‘Protect the Environment!’ – Environmental Campaigning by the Radical Right Alternative for Germany

By now, the climate-change scepticism of the radical-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is well-known and has been discussed in both academic and non-academic publications. Opposition to the thesis of anthropogenic climate change – as well as scientific/public processes and responses to the phenomenon – are visible in the party’s manifesto and a range of other genres, including social media. More traditionally, the party has organised an ‘Alternative Climate Symposium’ in the German Bundestag in May 2019, featuring Christopher Monckton, Henryk Svensmark, Thomas Wysmüller and Gernot Patzelt. Shortly afterwards, the party suffered from a ‘Green wave’ and recorded a not-quite-so-exciting result in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

In a previous blog entry, I considered the party’s subsequent, concerted step: As I argued, the Dresdener Erklärung, a declaration by AfD’s environmental spokespersons, did not include fundamental changes to the party’s stance, especially not in the area of climate change. While trying to present an environmental agenda rooted in far-right ideology, it’s scepticism towards anthropological climate change remained unchanged.

In addition, the party presented a campaign webpage, ‘Protect the Environment!’, an attempt to latch onto the salience of green issues in Germany. In this contribution to the CARR blog, I take a closer look at this campaign to illustrate how the AfD’s climate-change scepticism and its wider far-right environmental politics are aligned with its populist mobilisation. I do so by limiting myself to the campaign’s online description before closing with three more general observations.

Figure: Screengrab of AfD’s Protect the Environment! Webpage

‘Protect the Environment!’ is accessed via AfD’s homepage. Its background shows a rather idyllic scene: blue sky, green grass, wind turbines and solar panels – like what a Green party might use to advocate for a sustainable, green energy future. Yet, this part of the webpage also features (a) a question, ‘Beautiful Green World?’ (white, against red background), (b) asks the reader to subscribe to the party’s newsletter, (c) tells the reader to ‘Stop Greens – Protect the Environment’ and (d) offers a video, which talks about ‘5 Green Environmental Sins’. The latter problematises the killing of bats, birds and insects by wind turbines; a similar effect of solar panels on insects; rape plant and maize monocultures (singling out bioenergy); deforestation necessary to build wind turbines; and high levels of land consumption for wind turbines and solar panels – compared to traditional energy sources. All these elements are in accord with well-known far-right responses to ‘mainstream’ climate-change policies.

Along these lines, AfD positions itself explicitly as the outsider, speaking of ‘Green unity parties’ and thus connecting contemporary environmental politics by the ‘established’ parties to the dictatorial German Democratic Republic (GDR) . Indeed, during recent state elections, the party positioned itself as the radical opposition by linking conditions in the GDR to those in the Federal Republic. Of course, this is in confirmity with the party’s wider populist strategy of articulating an antagonism between itself, the voice of the ‘pure people’, and the ‘corrupt elite’. And yet, this populist strategy is now explicitly and systematically based in the area of environmental politics – a development which can furthermore be connected to established traditions of far-right ecology.

Within this performance of opposition, the German landscape, produced by ‘our predecessors’ as the AfD stresses, is presented as a source of joy, it ‘feeds us’ and it characterises our ‘homeland’. By threatening this nature through the proposed energy transition, the AfD proclaims, that not only is ‘our freedom’ threatened (due to contemporary climate-change policies), but also that of our community, our future, and those of our children. In protecting this homeland and its cultural landscape, the German ‘ethnoscape’, the AfD proposes to act with ‘reason and a sense of proportion’. The latter, of course, implies the existence of those lacking reason and a sense of proportion, i.e., it points to allegedly alarmist and hysterical climate-change activists. In contrast, the party rejects ‘the not-proven hypothesis of an only human-made climate change’ and formulates 10 demands: ‘worldwide environmental protection’ through new technologies (elsewhere, AfD points to ‘technical innovation and efficiently produced energy’); intensifying research so to better understand the effect of micro-plastics on humans and nature; promotion of responsible dealings with plastic waste in ‘developing countries’ (not mentioning where this plastic comes from); opposition to speculation with agricultural land; protection of ‘our landscapes and domestic species’ via limiting the expansion of solar and wind energy; opposition to the privatisation of drinkable water supply; regulation of wolf populations (like all other wild animals); a stop to phasing out coal and a rejection of a CO2-tax; the minimisation of radioactive remnants; and increasing research funding on ‘modern and safe nuclear technology’. While none of these positions can surprise anyone roughly familiar with contributions by the AfD to the discourse about environmental issues, one of the points I find particularly illuminating concerns the return of the wolf. The latter has been discussed in Germany and beyond – and while proponents of a coherent far-right ecology have welcomed this long missed element of the national ecosystem, those less ecologically inclined have played to established stereotypes and myths concerning the wolf as well as more mundane economic concerns by farmers.

Turning back to the webpage and due to its campaign character, the latter also offers three leaflets (plus the campaign logo) to be downloaded or ordered, materials which are surprisingly dense, containing further, detailed information, and thus warranting a closer semiotic analysis. At the bottom of the webpage, the party furthermore makes available current opinions by key figures in the AfD, for example Jörg Meuthen, Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel.

What can be taken from this brief description of the campaign webpage? First, classic far-right ecological themes are present – though they sit next to economic concerns. Second, it is notable that the party does explicitly incorporate communication about the environment into its populist mobilisation. Third, the fact that the AfD speaks of the land and landscape as providing pleasure, food and having symbolic value is in line with the academic claim that the nature of nationalism is constituted by aesthetic, material and symbolic concerns respectively. While there is more to this campaign than these points, I assume that it is along these lines, that the AfD will, for the time being, articulate the environment as a part of its platform.

Dr Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in the School of Media, Communication and Sociology at University of Leicester. See his profile here.

© Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).