiracy or an unjustified panic designed to impose unjustified regulations on the fossil fuel industry.

Even as these individuals and organisations rail against ‘metropolitan liberal elites’ they act on behalf of powerful industries that are relentlessly driving our species towards collective  self-destruction.

Where Sarah Palin once gloated ‘ Drill Baby Drill’ while lobbying to open up Alaska to the oil industry, the new populists might well chant ‘Burn Baby Burn’ as the planet gets hotter, and the hotter it gets the more unlikely it is that we will be able to do anything about it.

These movements often base their appeal on their calls to protect ‘our people’.  But the gross irresponsibility of their spurious culture wars, their trivialising of our collective crisis, and their shameless kowtowing to the fossil fuel lobby makes it clear again and again that they don’t  really care about any people at all.

All of which makes these would-be populist saviours not just a danger to their countries.  It makes them a danger to humanity.

It’s absolutely tragic that right now, when we need politicians and movements with the courage, the vision and the sense of urgency to take collective action to ensure that our planet remains habitable, that we have been saddled with a poisonous, vindictive and phony ‘anti-elite’ movement that is determined to prevent any action at all and refuses to believe that is even necessary.

So look more closely at these populist rebels as they rail against ‘globalist elites’, and you will find some of the most powerful elites in the world today, gazing down from their skyscrapers on our burning planet with the same old sociopathic gaze.

1 Comment

  1. Guano

    1st Aug 2019 - 12:31 pm

    These people are as aware as the rest of us of the challenges that the world faces (and maybe they are more aware than the rest of us). They want to continue to make money from selling oil and coal for as long as possible and then possibly be compensated for the stranding of their assets when they are forced to stop. They want to make money from selling us “solutions” when we are in crisis.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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