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Climate and Democracy in the Eye of the Storm

ColumnSeptember 29, 2022
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

The hurricane season and the election season have converged in the United States. The prospect of catastrophic, irreversible climate change and the potential demise of democracy are both very real. The fate of these essential pillars of our society hinge largely on what we all do in the coming weeks and months.

The climate catastrophe enveloping the planet requires a truly global solution – one that a majority of the world’s population is eager to achieve. But the will of the masses means less and less these days, as more governments fall under control of autocrats. Nationalists, racists, xenophobes and ideologues are gaining power in country after country.

Italy is an important case in point. Just this week, a formerly fringe neofascist political party obtained a plurality in national elections. Giorgia Meloni is expected be Italy’s first far rightwing Prime Minister since Benito Mussolini was driven from power in 1943. “She really sees her party as carrying the heritage of fascism into today,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “Ignazio La Russa, who’s a party elder…said a few days ago, ‘We are all heirs of the Duce [Mussolini].’”

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party joins an increasingly powerful far-right movement in Europe that includes Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party; Spains Vox party; France’s National Rally led by Marine Le Pen; and the Sweden Democrats, with roots in that country’s neo-nazi movement, now poised to lead a new rightwing coalition government there. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Hungary is the European rightwing’s model strongman, suppressing the press and free speech, openly advocating racist, anti-immigrant policies, and criticizing European integration and the European Union.

Orbán, Meloni and other European rightwing leaders are being embraced by the Republican Party in the U.S. and its would-be strongman Donald Trump. The U.S. Republican Party has been effectively purged of any Trump critics, and is rapidly organizing in states across the U.S. to simply reject election results they don’t like. Rather than storming the Capitol, as thousands of Trump’s supporters did on January 6th, 2021, the GOP now has a plan to quietly seize power by suppressing the vote and declaring victory regardless of the outcome in November, 2024. Corrupt, gerrymandered state legislatures and Trump-aligned governors and secretaries of state have already put this plan into motion as they seek to consolidate more power in the 2022 midterm elections just over one month away.

Trump has repeatedly labeled climate change a hoax. His European adherents aren’t so blatant, but generally support expanded burning of fossil fuels, increased reliance on nuclear power, and a rejection of the United Nations climate negotiations.

Those negotiations are dubbed “COPs,” for “Conference of Parties” to the Kyoto Protocol. This year’s conference in November, COP27, will be in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, where a broad coalition has appealed to the military dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to allow participation of civic and environmental groups, and for the release of Egypt’s many political prisoners.

The UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, often relies on dictatorships. Past hosts have included Qatar and Morocco, where genuine protest is effectively banned. Next year’s COP will be in oil-rich Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Let’s not let the COPs be run by cops.

“Part of the job for climate campaigners is to work for functioning democratic states, where people’s demands for a working future will be prioritized over vested interest, ideology and personal fiefdoms,” climate activist Bill McKibben wrote last April, reflecting on climate activism in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In nations where protest is somewhat tolerated, like the United States, the stakes are high and time is short. NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus understands this. He was arrested last April while protesting JP Morgan Chase’s continued investments in fossil fuel projects.

“I keep yelling at the top of my lungs. I’m risking arrest. I’ve been forced to become a climate activist,” Kalmus said on Democracy Now! “I’m terrified of the inaction of world leaders, who keep dancing around the real issue which is we have to rapidly ramp down the fossil fuel industry…it’s a bittersweet thing. We’re finding exoplanets. We’re doing these amazing missions like redirecting asteroids, and yet with all that technology, with all that knowledge, somehow it’s not translating into stopping what is clearly the biggest threat facing humanity, which is global heating.”

Hurricanes and drought are now displacing millions, driving climate migration that increases anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the U.S. This further empowers racist xenophobes like Trump and Meloni.

Climate and democracy are under enormous threat. Our ability to weather this storm depends on concerted action by the global majority who care, against increasingly difficult odds.

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