When intense events happen in close proximity to one another, the human mind often tries to draw connections that are not there, a phenomenon known as apophenia. But in this case, there were connections. In fact, the strike [the March 15 School Strike for Climate] and the massacre [in Christchurch, New Zealand] can be understood as mirror opposite reactions to some of the same historical forces. And this relates to the other way that the Christchurch killer is distinct from the white supremacist mass murderers from whom he openly drew inspiration. Unlike them, he identifies explicitly as an “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist.” In his rambling manifesto, he framed his actions as a twisted kind of environmentalism, railing against population growth and asserting that “Continued immigration into Europe is environmental warfare.”
To be clear, the killer was not driven by environmental concern — his motivation was unadulterated racist hate — but ecological breakdown was one of the forces that seemed to be stoking that hatred, much as we are seeing it act as an accelerant for hatred and violence in armed conflicts around the world. My fear is that, unless something significant changes in how our societies rise to the ecological crisis, we are going to see this kind of white power eco-fascism emerge with much greater frequency, as a ferocious rationalization for refusing to live up to our collective climate responsibilities.
Much of this is due to the hard calculus of global warming. This is a crisis overwhelmingly created by the wealthiest strata of society: Almost 50 percent of global emissions are produced by the richest 10 percent of the world’s population; the wealthiest 20 percent are responsible for 70 percent. But the impacts of those emissions are hurting the poorest first and worst, forcing growing numbers of people to move, with many more on the way. A 2018 World Bank study estimates that by 2050, more than 140 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America will be displaced because of climate stresses, an estimate many consider conservative. Most will stay in their own countries, crowding into already overstressed cities and slums; many will try for a better life elsewhere.
In any moral universe, guided by basic human rights principles, these victims of a crisis of other people’s making would be owed justice. That justice would and should take many forms. First and foremost, justice requires that the wealthiest 10-20 percent stop the underlying cause of this deepening crisis by lowering emissions as rapidly as technology allows (the premise of the Green New Deal). Justice also demands that we heed the call for a “Marshall Plan for the Earth” that Bolivia’s climate negotiator called for a decade ago: to roll out resources in the global south so communities can fortify themselves against extreme weather, pull themselves out of poverty with clean tech, and protect their ways of life wherever possible.
When protection is not possible — when the land is simply too parched to grow crops and when the seas are rising too fast to hold them back — then justice demands that we clearly recognize that all people have the human right to move and seek safety. That means they are owed asylum and status on arrival. In truth, amid so much loss and suffering, they are owed much more than that: They are owed kindness, compensation, and a heartfelt apology.
In other words, climate disruption demands a reckoning on the terrain most repellent to conservative minds: wealth redistribution, resource sharing, and reparations. And a growing number of people on the hard right realize this all too well, which is why they are developing various twisted rationales for why none of this can take place. [Continue reading…]