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

Jan 27, 2018

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.


[2] [email protected]





[7] ;


Dr Andrew Glikson, Planetary Science Institute ANU.

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