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The first time I heard of the European Common Agrarian Policy (CAP) I was around ten years old. That–you may think—is probably too tender an age to get into the weeds of one of the most technical policy areas in the European Union. And you would be right. As part of a school trip, we went to the countryside and met a farmer. He perfectly fit the romanticized idea that I had of a farmer. In my recollection, he is older, he is bald, he is kind. And he complains about the CAP.

In some respects, not much has changed in the decades since I met the farmer. The European population that tends to the land is aging and the CAP continues to be deeply contested (it is also a European policy that for myriad reasons also has profound implications for the Global South, for example through its impact on trade or subsidies that have put pressure on food prices worldwide, leading to detrimental effects on African farming economies.). But as the climate crisis is finally getting the attention (if not the action) it deserves, the imbrications of climate and agricultural policy have brought farmers to the streets. Many farmers are squeezed and aging, and their ability to make a living continues to decrease as demands for change and adaptation (necessary change to address the climate crisis) continue to rise. 

As we start to glean the first signs of spring, I think it would be fair to say that in Europe this has been the winter of farmers’ protests and environmental rollbacks. Grievances that have festered for decades in a system that is deeply unfair are coming out through a wound that climate policy related to agricultural practice has cut open. The farmers’ protests have taken place across the world (not just in Europe and notoriously in India) and have been motivated by varied reasons: while some farmers protested against the ban on combustion engine cars, many focused on increasing costs of production and decreasing prices for their produce, environmental regulations that are perceived as overbearing, red tape, or Ukrainian products allowed into the EU. In the European Union, political reactions to the protests have brought about further ruptures to the previous “green consensus” among political leaders from the left to center right.  

Prudence should teach us to not be quick to impose a narrative on a complex and rapidly evolving phenomena. The farmers’ protests are highly heterogeneous and have historical antecedents. And yet, while the protests are not necessarily rooted in a single ideology or cause, the far-right attempts to seize them teach us that while climate policy is not at the core of far-right ideology, it might become trivotal (a composite term combining the words “trivial” and “pivotal” that was developed by scholar Niels Spierings to apply to the far-right’s gender politics). It is trivial insofar as it is not at the center of the authoritarian populist project, but it can be pivotal as it is instrumentalized to center, emphasize, and push far-right ideology. Climate policies can become a convenient wedge to exploit and tether to core aspects of the authoritarian populist cosmology, shapeshifting as needed to advance nativist and exclusionary ideas. While polarization around climate change action – the so-called green wedge – may exist to some degree organically,  it can also be nurtured by the far right, which benefits most from division and uncertainty within the larger population. Stoking divisions, after all, is a key tactic of the authoritarian populist.

The Convenience of a Green Wedge

As the climate crisis becomes more and more dire, the far right has tried–with varying degrees of success—to foster and capitalize on climate change-related frictions (when it hasn’t fabricated those tensions). Their climate narratives and policy proposals, as trivotal to their core ideology, are fluid and often inconsistent, and this flexibility affords them the possibility of deepening divides that can be utilized to the far right’s advantage. 

According to Politico, a “survey of national debates taking place in the EU and the U.K., hard-right and center-right politicians are seeking to drive wedges between voters and the champions of green policy—fueling and feeding on a sense of grievance. They argue that climate zealotry has gone too far, too fast, that the costs are too great, or, in rarer cases, that climate change is a fantasy.” Targeted regulations can become fodder to bolster a green wedge. The proposal to curb chemical pesticide use in half by the end of the decade, for example, became, in the words of EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a symbol of polarization

In some instances, climate policy clashes with the economic interests or traditional way of living and working of a community (fairly or not), whether in the short or long-term. Recently, farmers have  been framed either as “a privileged minority, an interest group whose discontent is derailing climate change politics and contributing, deliberately or not, to the rise of hard-right political parties” or as noble people, the suffering representatives of a precious and time-honored way of life.

Binary and simplistic framings are used by the far right to “side” with the affected community which it is claiming to represent. Far-right leaders did so in the Netherlands with the controversy around nitrogen emissions, in Southern Spain in relation to illegal water use, and repeatedly in France and Germany–so long as the communities are “the right kind of nationals.” Indeed, while authoritarian populists now strategically align themselves with beleaguered farmers, those who remain conspicuously absent from the discourse are the thousands of migrant workers that serve in the fruit and vegetable sector, of whom Europe is highly dependent. 

La Intersección, a Spanish research and digital strategy organization for social movements,  conducted a study of the online conversation about the farmers’ protests in Spain and found that the most influential conversations stem from far-right accounts, with 64% of online discourse stemming from Vox (the Spanish far-right party) or espousing far-right ideology. La Intersección concluded that the far right deployed its “guerrilla-style media infrastructure” generating vast amounts of content, producing interviews with farmers that feed to an anti-government narrative, spreading fake farmer testimonies, and highlighting what the far right presents as inconsistencies in sustainable practices. According to La Intersección’s research, the strategy is clearly one of creating a shared enemy and fostering division. 

In a perverted twist of history, climate policy is allowing authoritarian populists to position themselves as on the side of one group of  economically disadvantaged people (farmers, but not all farmworkers), as well as to double down on other cleavages, be it the elites versus the people or urban versus rural. As recent debates on climate and agricultural policies show us, polarization is not simply a “state” of things, but rather a very useful strategy at the service of authoritarian populists’ purposes. The green wedge is then tied to other issues–migration, human rights, etc–ultimately, to serve an exclusionary nativist project. 

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán came out in support of the farmers as a defender of the voice of the people

A Diverse Menu of Possibilities: The Far Right’s Climate Positions 

The authoritarian populist’s migration playbook is replicated—practically word for word—across far-right movements, parties, and subcultures. Based on stoking fears and promoting supremacist ideas, regardless of where you look, the pattern is fixed and the same. The far right’s climate politics, in contrast, is like ice-cream, as it comes in a multitude of flavors. In the USA, many still like the old-time favorite of climate change denialism (although amongst citizens most believe in climate change). Yet while many American anti-environmentalist stay vanilla, across Europe far-right climate discourse has latched on to other tropes and ideas, experimenting with innovative flavors that would make Ben & Jerry’s jealous. As scholars Yazar and Haarstad have found, populist far-right discursive-institutional tactics in European regional decarbonization vary widely. 

Climate Change Action As a Woke or Elite Plot

The spectrum of discursive and institutional opposition to climate policy is wide. One of the preferred narratives is to present environmentalism and climate change action as both a threat to national sovereignty and as so-called “woke ideology” and/or a pretext for out-of-touch and profit-seeking elites. “Woke” has become a term employed as a blanket statement to disregard any policy disliked by the far right (or anyone in the cottage industry created around bashing progressives), so it’s no surprise that it has been deployed against climate policies as well. The far-right Spanish Vox party often uses the expression of fanatismo climatico (climate fanaticism) in this vein while proposing an energy autarchy against the “authoritarian dictates” of the climate religion (that is, energy sovereignty and relying solely on what is produced within one’s own borders). The Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany is one of the few climate denier parties in Europe. It has been called the government’s China strategy [Germany’s foreign policy towards China], an attempt to implement “green-woke” ideology and US political interests. In the USA, some Republicans are also using a similar strategy, having coined the expression “woke capital” to attack the environmental, social, and governance risk indicators (which, unfortunately, we have just learnt extractive corporations have succeeded in shaping to their convenience). 


Parties like the Swedish Democrats, and others, show climate skepticism across different categories of arguments that may even contradict each other. They’ve used the tactics of questioning theevidence of whether human-caused climate change is real, sowing doubt over the scientific or policy process, or advanced response skepticism (“response skepticism refers to doubts about whether proposed measures will indeed be effective in limiting climate change and/or whether recommended behavioral responses are sufficiently significant to produce meaningful change.”) However, the emphasis of groups that challenge climate change has mostly shifted from focusing on challenging climate change and the science to focusing on delay discourses. 

Economy vs. Climate 

In light of the farmers’ protests, we have seen how one of the most prominent strategies has been to frame climate policies as a danger to the nation’s economic strength. As Kevin Cunningham, a political scientist at the European Council on Foreign Relations stated, while climate “may not be the number one issue [for the far right], it is surprisingly effective at crystalizing resentment over economic problems.” A 2019 study mapping climate agendas of right-wing populist parties in Europe found that “the most common arguments expressed by right-wing populist parties argue national mitigation policies present an unbearable burden on national industry and higher energy prices would harm businesses and consumers.”

Far-right authoritarian populist will often frame climate as detrimental to the economy and socially unjust. This has tied nicely into the strategy of the Slovenian People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, who over the years have portrayed themselves as the protectors of social insurance and safety for vulnerable groups affected by decarbonization. 

Conspirituality, Wellness, and Climate Change

Authoritarian populist ideology is not just advanced by parties and political leaders, but also present in movements and subcultures (who often prop those leaders or are a gateway into extremist ideology). Beyond the political leadership, we see how the intersection between climate change and far right ideology has also found fertile ground within more niche ecosystems. 

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue has done an impressive amount of research on conspirituality and climate. In their research, they unpack how Wellness and New Age influencers post outright misinformation or denial about climate change, with arguments diverse and sometimes contradictory, ranging from presenting climate change as a pretext to eradicate traditional culture, a pretext to make people unhealthy (by, for example, depriving them of the “necessary” nutrients from meat in a way that will favor the interests of big pharma), or as activist and influencer Eva Vlaardingerbroek peddles, promoting the idea that agricultural policy is an excuse to take farmer’s land and to house new immigrants. 

But not all far right activists and leaders are climate denialists. 

Green Patriotism or Far-right Ecologism

Scholars Lubarda and Forchtner studied the far right’s ideological inclination to protect the natural environment, which they conceptualized as far-right ecologism. Far-right ecologism is exclusionary and purports that cultures, including human beings and “natures” are rooted in particular, bounded territories. Where the far right is accepting of human-induced climate change, its leaders claim to stand for the nation and oppose its enemies: the cosmopolitan elites, globalists, leftists, or fake greens. In Europe, in their view, the beneficiaries of climate action should be the ethnic or racial community tied to the territory in need of protection which is equated with white and mostly Christian population. Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader, “refurbished Nazi-era blood-and-soil rhetoric in a pledge to make Europe the “world’s first ecological civilization,” drawing a distinction between the “ecologist” social groups who are “rooted in their home” and the “nomadic” people who “have no homeland” and “do not care about the environment.” 

This kind of exclusionary environmentalism in Europe has been adopted by some members of the Austrian Freedom Party or the Greek Golden Dawn. In line with its arguments, environmentalism is a rallying point around which national identity and the exclusion of non-whites can be mobilized. Nonetheless, some groups (such as the Czech Republican Party and the Freedom and Democracy party) will alternate between nativist environmentalism versus nativist anti-environmentalism, underscoring once more that nativism, not environmentalism, is at the core of the authoritarian populist project. Climate narratives will shapeshift and adapt to serve a purpose, with leaders being able to swing from nativist environmentalist to nativist anti-environmentalism comfortably. That being said, climate nationalism or “green patriotism” is still the exception. 


Ecofascism is a niche but potentially dangerous ideology rooted in white supremacyEcofascists accept climate change and claim to be environmentalists, but they link environmental degradation with overpopulation, immigration, and over industrialization. In the ecofascist imaginary, one can achieve racial salvation through a return to the land and authoritarian leaders and practices are to be welcome as the most effective way to achieve purity and the conservation of nature.

Ecofascist ideas can lead to violence. Two recent cases of domestic terrorism, the 2019 shooting in El Paso, USA, and in Christchurch, New Zealand, were perpetrated by men who claimed this ideology (it is worth noting, however, that ecofascism is not only found on the right). 

Anti-Environmentalist Corporate Intersectionality 

While the far right experiments with a diversity of arguments to be deployed as most convenient, corporate big players have long mastered an intersectional approach to sustain the inequality and harm that they profit from (findings on the tripling of profits of global agricultural commodity traders are chilling). As Amy Westervelt, an investigative climate journalist writes,  “the organizations and corporations that bear the lion's share of responsibility for the problem and all of the responsibility for thwarting action combine their obstruction of climate policy with their obstruction of every other kind of public good. The very same organizations fund and support the anti-union agenda, the general suppression of democracy, the anti-trans agenda, the war on women's rights, and the obstruction of climate action. They see these things as interconnected, because they are. In a weird way, dark money-funded rightwing orgs are a helluva lot more woke than most liberal foundations.”


In his recent paper “Why Democracies Survive Populism,” renowned scholar Kurt Weyland explores when populist succeed and when they fail at dismantling democracy. In his research, Weyland found that power concentration succeeds under two narrow conditions. First, there have to be special openings for autocratic impulses (be it institutional weaknesses that give those leaders room for maneuver or unusual circumstances that enable them to win overwhelming mass support). Second, “populist leaders can boost their plebiscitarian clout if they encounter and seize opportunities to supercharge their support. This, in turn, can be brought about in two ways: by handing out massive socioeconomic benefits in politically targeted ways, or by solving major crises.”

Weyland is comforted by how many have failed in the past, and he perceives it as unlikely that the conditions he lays out will be met. But as I read the paper, I wondered if he may be right that across Europe and North America authoritarian populists will not succeed at turning countries into full-on authoritarian states in the likes of 20th century fascist nations or Russia, China, or Iran. And yet, they may be able to convert them into competitive authoritarian regimes, similar to the Hungarian model. 

The climate crisis may be an opportunity that allows them to “supercharge their support,” as despite their differences, authoritarian populists seem to consistently point to climate action as socially unjust and highlight the differential impacts on struggling communities (albeit only when those communities ethnically align with their nativist purpose). 

Hence why it is essential to insist on climate justice, to avert climate polarization, and recognize how interrelated the plight to save our climate is to democracy, justice, and belonging. Climate activists on their own are unlikely to have the power to out-resource big corporations, who can pull their weight behind their interests and prop up far-right authoritarian populists to their convenience. But neither will those who work on migration or against racism or to build democracies closer to the ideal of what they can be. Ironically, authoritarian populists have been quick to realize the potency of locating climate at the intersection, whether it is of race, health and wellness, or democracy. 

Fortunately, we can find inspiration in people such as the anthropologist, engineer, writer and ecofeminist activist Yayo Herrero, who in her book Ausencias y Extravíos, reminds us that confronted with so much change and uncertainty, fear is natural. But fear can also be collectivized and confronted in an interdependent and relational manner. After all, the history of humanity is one of  finding collective solutions to collective challenges. 

In other news…

Why Don’t We Just Ban Fossil Fuels?

On March 10th, elections took place in Portugal. The elections resulted in a split parliament between the left, the right and the far right, with high levels of turnout. “Nearly one in 10 eligible voters backed the far-right party [Chega], which quadrupled the number of seats under its control.”

And for the soul…

Olivia Butler’s motivational notes to herself are a delight to read. 

The climate and culture magazine Atmos and all writing by Willow Defebaugh.

Connecting the Dots: Musings on Bridging and Belonging is a monthly column by Míriam Juan-Torres. In it, Míriam reflects on current events, connecting the trends and considering the specificities across countries, applying a bridging and belonging lens and translating concepts from academia for a wider audience. In Connecting the Dots, Míriam carefully curates readings and resources to further expand our understanding and shed light on the complexities of our time. Join our mailing list to stay up to date on the latest of the Democracy & Belonging Forum's curated analysis from Miriam and more.

Editor's note: The ideas expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Othering & Belonging Institute or UC Berkeley, but belong to the authors.