Climate Change and NeoFascism

Authored by: 
people in a field with banner: "Burn Prisons not fossil fuels"
Published date: 
Sunday, October 21, 2018 - 8:25pm
Produced for (Program name): 
on some intersections between climate change and authoritarian violence


A shorter version of this was broadcast on the Old Mole for October 22, 2018

In the most recent report from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, those conservative scientists have finally sounded the alarm, though  many commenters have noted that the  report starkly underestimates the problem.

Portland has already warmed by one point two degrees Celsius, well on our way to the one point five marker; I wouldn’t take any bets on the yearly wildfires going away.

An even bleaker picture of the future climate emerged from the Trump administration in a draft statement written to defend freezing federal fuel efficiency standards for trucks and cars. The argument was basically that the climate is warming so much that reduced emissions would have only a trivial effect.

Joe Lowndes, in a post available on the anarres project dot org, notes that

         The . . . administration went from denying climate change to predicting a 7 degree Fahrenheit increase over the next century. People have pointed this out as a contradiction, but there is good reason for them to now endorse this second position. It makes much more sense for the proto-fascism of this regime.

         Accepting eco-catastrophe as a fait accompli allows them to ratchet up their cherished extraction industries and roll back environmental regulations in the short run, and prepare for the brutalities of authoritarian rule in the long run.

         Imagine the kinds of violence, repression and control that can be justified by increased food and water scarcity, the abandonment of coastal and desert cities, mass cross-border migrations, growing internal refugee populations, and a collapsing economy.

This makes it sound a bit as though the environmental catastrophe is just an excuse for increased authoritarian rule.  It presumably is and will be an opportunity for the proto-fascist regime to increase militarized accumulation and violent repression.

But there are further interconnections.

As Naomi Klein observes in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (2014),

in a moment of candor, the weapons giant Raytheon explained, "Expanded  business opportunities are likely to arise as consumer behavior and needs change  in response to climate change." Those opportunities include not just more demand for the company's privatized disaster response services but also "demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change." This is worth remembering whenever doubts creep in about the urgency of this crisis: the private militias are already mobilizing.

But the relation between climate change and proto-fascism is also not just one in which weapons contractors and other forces of carceral capitalism can make money in new ways, profiting from what Klein has dubbed disaster capitalism.

Climate Change and proto-fascism can also both be understood to be consequences of capitalism, more particularly of the inevitable crisis of capitalism.

Klein has been among those –along with the UN Sustainability report--to point out that the neoliberal capitalism of the present is incompatible with addressing climate change, and that moneyed interests have colluded to suppress evidence of climate change’s human causes and pressing dangers.

But the more fundamental argument is not just that capitalism in its current form prevents taking the necessary actions to prevent and ameliorate the problems of climate change, but further that the internal logic of capitalism itself requires economic growth and prioritizes profit-seeking above all other needs.

As Ajay Singh Chaudhary puts it in a memorable recent article from n-plus-one,  It’s “a system that requires infinite accumulation in a finite world,”

Capitalism . . .  has not simply steered the global human ecological niche off course; it has driven us completely into a ditch. ‘High-carbon economic growth’ and ‘exploitative resource use’ are constitutive of this system, not incidental to it.”

As the finite world has been depleted of fossil fuels, the remaining petroleum sources are more difficult to exploit and have offered decreasing returns for increasingly toxic methods. 

A recent report from the Sightline institute  concludes that “fracking companies have spent far more on drilling than they’ve made selling oil and gas.”  They are being kept afloat by low interest rates and financial sleight of hand, as reported by  Bethany McLean in a recent New York Times article.

But fossil industries have doubled down.  Chaudhary notes that “the period of world history since the 1980s has been the most extractive in human history. Nearly 56 percent of all atmospheric carbon since the dawn of the industrial revolution has been produced in these past four decades.”

And the news of who’s responsible has reached some mainstream media.

Even  GQ is pointing out these days that more than 70 percent of global emissions come from just 100 companies. . . . The people who are actively cranking up the global thermostat and threatening to drown 20 percent of the global population are the billionaires in the boardrooms of these companies.

Further, more than half of global industrial emissions since anthropogenic climate change became a known idea can be accounted for by 25 corporate and state producing entities. That includes the Pentagon, of course, the world’s largest polluter.

So climate change is caused by capitalism and by the apparatus of violence needed to maintain it.

So, too, a common line of analysis of fascism--or proto-fascism or neo-fascism--sees it as a manifestation of  capitalism in a state of crisis and  exhaustion.

John Bellamy Foster, characterizing the present administration as neo-fascist, points out that

In periods of systemic crisis in which property relations are threatened—such as the Great Depression of the 1930s, or the stagnation and financialization of recent decades—conditions may favor the rise of fascism. Moreover, then as now, fascism is invariably a product of the larger context of monopoly capital and imperialism, related to struggles for hegemony within the capitalist world economy. Such a crisis of world hegemony, real or perceived, fosters ultra-nationalism, racism, xenophobia, extreme protectionism, and hyper-militarism, generating repression at home and geopolitical struggle abroad. . . . Property rights . . . are invariably protected under fascism—except for those racially, sexually, or politically targeted, whose property is often confiscated—and the interests of big capital are enhanced. . .

“The aim of the state in these circumstances is to repress and discipline the population”—particularly the work force—“while protecting and promoting capitalist property relations, profits, and accumulation”

What paved the way for Trump’s neofascist strategy and gave it coherence was the deepening long-term crisis of U.S. political economy and empire, and of the entire world capitalist economy, after the financial crisis of 2007–09. This left the system in a state of economic stagnation, with no visible way out. The financialization process, characterized by expanding debt leverage and market bubbles, that in the 1980s and ’90s had helped lift the economy out of a malaise resulting from the overaccumulation of capital, was no longer viable on the scale needed.

Among those aware of further intersections between climate change & authoritarian rule are the Pentagon, which has described climate change as a “threat multiplier,” noting that  “The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities.”

Christian Parenti, who pointed out that Pentagon concern in his Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011), describes a “catastrophic convergence,”  which may be summed up as the “collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters … [which] compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another” (7).

While the Tropic of Chaos referred to in the title lies between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, a region ravaged by imperialism, Parenti also notes that the developed economies are only  “neofascist islands of relative stability, ”   “fortress societies” marred by the “politics of xenophobia, racism, police repression, surveillance, and militarism” and moving further toward what Parenti calls  “the politics of the armed lifeboat,” (11).  “But,” he ... adds, “a world in climatological collapse—marked by hunger, disease, criminality, fanaticism, and violent social breakdown—will overwhelm the armed lifeboat. Eventually, all will sink into the same morass” (20).

Five years before the election of Trump, Parenti described the United States as an authoritarian,

crypto-racist state encapsulated by the war on immigrants that projects a menacing sadism as its chief mechanism of control and promotes fear, resentment, and hatreds that are fundamentally changing the dynamics of our society. The U.S. is returning to its more primitive state, Parenti concludes, “a herrenvolk democracy based on segregation and routine violence, in which race and nationality mask raw power. ... Immigrants are the canaries in the political coal mine, and immigration is the vehicle by which the logic of the ‘state of emergency’ is smuggled into everyday life, law, and politics” (209).

“The flow of people from south to north,” Parenti explains, “people deracinated by the structural violence of neoliberal economics, Cold War militarism, and now climate change—is met not only with walls, armed patrols, and cells but also with the calumny, hatred, and ideological spittle of right-wing demagogues” (215).

Moreover, the border wall is itself an ecological as well as human  disaster. Habitat fragmentation makes it harder for species to migrate in order to adapt to climate change. A number of endangered species were already affected when existing parts of the wall were constructed in 2009. Among the problems at the “intersections of mass incarceration and environmental degradation,” according to the Prison Ecology Project, are “[discharge] of sewage and industrial waste from overpopulated and under-regulated prisons into waterways; threats to listed species by the ongoing construction and operation of prisons in remote, environmentally-sensitive rural areas; and environmental justice concerns [affecting] prisoners, staff and surrounding communities.”

As those example illustrate, both neofascism and climate change have most damaging effects on the already oppressed and vulnerable.

There’s an entire section of the 700-page IPCC report that deals with persistent societal issues, .... here’s a representative excerpt: “The [Fifth Assessment Report] concluded, with very high confidence, that climate change and climate variability worsen existing poverty and exacerbate inequalities, especially for those disadvantaged by gender, age, race, class, caste, indigeneity, and (dis)ability,” the report reads. “Identifying and addressing poverty and inequality is at the core of staying within a safe and just space for humanity.”

And how, in a world of widening inequality and mounting suffering does the status quo hierarchy maintain itself?

Through force. By arming the lifeboats. As Kristian Williams and others have argued, the police have always been a force to protect private property and white supremacy.

As Charles Mudede argues in The Stranger,

we can expect that, as climate change worsens, the government will spend more on white lives for no other purpose than to maintain the current economic order, which is largely structured to grow, endlessly, the profits of energy corporations.

We’re aware of the violence against water protectors who resisted the Dakota Access Pipeline.  But similar actions have occurred against those fighting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana and others around the country.  In Minnesota, where the pipeline company Enbridge got their new pipeline approved despite widespread public opposition,  the Public Utilities Commission required Enbridge to cover all the costs of responding to protests during construction. This means that once the permit is finalized and issued . . . Minnesota law enforcement will have a bottomless tab open with a Canadian multinational corporation to cover any costs related to quelling resistance to the pipeline.

In short, the catastrophic convergence of neofascism and climate change arguably have shared causes and overlapping consequences, and are mutually reinforcing.

But there’s reason for hope, and for continued action.

Parenti notes that “climate shocks can shatter oppressive relationships and open possibilities for progressive organizing and resistance.”  Just last week, Kinder Morgan cancelled one of its planned pipelines.  And though they were not allowed to mount a full necessity defense, the last of the valve turners were recently acquitted.  Activists have been ramping up both direct resistance and legal actions, and communities continue developing plans and actions that can slow the damage and move us toward justice.    As Rebecca Solnit has pointed out,  “Taking action is the best way to live in conditions of crisis and violation, for your spirit and your conscience as well as for society.”



image cropped from Klimacamp 2018 - 121 - 01.06.2018 20-56-19