The May 22-25th Pan-European parliamentary EU election is one of few political events in near sight with sufficient scale to rattle markets and change the global outlook. These EU elections have been said to be a referendum on austerity policies imposed on the most indebted EU members which in consequence has given rise to all sorts of nationalistic coalitions. Climate Change, the defining issue of our generation has again been pushed in the background. Ironically the nationalist forces in the driving seat should probably be those most concerned with the effects of global warming.
The economic recession in Europe has enabled the resurgence of right-wing parties to prominence. In France, Marine Le Pen has revitalized the National Front, significantly boosted its popularity and established it as the third largest political force in the country. Its major policies include economic protectionism, a zero tolerance approach to law and order issues and anti-immigration. Years ago I watched the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, cut a water melon in two to demonstrate that the green environmentalists were in fact hidden red communists. The party still condemns “green fascism”.
In Greece, the Golden Dawn have arisen as a political force nourished by the anger at austerity measures, forced upon Greece as a condition of the Eurozone bailouts, high unemployment and soaring poverty rates. New polls indicate that it would increase it’s 7 percent of the vote in the next Greek elections. Golden Dawn is infamous for its violent rhetoric against minorities. Those concerned with environmental issues in Golden Dawn are called the Green Wing. They deal with “racial and environmental issues and actions”. Their official online Green Wing program does not mention Global Warming and its effects.
In Hungary, Jobbik, the far-right party, won a staggering 17% of the vote in 2010′s parliamentary elections. Jobbik express anti-immigrant sentiment as a threat to Hungarian culture. Their main environmental concern is “the uncontrolled spreading of invasive flora, while a number of animals and plants native to (the) country (Hungary) find themselves on the brink of extinction”.
In Denmark, Dansk Folkeparti is in recent polls poised to become the second biggest party with over 20% of the vote. The U.K., Germany and more European countries too have seen the rise of right wing-parties in recent years. Some are concerned with all immigrant groups equally – some highlight Muslim, Semitic, Roma, African or other specific immigrant groups.
Although the European right wing parties have varied programs they all have at least two points in common. They are not really concerned with global warming, but rather focus their political efforts on xenophobic concerns. (Or at least seem to have this unreasoned fear of what is perceived to be foreign as an ideological driving force.)
It is odd, that these parties who are already experiencing the brunt of global warming do not even pause to reflect. To these parties global warming should represent the biggest future threat to their national identity – their ideological driving force. Global warming is likely to cause the greatest wave of immigration in centuries. Predictions vary, but an estimated 50 million migrants globally over a decade is frequently mentioned. And this is not in a distant future. Golden Dawn’s own Greek peninsula has become one of traffickers’ preferred points of entry into Europe, swamping Greek authorities. More than 600,000 arrests over the past five years have led to 182,000 deportations and the wave of migrants in progress. Obviously, not all migration relates to global warming, but the correlation is higher than most would think.
According to Nafeez Ahmed the pattern is clear all over. What the Arab Spring, Syrian civil war, Occupy Gezi, and the recent conflicts in Ukraine, Venezuela, Bosnia and Thailand all have in common is expensive food and not much of it. Thomas L. Friedmanputs it bluntly: “Without water there is revolution”. He goes on to write “In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.” He makes the link because climate change increases desertification, rises sea levels and indirectly causes water and food scarcity.
The people addressing this issue do not necessarily have an environmentalist agenda. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the US Navy Pacific operations sector, has said that “global warming has the potential to cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about. You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level”.
That hunger causes revolutions might be old news, but what is important to note here is that climate change is a game changer – not just at an environmental level, but at a geopolitical level. Geopolitical battles for resources might have grown old on the West’s media savvy audiences too, but note that you can live with not having oil or other commodities, you can’t live without water and food. And nobody put’s their kids to rest without a fight. Some of the first to experience the immediate effects of this fight in the developed world are those setting up barriers for immigration.
So what do we do about it? Should we enlighten right-wing parties? I think this calls for action on another level. Those concerned with the effects of climate change are simply underperforming in the ongoing communication turf war on the science, politics and business issues relating to climate change. Environmentalists need to seriously up their game. Meanwhile fossil fuel companies and heavy industry have argued relentlessly against environmental proposals and have mounted a massive lobby effort to convince the EU’s senior politicians that green climate change legislation can’t be allowed in times of economic crisis.The clean tech industry and environmentalists need to collectively display massive resistance and mount a sizeable lobby of their own. They need to reconsider what means to the end they can accept – for the sole purpose of reducing global warming. Is xenophobia one of them? I don’t know that using xenophobia as a tool is advisable, but I believe there is a dire need for a “Green Karl Rove”.