The best way to fight the rising far right is to go green. That’s what dozens of academics, researchers, and activists told me over the course of 80 interviews this year.
The radical right has appealed to all those who feel threatened by the more rapid movement of capital and people across borders. The center parties that have pushed this project of globalization have lost at the polls, while the left has failed to articulate a clear alternative.
Yet despite its political successes, the radical right has an Achilles’ heel. It has no credible response to the most urgent threat facing the planet: the current climate crisis.
For the last couple years, radical right leaders like Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro have ignored climate change and boosted support for extractive industries like oil and coal. Thanks to Trump, the United States is the only country to pull out of the Paris climate deal. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, reneged on Brazil’s offer to host this year’s climate confab, which is has just wrapped up in Madrid instead.
Despite these ostrich moves by Trump and Bolsonaro, the climate crisis hasn’t gone away. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
According to the most recent UN report, the world has utterly failed to restrain carbon emissions despite dire warnings from the scientific community. The two biggest offenders, the United States and China, actually increased their carbon emissions last year. The scientific consensus is that the world must execute a much faster pivot away from fossil fuels.
The radical right doesn’t have a plan to reduce carbon emissions. One wing of the movement continues to deny that there even is a crisis. The other wing is focused on dealing with only the demographic effects of the climate crisis—by proposing higher walls to keep out a future wave of climate refugees.
By comparison, the various Green New Deals on the table offer a comprehensive response that addresses the scale of the problem.
The U.S. version offered by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA) proposes significant investments in making America’s infrastructure and transportation carbon-neutral. The Europeans and Canadians are pushing similar plans in parallel. The government in New Zealand, meanwhile, unveiled a “wellbeing budget” this year that also combines a reduction in carbon emissions with improving the livelihoods of those left behind by globalization.
A massive transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy is not only sensible from an environmental point of view. It also addresses the insecurity so many people feel about their economic future in an era of automation and downsizing. The Green New Deal—like its earlier World War II-era cousin, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Dea —promises to be a major job creation program.
And not just for the Global North.
A major transfusion of money into the Green Climate Fund would help the Global South leapfrog over existing dirty technologies. By providing jobs in countries currently experiencing economic crisis throughout the Global South, these GNDs would also reduce the massive displacement of people who would otherwise be forced to migrate to find new opportunities—or more habitable land—abroad.
The current global economic system is clearly broken, which has opened the way for a global far-right reaction. By contrast, the Green New Deal offers a set of principles of sustainability that can help restructure the global economy so that it helps people and the planet—while undermining the far right’s appeal.
The radical right has won elections by ramping up fear: of others, of the future, of do-nothing government. It’s time to turn that around and revive a politics of hope.
The 80 people I talked to pointed to the student climate strikes as the most promising movement at the moment. But as those students understand better than their elders, there’s no politics without a planet. A Global Green New Deal is perhaps out last best hope to save that planet.
Newsweek, December 17, 2019