Dutton’s petrostate and the global far right

Jun 15, 2024
Drop of oil. Image: iStock/angel_nt

It is very difficult to predict the future fortunes of the global populist nativism that has been threatening democratic projects around the world. Far-right parties continued to gain ground in the European Parliament elections. Trump is overtly embracing the authoritarian themes set out in the Project 2025 roadmap, while his Republican allies pursue extreme policy outcomes. Whether voters notice or care remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Peter Dutton’s recent posturing exposes his deep transnational connection with that movement.

Peter Dutton’s energy declaration makes clear that Australia is a petrostate and that the fossil fuel sector operates the Coalition as its political arm. While Labor is making progress on decarbonising, Dutton’s declaration on targets and nuclear energy are both policies made by the fossil fuel sector.

Nuclear energy in Australia is a delaying tactic: slow and costly. Reneging on climate targets sets us away from the empirical-world trajectory and firmly in the alliance of authoritarian petrostates. Even such talk will drive away international renewable projects, pleasing the fossil fuel sector. Further strain on our energy grid will drive demand for more gas. The continued high cost of energy (created by the devil’s bargain where Australia’s east coast pays international prices for our own resource) and strain on energy supply will continue to be speciously blamed on “renewables.”

The fact that this boom in gas consumption comes with minimal benefit, and great cost, for Australians matters not to the fossil fuel sector that governs our fate. If it did, they’d pay tax or allow a true resources rent tax as a tiny percent of their massive profits. They were resentful recently at being called leeches: that is fair. Leeches are too small to convey the parasitical nature of the industry. 

Dutton’s advisors are drawing on the two strains of tension in the move towards the illiberal right globally: the cost of living crisis, which the right deploys as a weapon on climate action, sometimes called greenlash, and the resentment at immigrants.

In India, Modi’s fascistic politicking demonising Muslims in code worked less well, likely countered by dire inequality demoralising those outside the flourishing cities. His Hindutva bigotry with the refrain that Muslims are “infiltrators,” outbreeding the Hindu population, is dangerous.

The outcome of the European election is unnerving. There are now roughly 160 “extreme right” MEPs. This makes them the second largest bloc in the parliament if they are able to forge a cooperative arrangement. The European far right is interconnected with fossil fuel; it places climate science and action in the loathed category of “socialism” and “woke” that must be defeated for “sovereignty.”

The right in Europe is most strongly driven by anti-immigrant sentiment, although this is compounded by cost of living pressures, making the region ripe for “greenlash.” Similar motives are steering America, where rightwing politics is even more overtly powered by the fossil fuel dollar. Australians must watch the trajectory and strategies at work.

Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is openly extreme, and AfD has, for now, been expelled by their far-right European partners. AfD met with neo-Nazis to discuss deportation plans. It has courted scandal by its connections with Russia and China. A further furore erupted over a candidate’s call to reclaim pride in Nazi-era military. It is primarily an “aggressive opponent” of the government on climate and energy.

AfD polled strongly in the former East Germany, making it the second strongest party in Germany, and is predicted to poll well in forthcoming German state elections in that region. One commentator declared that the party “mirrored people’s emotional reality” and thus the shambolic campaign was largely irrelevant. Indeed a good TikTok game helped the AfD to poll well amongst the under-30s.

Italy’s Giorgia Meloni has shown a dangerous path. As a woman, her persona softens the cruelty of her messaging. Her own civic success tempers her call for “traditional” feminine worth; from a male Prime Minister it would blare misogyny. She did not rush towards banning abortion or criminalising homosexuality. Her first step was to remove lesbian mothers from birth certificates. If the birth-parent dies, her children are technically orphaned. The other mother’s parenting rights are dead alongside her beloved. Ultra-reactionary goals are concealed by this slow trajectory. Our fractured attention spans cannot encompass the incremental arithmetic of “This act plus that act equals something frightening.”

Meloni speaks of her pride in being a woman, not as a wholesome message but as code to declare that LGBTQIA+ people are a threat. She poses as though motherhood was endangered globally by Queerness, even though the only Western step taken has been to allow a loosening of language available, like offering “mother” and “birth parent” both.

France’s Marine Le Pen will have another shot at winning power after Macron’s election declaration. In recent years, she has gained substantial sway over the women’s vote by coding her ethnonationalist struggle for France in the language of French values. Equality and liberty are only available to women, in her narrative, in a nation free from a threat defined as “Muslim men.” Softening her stance on other bigotries such as that against LGBTQIA+ rights has helped Le Pen look more mainstream for now.

Meanwhile genuinely centre-right parties in Europe continue to find common ground with the far-right. The leader of the French conservative party, the Republicans, announced he would like an alliance with Le Pen. He declared, “We say the same things so let’s stop making up imagined opposition.” The Netherlands has just established its furthest right government, with liberals and conservatives entering a 4-party coalition government with extremist Geert Wilders.

In America, the right continues to pursue the most extremist steps. Around the nation, reproductive rights continue to be under attack with the Supreme Court’s men enthusiastically debating quite how close to death the pregnant have to be to deserve emergency treatment. Contraception, women’s access to divorce or even to vote are on the table.

Meanwhile LGBTQIA+ Americans watch Pride Month once again met with Neo Nazi violence. At the same time, the Republican establishment has promised the rolling back of their rights. Marriage equality will have been a short-lived triumph if Trump wins in November.

Trump is also promising to deport up to 11 million non-White people with limited process. 

He is characterising immigrants as “vermin” who are “poisoning the blood of our nation” in echo of Nazi rhetoric. He is outright declaring his fascistic goals of vengeance on his political enemies.

The theocratic Project 2025 that is likely to be implemented with a Trump victory is written by a coalition of Trump’s allies brought together by a fossil fuel-funded junktank and driven by fossil fuel money. Indeed the fossil fuel sector is crafting executive orders to be handed to Trump for his first day in office in case other fascistic projects distract him.

And yet the election appears to hang in the balance.

Dutton has given up dogwhistles for bullhorns on the subject of immigration. His announcement of a fossil fuel-crafted energy policy is equally consonant with the global right.

The danger for the rest of us is that this forges a feedback loop. The right, fossil fuel-funded and connected, will increase the impact of the climate crisis. That rolling catastrophe provokes price pain and more displacement, which meat the right can feed upon.

The fact-based world needs to work out how we prevent the apocalypse the right is creating.

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