Climate is the New Front in the Culture Wars – part II

13th May 2021

By Jennie King

Part II of “Climate is the New Front in the Culture Wars“.

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‘This Land is My Land’: Culture Wars in the homeland

Yet there is another, entirely different way in which green politics can be appropriated by extremists. So far, we have looked at those who take an ultra-libertarian approach, and exploit ‘climate lockdown’ to stoke fears of a globalist plot. But there are also nativists and reactionaries who have gone in quite the opposite direction, appropriating parts of the green agenda to advance a fiercely nationalist view around the sacredness of land.

Of course, Europe has witnessed flurries of so-called eco-fascism since the Nazis popularised the slogan Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) in the 1930s. According to this well-established tradition, there is a mythical connection between rural areas and identity – now signalled online with tree emojis and Nordic runes. The romantic view of homeland – in the literal, pastoral sense – provides a fig-leaf for extreme ‘solutions’ to climate change that include eugenics and population culls. We are used to the alignment of progressives and greens, but eco-fascists use so-called green ends to justify brutal means:  the only way to save forests is to prevent global mobility and deport migrant communities to their ‘natural habitat’; the preservation of ecosystems applies not only to flora and fauna, but also to the purity of local customs, traditions, and race; environmental protection means dismantling the elites and their culture of diversity, feminism, and LBGTQ+ rights. In this extreme world-view, “wokeness” is inherently bad for the planet.

Neo-fascist movements often boast of their ecological credentials: for example, the Italian group CasaPound, whose La Foresta Che Avanza branch celebrates the ‘Feast of the Tree’ – a ceremony instituted by Mussolini’s younger brother, Arnaldo – but warns against ‘alien vegetation’. The neo-Nazi group Dodici Raggi, whose eponymous ‘twelve rays’ refer to a Black Sun symbol that also appears in Himmler’s Wewelsburg Castle, refers to ‘blood and soil’ in their main credo: Credo nella Terra, bagnata dal sangue degli Eroi e dal sudore della fronte (we believe in the earth, bathed in the blood and sweat of [our] heroes).  In his crazed 74-page manifesto, the Christchurch shooter referred to himself as an eco-fascist and described immigration as ‘environmental warfare’. The gunman who murdered 22 peoplein El Paso, Texas, in 2019 named his 8chan manifesto ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (famously, the title of Al Gore’s 2006 climate change documentary), and expressed rage about environmental decay in the US. He also declared that “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable”.

Such extreme examples are rarer, at least in the public sphere: full-blown eco-fascism has mutated into the softer-spoken variant of ‘ecological identitarianism’. According to this movement, the environment is, by nature, a conservative issue which must be wrested from the grip of social justice warriors and climate alarmists.  Eco-identitarians tend to pivot away from complex solutions such as decarbonising energy grids, to more basic and gaudily ‘patriotic’ ideas like forest protection. Such themes are increasingly present in political manifestos across Europe – from the Reform UK party (formerly the Brexit Party) and France’s Rassemblement National (formerly the National Front) to the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany.  What unites these parties is a simple preoccupation with conservation rather than detailed policy: they deplore wind turbines that ‘blight the rural skyline’ or electric vehicles that will ‘destroy historic industries’, and lean heavily on notions of local pride. In some cases, ideology walks hand in hand with opportunism. Nigel Farage – who, lest we forget, has in the past condemned the UK’s efforts to promote more walking and cycling as ‘anti-car madness’, and called wind energy an ‘economic insanity’ – is now a lobbyist for a Dutch green finance firm that encourages carbon-offsetting. Its website states not only that reforestation “represents an exciting opportunity for the capital markets and for private individuals” but that it will also “act in great service to all life and to the Creator”.

The Road to COP26: Hearts, Minds and NDCs

Nostalgia for a lost, and often imagined, past has fuelled many extremist movements in recent years: this includes white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys and Britain First, conspiracy theories like the ‘Great Replacement’ (which claims a ‘white genocide’ is being engineered across the West), and movements like the ‘tradwives’ who disown feminism and yearn for a return to traditional gender roles. As we have seen, extremists who oppose climate action weaponise similar fears, distorting the language of civil liberties to stoke anxiety about global plots and serfdom. Writ large, anger over the Green New Deal in its various forms is partly rage about who gets left behind, but equally about what gets left behind: a Golden Age way of life and liberty now threatened by multiculturalism, political correctness, and colluding Davos elites.

The dust had barely settled after Joe Biden’s Earth Day Summit last month before culture warriors sprang into action. From Republican congresswomen to UK tabloids, the message was consistent:  radical action on climate change will deprive citizens all over the world of their freedom of choice, movement, profession, and even diet. Donald Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo captured this moral panic in a single tweet, alleging that the US is now pursuing ‘climate change first’ instead of ‘America First’.

What does all this mean for the COP26 summit in Glasgow this November? The platforms hosting such cultural resistance movements are not fringe or ‘alt-media’, in contrast to those that gained infamy during the 2020 US Presidential Election. Unlike the forces behind the January 6 invasion of the US Capitol, anti-climate conspiracists are not mobilising on shadowy forums away from the public eye. More often than not, their arguments gain traction and are amplified across mainstream social media – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – whose Terms of Service continue to be riddled with loopholes. The three most viewed YouTube videos on the topic of ‘climate lockdown’ are from content creators that have been de-platformed elsewhere on social media. Despite this, their videos are still shared across those platforms and supporters can drive traffic to their profiles elsewhere. Both Paul Joseph Watson and Ice Age Farmer, banned from Facebook and Twitter respectively, have still managed to become two of the most shared URLs across those sites for the ‘climate lockdown’ discussion. 

Pro-climate groups are rightly calling for radical, transformative targets this November, a plea echoed by negotiating groups such as the G77 and Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile, the goal to ‘build back better’ is ringing from the White House to Whitehall. But those advancing such messaging should not underestimate how brittle and febrile public opinion has become during the pandemic, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is right to push for more ambitious national targets on climate change – a key purpose of COP26 – but such advocacy should be done with open eyes. The spectacle of governments pursuing multilateralism will be fuel for culture warriors, who will argue that they are betraying the more pressing concerns of domestic recovery, jobs and social cohesion.

Previous COPs have passed with minimal fanfare, if they registered at all among the general public. But after more than a year of global crisis the atmosphere is different. The grievances and trauma of the pandemic will still be an open wound for many as leaders gather in November. The familiar rhetoric of loss, scarcity and unfairness may resonate more profoundly than ever, and is sure to be exploited by populists and extremists alike. The very boldness required to shift gears on climate – a feat at the best of times – will be especially challenging for populations still reconciling themselves with a ‘new normal’. Culture wars morph like viruses, and we must be alert to those intent on sabotaging efforts. The stakes could hardly be higher and the need for vigilance, across every platform, has never been more acute.

 

This is the second in a two-part series investigating how far-right extremists are turning their attention online to the alleged threat of the green agenda. 

This article was originally published by Tortoise Media.

Jennie King is a Senior Policy Manager at ISD, supporting programme design, policy outreach and strategy across the organisation.

The Coal Debate in Poland: Key Trends on Social Media

In Poland, climate change is largely absent from the online discussion around coal mining and the energy sector, which is instead dominated by economic and security arguments in favour of, and in opposition to, the coal industry. This dispatch highlights the key trends in such discussion, as well as the types of messaging different actors employ.