For decades, the U.S. right-wing consensus on climate change has been defined by denial and motivated by loyalty to special interests. The oil and gas industries, specifically, have funneled billions into the pockets of legislators to ensure their profits are protected.
Simultaneously, since its inception in the early 20th century, fascism has maintained several central features. A strong nationalist tilt, scapegoating of an other, suppression of the media, protection of corporate power and military supremacy are all examples. These features could converge with the realities of climate change and form a new ideology — eco-fascism.
Leaders who blame minority groups for the problems of the majority, and who are perceived as “strong,” are often able to gain power in turbulent times. They exploit real fears of citizens, preying on the failures of the past and the dangers of the present in their pursuit of power.
The rise of Trump and other nationalistic leaders across Europe, Asia and South America signals that voters are already desperate for an alternative to liberal hegemony. At the same time, the destabilizing effects of the climate crisis have begun to wreak havoc.
One of the most prevalent social impacts of climate change will be the mass migration of people. Even now, many in the global south are being forced to move to safer ground. In Honduras, a half-decade long drought has pushed many to leave the country in search of food and water, with the U.S. being a popular destination. Instead of welcoming the refugees, the U.S. border patrol lobbed tear gas at them.
President Trump’s xenophobic anti-immigration policies could be a preview of the U.S.’s response to mass migration. Restricting immigration is for him a means to return to the white supremacist myth of a homogenous U.S. This is an ideology fixated on an imagined past and one that refuses to consider the future of our planet.
Through his actions, Trump normalizes fascist behavior in the realm of politics and makes it palatable to the public. Though Trump’s fascism-lite is focused on the past, the explicit connection between saving resources and expelling an other may become more pronounced. Accordingly, the durable implication of his presidency could be a foundation for eco-fascism.
Already, eco-fascism has crept its way into the radical fringes of the right. The manifestos of both the Christchurch and El Paso shooters mention the threat that climate change will pose to future generations. The El Paso shooter’s read “there is no nationalism without environmentalism” and described immigration as “environmental warfare.”
While these proto-eco-fascists are far from the halls of power, their ideology could be further embraced by a post-Trump right wing. It will soon become impossible for any elected official to deny the effects of anthropogenic climate change, and they will be forced to respond to rather than deny it. Considering the racial overtones and fearmongering that define Trump’s Republican Party, a backslide into fascism seems likely.
Though denialism on the right has been dominant for decades, it must not lull us to sleep. The U.S. must be ready to combat eco-fascism in whatever form it takes. A fascist response to climate change will heighten militarization, endanger minorities, threaten democracy and turn its back on the global south.
As the world heats up, so will political pressure to respond effectively. Trump’s white nationalism and strong-man leadership style are precursors to what comes next. The U.S. must focus on electing candidates who recognize the realities of the climate crisis and who offer unifying, progressive solutions.