Ecobordering: The Far-Right Movement Painted as Environmental Protection.

This article is meant to be a companion piece to the rhetoric of first safe country. The recent rise arguments being pushed by the far-right in Europe, which Priti Patel recently parroted when revealing new and harsher immigration policies, is alarming. It is worth mentioning before getting further into the article that Priti Patel is the person who stated a desire to end the very concept of freedom of movement permanently.

A recent study by Joe Turner and Dan Bailey looked at the party manifestos and other publicised material produced by 22 far-right European political parties. Their study looked at the language used—otherwise called discourse analysis—in the material produced by these parties. They noticed a trend of shifting from climate denial towards one where they paint the environment as precious and under threat by immigrants, especially asylum seekers. This idea that borders must be protected to preserve the natural environment of a given nation has been dubbed ecobordering.

In this study, Turner and Bailey looked at the information disseminated by the 22 parties analyses from “May 2014 – September 2019“. They noticed that the language used had gone through a significant shift. They stopped becoming the parties of denying the reality of environmental degradation. They shifted to one which painted them as the true stewards of the land and the outsiders looking for a new home as the threat towards the environment. The far-right parties play upon traditional fears of migrants from southern nations as upsetting the apple cart and harming conventional values of their nations. They also play upon purely manufactured fears in that the migrant and asylum seekers are looking for a new home. Still, they are outsiders, which will require new homes and development, which will damage the ecosystem. Adding to this rhetoric, they paint the asylum seeker and immigrant as someone without any investment in maintaining the environment because they are from outside. They are not the descendants of the nation’s people, and therefore do not invest in preserving the environment natural environment. To simplify their argument, this is purely a new era of the “blood and soil” rhetoric which was part of the Nazi’s justification for the genocide of millions of Jewish people. The people who are vilified have simply changed faces and national origin.

Turner and Bailey—among many other studies and news articles—point out that the people being vilified are those fleeing from war, and climate change exacerbated disasters in the Global South. They also point out—again a part of a growing body of research—that those who these parties vilify bear the least responsibility for the global degradation of the natural environment. There is a strong undertone that these far-right parties are looking for a way to say that the current residents, descended from European bloodlines, should continue living life as usual and continue with environmental degradation. At the same time, those suffering in other countries threaten the peace and tranquillity of their respective nations.

Among the arguments that they use is one based upon a neo-Malthusian ideology. To simplify what this means, the character Thanos in the Avengers movie series is the embodiment of Malthusian logic; too many mouths to feed and too few resources will lead to destruction and famine. The migrant asylum seeker is a threat because they will cause shortages of the natural resources required to maintain basic land and food requirements needed to sustain life. This—as Turner and Bailey note—also parrots the rhetoric of Garrett Hardin, who wrote “The Tragedy of the Commons“, which discusses how resources are finite, and that overpopulation will eventually stress the systems of food and other resource production so thin that it will become a threat to all humans. Hardin was a well known white and ethnic-nationalist, and “The Tragedy of the Commons” is rife with his racist rhetoric. A personal note here, while studying the environment, most students read Hardin’s work. Still, the surprising part is that his abhorrent views are often left to the side. I was assigned this paper—probably the 5th time during my studies—along with the rest of my class. I was gobsmacked by how few of my classmates noticed the blatant racism in Hardin’s work. These were graduate students at an ancient university who missed this. Then during the lecture, we did not once mention the fact that the paper was full of racist overtones. The only students who noticed this were from Global South nations, possibly because they knew that Hardin was displaying his hatred for people from that part of the world.

These far-right parties are weaponising a combination of the fear of immigrants destroying culture and the environment. They have now embraced a pseudo-eco-friendly ideology to strengthen their argument and bring in those who value the environment but not multiculturalism.

The Frameworks Turner and Bailey Found in Their Research

Among the parties analysed in this report are the British National Party (BNP) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). They are embracing this new eco-fascist ideology with the same claims to value the environment. There has never been much ambiguity that the BNP and UKIP are behind harsh and strict immigration policies outlined in their party websites. UKIP’s website repeats the “first safe country” rhetoric while also painting foreigners as an economic threat and a threat to the population’s size and structure. The BNP flat out states, “At the core of British National Party policy is the belief that Immigration into Britain is a destructive agenda and must be stopped” in the first line. Nigel Farage, who has been at the receiving end of a few jokes for his Twitter video with him tucked into some trees and enjoying nature, has now partnered with Reform U.K. Party. While Reform U.K. does not address immigration on their website, Farage is not far removed from UKIP. It stands to reason that his ideologies are at the core of both parties. Priti Patel, a member of the majority Tory Party publicly stated on her Twitter account that she planned to develop a policy to permanently end the freedom of movement. In Patel’s most recent press release, which details the immigration plans, she does not explicitly state that the environment is at the core of the policy; she does state, “It is sheer fantasy to say that we can give a home to anyone who wants to come here. Currently, there are an estimated 80 million displaced people around the world”. While this does not claim to protect the environment, it does touch on the neo-Malthusian concepts that there’s not enough room for all of those seeking asylum. Patel has been under scrutiny for wearing a jacket labelled Home Secretary while attending immigration raids to detain “illegal” asylum seekers. Patel seems to have created some insulation from these far-right parties by avoiding some language. Still, it is clear what the intentions of the Tory government are, harsh immigration policies that deny the rights of those seeking asylum.

Nigel Farage’s Love of Nature
Patel’s End Freedom of Movement Tweet
Patel on a Raid

Right now, there is a turning point where the Tories and the far-right parties are repeating several big lies. They are using the idea that asylum seekers are shopping for the “best” country. They use to repeat the lie that asylum seekers should remain in the first safe country. The next part of the lie is the artificial arguments that immigration is a threat to the people of any country in which people are seeking asylum. The way to get these lies to become fact in the minds of the voting population is to repeat them enough times from their positions of power through press conferences where they can decline to answer questions, press releases which only present the argument they want you to hear or social media where they can dump a comment and let the users of the platform argue the merits of the statement.

Now, back to the concept of ecobordering. Turner and Bailey rightly point out that 

  • “The depiction of border securitisation as forms of environmental protection emerges at a time when immigration is rising because of climate change. The injustice of this de facto attempt to rationalise ‘climate apartheid’ is only compounded by the systematic exploitation of the Global South’s natural resources and labour in the global economy which has primarily benefitted Global North populations and brought the planet to the point of ecological collapse.”

The concentrated efforts by the far-right parties and the Tories are made with the full awareness that as the global environment continues to degrade, migration will continue to grow. The most significant importance here is that these migrants are not a threat beyond being extremely vulnerable to threats levelled against them. They are fleeing a range of issues which I have discussed in other articles on human rights and the environment. At the core of reality, they are a collection of people who are among the new generation of refugees: climate refugees. As a global community, with the singular shared characteristic of being human beings of equal worth and value, we must find it within ourselves to say that those fleeing environmental degradation need our protection and a legal classification as climate refugees so they can claim asylum rights in line with those fleeing wars and political persecution. Now is the time to act and demand that our governments act with humanitarianism at their core. The people of Glasgow embodied the best of these ideals recently and showed the very few positive examples of NIMBYism (not in my back yard) when they sent the government home because asylum seekers are their friends and neighbours, not people to be treated as less and left under dear of the next time someone thinks that they can steal them away in a dawn raid.


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