Nationalism is always borne out of disruption. This disruption can take many forms, but it most commonly arrives alongside waves of immigration. America’s most xenophobic moments — like the immigrant Know-Nothing party of the 1850s, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or Trump’s current authoritarian border regime — have come in response to large influxes of immigrants.
Climate change is poised to be the greatest disruptor of them all. Supercharged floods, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, wildfires and sea level rise will displace 150 million people by 2050. Poor regions of the world — like sub-saharan Africa and southeast Asia — will bear a disportioncate amount of the burden. Climate refugees have already begun pouring into the US from Central American countries. The 2007 drought in Syria — which has been directly linked to global warming — drove thousands of farmers from the countryside to the cities. This mass migration is commonly cited as one of the causes of the Syrian civil war, which has left more than half a million dead since 2011.
Mass climate migration inspires new forms of nationalism. The most prominent among these is a form of “environmentalism” popularly dubbed eco-fascism. Some elements of this movement are surprisingly pleasant: Eco-fascists believe in fighting overconsumption culture, reducing urban sprawl and defeating the large oil and gas companies. But to achieve these goals, eco-fascists want to wield the full force of the state to control the population and racially segregate the world.
The shooter who targeted and murdered hispanics at a Wal-Mart in El Paso earlier this summer was deeply committed to these ideas. In his manifesto, he advocated for population control as a solution to climate change: “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”
Eco-fascism may seem like a fringe movement, but it possesses frightening potential to become a mainstream right-wing position.
In the coming years, climate denying will become increasingly difficult. Mounting scientific evidence is already forcing oil conglomerates and moderate conservatives to acknowledge climate change as a serious issue, even if they have not taken appropriate measures to address it. Conservatives will need to form a new position which acknowledges the existence of climate change while pushing back on climate change’s potential to spur on a more democratic, socialized world.
Nationalist movements around the world, from the United Kingdom and the United States to Hungary and Brazil are setting the stage for eco-fascism to emerge as a mainstream alternative to leftist climate policy.
In the United States, immigration restrictions and xenophobia are already core ideals of the modern Republican party. Under Trump, we’ve seen ample evidence of the right’s response to climate refugee crises, such as this summer, when the Bahamas was decimated by the worst storm in its history and the White House denied entry to tens of thousands of desperate refugees.
Adaptation to climate change is usually conceived of in the realm of physical improvements, such as installing levees in flood-prone areas. But adaptation should also be discussed as our cultural and political attitude towards the effects of climate change. Broadly speaking, there are two paths we can embark upon: Eco-fascism or climate justice.
The tenets of eco-fascism — exclusion, population control, nationalism and xenophobia — will likely fail to stop climate change, and instead succeed in insulating the rich and powerful countries from a flood of climate refugees.
On the other hand, the principles of climate justice — responsibility, low-consumption living, deep democracy and a more socialized world — can stave off climate change and build the foundations for a more beautiful, communal world.
There’s only one choice which will lead to a better world for all of its inhabitants. Let’s choose climate justice.
Harry Zehner is the opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.