France’s National Rally Drawing on Environmentalism’s Racist History

By Melyssa Clark

The far-right, traditionally, has been characterized as climate denialists; however, there has been a shift amongst some far-right parties to adapt their messaging on climate change as a means to appeal to a broader range of voters, who are concerned by and feel the effects of climate change. Attempts to address environmental policy within the far-right’s political platform has been met with criticism, namely for being nationalist and ineffective. The approach that has been taken by the far-right to the environment is not novel and can be seen as a re-emergence of previous and was already widely accepted solutions posed to environmental concerns.

In how it is understood today, the field of environmentalism has been considered to be left leaning with international efforts that focus on cooperative solutions. However, the earlier developments on solutions to environmental issues were perceived had to have strong racist underpinnings.

Scholars such as Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich were two influential figures in the environmental space both of whom framed impacts on the environment as stemming from the overpopulation occurring in the global south. Solutions to the perceived issues of overpopulation was framed as a call for depopulation and was an idea that was widely embraced by prominent environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club. This approach overlooked the impact of consumption and how developed countries have a greater contribution to environmental degradation than those with larger populations and that populations within the global south will be impacted the most by climate change. Consequently, the ideas promoted by Ehrlich were used to promote anti-immigration agendas.

The re-emergence of these racist and anti-immigrant responses to address environmental concerns can be illustrated through France’s far-right party’s, the National Rally, inclusion of environmental policy in their platform. This shift most notably occurs between the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen.

As previously discussed, Jean-Marie Le Pen falls into the traditional category of far-right leaders’ response to the environmental politics, which consists of denying the human contributions to climate change. Even with his dismissiveness towards climate change, Le Pen echoed Ehrlich’s concern to overpopulation and stated that Ebola could serve as a solution to the population explosion and Europe’s immigration problem.

When Marine Le Pen took over as President for the National Rally in 2011, she sought to broaden the scope of the party in order to attract more voters. This included the development of an environmental policy called the ‘New Ecology’. The push for including environmental policies into the National Rally’s platform became important most notably of which was in the most recent 2022 national French elections. Both Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron fought to attract Jean-Luc Melenchon’s environmentally conscious voters in the second round of elections.

Although Le Pen has incorporated the environment into the National Rally’s platform, it has been met with a wide variety of criticism for being nationalistic and a form of greenwashing. Additionally, Le Pen has also tied the environment to anti-immigration rhetoric in stating that migrants “do not care about the environment [because they] have no homeland”.

In turn, the far-right’s approach to environmental policy has gone beyond being simply denialist and has rather drawn from previous widespread and racist interpretations of environmental solutions. This can be exemplified through France’s National Rally’s nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant solutions to environmental problems. However, these approaches to the environment are concerning as they can lead to larger implications than just ineffective policy. Ehrlic’s framing of overpopulation as being an environmental issue is still fairly recent and the recirculation of these ideas into public discourse can lead to racist environmental policies being considered as an acceptable solution.

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