ANDREW GLIKSON. An Orwellian climate: the rise of dangerous ideologies in a heating world.

It is impossible to say anything good about “Ingsoc”— George Orwell’s brutal and inhumane 1984 dystopia, mimicking Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes, with only one proviso:  Bar blowing atomic bombs in distant wars, no mention is made in the book of a systematic devastation of the planetary environment—something modern global civilization is in the process of wilfully committing through large-scale carbon emission and hair-trigger nuclear fleets. The parallel rise of extreme ideologies around the world, denying the existential threat to nature and habitats, is closely relevant.

None of the current social systems – capitalism, liberalism, democracy, socialism, communism or fascism – has avoided dangerous pollution, nor did any develop a strategy to tackle environmental crisis. Much as the Nazis served the interests of industrial lobbies and the armament industry, so do present ultra-nationalist movements support the anti-environment policies of the fossil fuel lobby. In perspective, should any historians be left to write the annals of the 20th and 21st centuries, they could only say that, as the globe was heating out of control, Homo “sapiens” allowed dark forces to rise and control its behaviour, investing $ trillions in armaments and genocidal wars, instead of acting cooperatively to ward off the worst consequences for civilization and nature.

There is no lack of evidence for a nexus between the extreme right and climate change denial: One Nation, the right wing of the “liberal” party, the Republican party,  several “think tanks” in the US and Australia  (the IPA), nationalistic parties in Europe.  While the majority of Democrat and Labor voters accept the reality of climate change, many conservative voters do not[1].  Emboldened by the triumph of climate denial in Washington, the Australian coalition’s “solution” and that of much of the media is to avoid mentioning the words “climate change” most of the time.

Why do ultra-conservative people and parties deny the overwhelming threat of climate disruption, given their own children and grandchildren are at risk? In a paper “Right wing populism and climate change: Exploring the linkages[2] M. Lockwood discusses the rise in right wing populism across Europe and Anglophone countries, posing a major challenge for climate policy. These parties are almost always hostile to environmental movements, resorting to conspiracy theories.  One of the factors is the apparent tendency for populist leaders in resource-rich countries to form close relationships and draw on the support of the fossil fuel industries. Another approach focuses on the ideological bent of right wing nationalist populism opposed to cosmopolitan elites, regarding scientists and even science itself as part of the latter.

It appears the fundamental mind-set of some conservatives is not open to the logic of science. While reason is supposed to be inherent in liberal democracy, public opinion is to a large extent shaped by media mouthpieces of vested interests. The teaching of science is undermined by 24/7 exposure, particularly of the young, to Fourth Estate commercial channels. These megaphones, dominated by hard sale of soap, cars, enticing lies and political fabrications, are creating a post-truth[3] generation subject to Newspeak[4]-like propaganda. An example is the common cover-up of the connection between anthropogenic carbon emissions[5] and the intensification of extreme weather events.

A historical perspective of the rise of nationalistic movements and violent extremism manifested by repeated wars indicates a cyclic pattern where, once a new generation forgets the lesson of the previous war, a psychological environment develops promoting ultra-nationalism, hate and persecution of racial and ethnic minorities. Conflicts are encouraged by the military-industrial complex, as warned by Dwight Eisenhower[6]. These hallmarks are manifest, including neo-Nazi expressions[7].  As an echo of 1933, rarely do conservative governments limit the growth ultra-right nationalists [8].

For a medieval war-like mind trained to fight human ‘enemies’, a resistance to human-induced calamity such as global heating is hardly familiar. None of the current and past ideologies – capitalism, liberalism, socialism, communism, plutocracy or fascism – have avoided dangerous pollution.  Likely it is the nature of individuals and cliques which rise to power which is critical, but even supposedly ethical individuals appear to compromise. On current trends the world would reach +4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures before the powers-to-be would agree something meaningful needs to be done, at which stage it will be too late.







[7] ;


Dr Andrew Glikson, Planetary Science Institute ANU.


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4 Responses to ANDREW GLIKSON. An Orwellian climate: the rise of dangerous ideologies in a heating world.

  1. Greg Bailey says:

    Andrew’s essay perfectly summarizes the virtually insurmountable problems for those of us who are deeply concerned about the intensifying effects of anthropogenic Climate Change, and the success of groups of ultraconservative populists and elite politicians who are resisting mitigation efforts against it.

    It must be noted that amongst the majority of voters who do accept the science there is a reluctance to take any action to force political leaders to acknowledge the severity of Climate Change and frame policies for the future in relation to it. Amongst the problems leading to this apathetic attitude is the difficulty to think a decade or two into the future. Whilst short-termism has been much focused on in the behaviour contemporary politicians, it is also characteristic of the attitudes of many voters. A second source of resistance is the apparent difficulty for many people of dealing with the abstract nature (even where the empirical evidence is becoming increasingly obvious) of Climate Change. A conceptual system of such massive ramifications is simply too difficult to understand and extreme individual weather events can be explained away as one off events, as the popular media delights in doing. A third point of resistance is the fatalism of so many Australians–and no doubt people of other countries–that what is destined to happen will happen, irrespective of what anyone does. The absence of a sense of intergenerational responsibility could also be brought up, but that is a subject for another day.

    Nor, unfortunately, is it surprising that extreme right authoritarian parties are on the rise, as they respond perfectly to these sources of resistance by first denying there is a problem, then simplifying explanations of socio-economic change and, finally, comforting the majority in removing any responsibility for them to do anything. The populist leaders have all the answers and create an impression of dramatic action, even where none will occur.

    I suppose we need not be entirely pessimistic if we can accept that China and India are beginning to move towards large scale renewable energy production, as well as some states in the USA continuing to do something positive. In addition, the large insurance companies will inevitably come on side because of the potential huge payouts they will have to pay due to climate related disasters. But, speaking for Australia alone, I do not see millions of voters writing to their local members asking for phasing out of coal and a corresponding massive expansion of renewable energy. This kind of grass roots protest–encouraged constantly by Get Up and the Greens–has simply not taken off. Perhaps, it will in the distant future, but that may be too late.

  2. Bob Mills says:

    Normally, when faced with the choice between attributing political calamity to a conspiracy or a stuff-up, history suggests we should go for the stuff-up every time. But there may be good reason to suppose this issue of climate change denial/fossil fuel patronage, is one of those exceptions meant to prove the rule.

    Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains” would seem to supply ample evidence that what we are witnessing is a result of a deliberate, long-term and very well-funded campaign.

  3. paul frijters says:

    Hi Andrew,

    it is an interesting question why nationalists so often deny climate change. It is somewhat counter-intuitive if think about it: if you care a lot about a territory you would think you would care a lot about its long-term future and not stick your hear in the sand about what is happening to it. In the case of Russia this of course means you would think climate change is a good thing on the whole, but not for other places. So those whose territories are likely to lose a lot from +2 degrees in 60 years time (eg Queensland) have a strong incentive to care about this, but they don’t.

    I had a look at some recent right-wing parties to see if your basic claim about nationalism and climate change is true. It is not 100% the case, but there is some overlap. Marine Le Pen is an exception because she is not a climate change activist. But the Dutch Geert Wilders fits your story. Perhaps most importantly and tellingly, the German nationalists (Alternative for Germany) fits your bill, and there is not much resource extraction going on in Germany. The AfD does not like renewables and says on its website: “Scientific research on the long-term development of the climate because of man-made CO2 emissions is fraught with uncertainty. On top of that, a global problem can be solved only by a coordinated initiative of all the big economic nations. For that reason, the AfD rejects all national and European unilateral action.”

    Now, I of course scare the skepticism about most forms of unilateral action as feeble symbolism, but I do not agree with the idea that there is all that much uncertainty or that nothing can be done.

    So your puzzle is there, and the case of Germany speaks against a simple fuel-lobby story. An anti-cosmopolitan story sounds a bit more plausible, because the cosmopolitan guilt-shouting is irritating to many and it is tempting to oppose everything they shout about. But still, one shouldn’t bite one’s nose to spite one’s face. There are other ways to oppose the guilt-shouting whilst still acknowledging the reality and impetus of climate change. Indeed, one can do so by being more scientific, not less, such as by joining the efforts of many grant agencies that seriously look at geo-engineering.

    So its not climate change itself, but rather an anti-science element to these nationalists, in reaction to how ‘science’ is portrayed to the less educated and poor. That suggests anti-intellectualism, which in turn must feed of some sense of being abandoned and ill-treated by the educated elites.

  4. Andrew Glikson says:

    I appreciate these comments.

    In a purely reductionist sense, given that extreme right-wing parties have/continue to promote (1) anti-intellectual and anti-science attitudes; (2) racial discrimination; (3) ultra-nationalism and chauvinism; (4) militant aggression, conflict and war, these movements are constitute the opposite of the enlightenment*

    *The European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning reason, nature, and humanity were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent in the West and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.

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