Locating the Radical Right in an Age of Radical Climate Change

Youth Environmental Protest in Madrid on 15th March 2019

The fact that we are living in an era of radical climate change, caused by humans, has been undisputed by the scientific community for years. Today, young people in both the United States and Europe are desperately trying to hit the emergency button. In Belgium, tens of thousands of students have been regularly protesting since January—resulting in the resignation of Christian Democrat climate minister Joke Schauvliege. Student strikes have been declared in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Ireland and elsewhere. In the United States, the Sunrise Movement has been clamouring at the doors of representatives and making their voice be heard. Many of these young people rightfully fear their futures being wiped out in front of them, whilst moderate, conservative and right-wing politicians simply refuse to take serious action—through ignorance or wilful obstinance.

Recently, on the hottest recorded winter day ever recorded in the UK, only a spattering of government MPs showed up for the debate. When most scholars and journalists think of the contemporary radical right, we often mostly are thinking about white nationalist adjacent actors and proponents. The more nuanced analyses include discussions of gender, sexuality, class and embodiment—in addition to race and nationality. We must not only consider those types of oppression, but we also situate radical right oppression in the context of the planet we live in. Is not sentencing generations of young people to ecologic disaster, heightened precisely by the aforementioned prejudices, not in fact a radical position? Climate sceptics, and their enablers, who lie outside of the mainstream consensus on global warming are radicals. This is especially true when those who would be most affected are disproportionately people of colour and the working poor.

Youth Environmental Protest in Madrid on 15th March 2019

In a state-of-the-field review recently published in the journal Contemporary European History (Cambridge University Press), I argue it is necessary for scholars to simultaneously think of the ways authoritarian regimes [broadly defined] have impacted our planet and the ways they have impacted humans – based on identity and embodiment.[1]  Because of the weight of large, bureaucratic administrations, corporations and other large non-state actors, we must be thinking about how the radical right and those institutions have both impacted and are currently affecting our planet’s future. Is inaction to protect the middling classes and poor, who often tend to be people of colour, from being harmed by climate change not in fact a form of violence? Nazi Germany taught us one can certainly be complicit in violence by simply doing nothing.

Although in recent years much of the swing toward the right has been described by journalists as ‘populist’, perhaps the more accurate term is radical. The so-called centrist politicians in the United States and Europe who allow the continuation of policies that disproportionately harm poor people of colour globally, who often already work under terrible working conditions, are proponents of a radical right-wing agenda. More insidiously, often those stalling significant change are benefitting financially from staying the course.

We need to widen our definitions and debates of the radical right to consider the large right-wing governmental apparatuses that are, in fact, outside of normal politics. This would include the threat posed by figures such as radical right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who threatens to expand deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, despite the outcry from indigenous peoples. In this, we can include United States president Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate agreement. We can also include how Trump’s attempts to build a wall at the US-Mexico border because of a xenophobic impulse that simultaneously threatens the environment. The list goes on and on.

Youth Environmental Protest in Madrid on 15th March 2019

Scholars and journalists alike need to ‘consider the ways in which issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, nationalism and embodiment play into the ways humans change the planet we inhabit’. To that end, I argue in that article for Contemporary European History that:

At its heart, the Holocaust and the killing of Jews, people of colour, queer people, people with disabilities and leftists was an attempt to genetically change the human species based upon faulty science that sought to create a homogenous human population built on skewed understandings of history [and science] and who could belong to an ‘imagined community’.

When we start to consider the implications of either ignoring or denying climate change, based primarily on faulty science, we are falling into a new iteration of a familiar trap. We become too ensconced in the determination of national welfare—what is economically good for our people in the short term—and outright ignore a potential genocide occurring out-of-sight. In narrowly defining ‘our people’, who we are willing to protect, we fall into the possibility of committing new atrocities that will span the forthcoming century, if not longer.

Our world and its climate, and our interactions with it, are folded into complex system of social and environmental factors. Just as we know colonialism had disastrous environmental impacts, we know that capitalism, too, has had such impacts. Today, as the radical right has taken the levers of government apparatuses, we must remember that the tools of genocide can also include inaction or the reversal of environmental regulation designed to protect all nations on our planet from environmental disaster.

Dr Louie Dean Valencia-García is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Assistant Professor of Digital History at Texas State University. His profile can be found here.

© Louie Dean Valencia-García. 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).

[1] Valencia-García, Louie Dean. ‘Locating Dictatorship in the Anthropocene: Historiographic Trends in the History of Science and Technology and the Study of European Authoritarianism’. Contemporary European History 28, no. 1 (2019): 120–30. doi:10.1017/S0960777318000644.