One of the ugliest pathologies in global politics at the moment is the bizarre connection between climate denialism and right-wing authoritarianism. With some exceptions, authoritarian politicians are the ones most prone to spinning conspiracy theories and lies about climate change while resisting the transition to a green energy future.
This is why Jair Bolsonaro’s stunning defeat in Brazil’s presidential race is a major global event. It should afford us a moment of hopefulness that, under the circumstances, might seem a touch naive or even daring.
It’s been widely observed that leftist Luiz Incio Lula da Silva’s razor-thin victory is good news for the battle against climate change. Lula has vowed to preserve the Amazon and reverse Bolsonaro’s deforestation policies, which could dramatically influence how much planet-warming carbon dioxide the world’s largest rainforest stores — or releases into the atmosphere.
But this moment should be seen in a larger context. It’s only the latest sign that democracies are mobilising to beat back that virulent and destructive international nexus of right-wing authoritarianism and climate denialism.
Bolsonaro’s defeat comes after two other major global events. This year the US Congress passed a historically large response to climate change. Democrats overcame lockstep opposition from the Republican Party, which is riddled with denial of the long-term threat that climate change poses to human civilisation.
These developments — Lula hopefully reorienting the Amazon’s trajectory and the United States passing a massive response on climate can be seen as part of one story. Jesse Jenkins, a climate and energy expert at Princeton University, says that taken together, their influence on our energy future could prove “really huge.”
“You’ve got the two largest, wealthiest blocs in the world — the US and Europe — doubling down on the clean-energy transition,” Jenkins told us.
As president of Brazil, Bolsonaro appointed as foreign minister a climate denier who dismissed global warming concerns as a plot by “cultural Marxists”. Bolsonaro dismissed data from his own government’s agencies on deforestation. And in
Inflation Reduction Act
In the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act will likely put us much closer to the goal of cutting global-warming emissions in half from their 2005 levels by 2030. As Robinson Meyer details in the Atlantic, the new law could transform our economy by spending big to fuel the growth of green-energy industries, turning them into the manufacturing of the future.
That last point is important. The clean-energy transition will require showing Western electorates that this shift doesn’t necessarily require zero-sum economic sacrifice and that it contains the seeds of long-term economic opportunity.
This is essential to defining the battle as one that is winnable. Right-wing politicians like to tout “economic development based on fossil extraction and deforestation” that promises a “very short-term” political hit, Jenkins says.
Arrayed against that argument are democratic actors pushing in the other direction, Jenkins notes, with a “strategy that we know will take investments up front” but will pay off as “tangible evidence of economic opportunity” becomes visible in the green transition.
That could make the transition look more viable, not just economically but also politically. We’re seeing this now, as this transition begins to command the support of majorities.
In this sense, there are glimmers of hope in all these developments. As business writer James Murray observes in a Twitter thread, “There is a (heavily caveated) positive story to tell.”
Lula won a bare majority while promising a new direction for the Amazon that rejects right-wing short-termism. That matters.
Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog. Paul Waldman is an opinion writer for the Plum Line blog.