All in all, it is quite amazing. On the one hand, a looming climate crisis, floods, drought, and the warmest year ever since measurements exist. No one can deny the hard facts and scientific findings. On the other hand, the predicament in which more and more environmental activists around the world find themselves, victims of intimidation and police brutality, accused of 'terrorism'! Advocating for the truth, for necessary social changes, is becoming extremely risky.

It goes without saying that ecological solutions have economic consequences. They touch the interests of citizens who want to keep their cars or do not have enough money to insulate their homes. But also the interests of farmers who want to use pesticides in order to enhance their return, of the chemical industry striving for profitable survival, of the aviation sector that does welcome growing demand, of the digital sector that is unaffected for the time being.

The environmental movement stands for so much more than a healthy environment. Inevitably, it requires simultaneous social compensation and a different economy that cares for people and nature. An environmental movement worthy of the name strives therefore for social change which is, by definition, a gigantic task. One thing is certain, the environmental movement has facts on its side, substantiated by science. The left, which has been trying to bring about change in its own way and with its own arguments for more than a century, knows that 'being right' is not enough. If people do not want to abandon their cars or if farmers want to use pesticides, it is not because they lack the knowledge about the dangerous consequences, but because they prefer to ignore that knowledge, fearing to lose income and comfort. Hence the importance of the movement's strategy. In knowledge transfer, the environmental movement has succeeded; in a psychological-emotional turnaround, not yet.

A broader view is urgently needed because the lack of an efficient strategy is not only a missed opportunity, it also has negative consequences. Indeed, protests are growing against environmentalism, especially from right-wing quarters.

With the growing outcry against environmental protest, the far right, especially in Europe, is gradually making progress. They know better than anyone else how to create social discontent, how to tell farmers that they should indeed not change, how to tell people not to buy an expensive electric car, and how to spread fake news via social media in particular about how the whole environmental crisis is being blown up and that, after all, there are only 'natural phenomena' at work. The yellow jacket movement in France was already largely in the hands of the far right. The farmers' strikes across Europe are almost entirely so. In France too, Marine Le Pen is cashing in on the current farmers’ resistance. The FarmerCitizenMovement in Holland openly promotes conservative structures and policies. In Flanders, the Vlaams Blok in particular supports the farmers and says nothing at all about the environment, which is as much as denying the problem.

In short, the green movement, across Europe, needs to reflect on strategy, on the arguments used to convince people, on a policy to attract more people, and make farmers realize that they have every interest in bringing healthy food to the market. This is needed not so much for the environmental movement itself to survive, but mainly to avert a real environmental disaster. The environmental movement has grown significantly in recent years and can count on serious young people to correctly assess and translate the issues. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people, companies, and governments are still not acting accordingly. There is too little awareness and if we are not careful, the environmental disaster will come in the clothes of the far right.

What to do?

The question remains particularly relevant. The first major UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio (1992) was over 30 years ago. The environmental movement has evolved since then and has organised itself quite well, although still too often in loose alliances. The international meetings, such as the annual COPs are certainly useful, but at the same time, they are hotbeds of anti-movements, influenced by the big oil and mining lobbies. The social movements are a minority and can only try to attract attention with some spectacular actions. They are constantly trying to put more pressure on governments, but no one can claim that we are rapidly getting closer to where we need to be. The so-called citizens' movements are quite powerless compared to the corporate world. Their continued and absolute rejection of what is called 'eco-modernism' also limits their political influence.

There are also practical problems, say dilemmas, that make it difficult to put forward a clear strategy. One of the key issues here is undoubtedly the energy transition. We know what alternative energy can be generated, from wind over solar to geothermal and tidal power. However, all these new sources require masses of minerals, while movements in the global South have for decades been in opposition to more extractive industries that threaten their livelihoods. Opposition to more mining and more oil extraction is very understandable, but then, how to get the needed alternative energy?

The only answer to this first dilemma heard so far is 'less consumption'. That sounds very reasonable, but it brings us to a second dilemma: who, how, and how much less? We can still save a lot of energy in Western Europe, although electric cars will require more non-fossil energy. Moreover, global demand continues to rise, and hundreds of millions of people in the world do not even have a bedside lamp. Therefore, to make the convenience answer of 'less consumption' credible, it would be good to know exactly how much. Can everyone, all over the world, have access to a minimum amount of electricity while maintaining our prosperity? It seems to me a crucial question to address in concrete policies. If the answer is ‘no’, what I presume, we should know how to change people’s behaviour.

Prosperity and welfare

This 'less consumption', however logical, brings us to a third dilemma. In Western Europe, we live in middle-class societies. That means the vast majority of families are well off. But, can you expect people to voluntarily step back, to agree to less material prosperity, with nothing in return? Is the promise of 'greater happiness' and 'better quality of life' credible and sufficient? That does not appear to be the case, because people continue to go on city trips, drive their cars, eat meat, and continue to go to the supermarket. Again, this is not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of what Tadzio Müller calls a 'Verdrängung', not wanting to know and rejecting the concrete consequences of knowing. It is psychology. Going for a walk in the woods and listening to the birds, is fun, but so is Barcelona. First and foremost, this means that the social policies that should accompany climate action need to arrive at the same time and be strong enough. Nobody makes an expensive investment in insulation or solar panels if there is not enough in return in terms of savings or premiums. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand, it is constantly repeated but far too little made concrete. As for the farmers, if their only alternative is to stop farming, the majority of them will not accept it. It is their livelihood.

Fake News

Add to this the many messages on social media and elsewhere about how ‘everything is fine in this world’ and about the 'natural phenomena' that affect our climate but against which we should not and cannot do anything. ‘Even the Inuit, indigenous peoples of Greenland, know that the earth's axis is moving, that this is happening all the time, and that this affects the location of the sun and the earth's temperature’. If indigenous peoples knew it, what would scientists have to add? We should not, then, think of possible disastrous consequences of our way of living. Businesses and the far right are doing everything they can to not kick people's consciences to boost and secure profits. It is exactly what people want to hear, that they are safe and feel protected, that everything can go on as usual, and that they don't have to change anything. While the earth is burning we go quietly on a heated outdoor terrace in the cold winter and have a cup of coffee.

The European elections in June will show how far the far right has come. And the election campaign will show how far it continues to use and nurture climate denial.


All the facts speak for green and the left. The earth is warming rapidly and social inequality is increasing. Of course, these problems are not the only ones that can explain the growth of the far right. Migration also plays a major role. Perhaps the most important reason is the general social discontent, the lost confidence in the political class that is quite powerless in the face of corporate globalization and austerity that it did approve of internationally. Social democracy has gone along with the neoliberal narrative, the emphasis is now on 'poverty' and social security is slowly but surely being phased out. The middle class is crumbling. In the current conjuncture, it is mainly fear that rules. People are afraid of increasing insecurity, afraid of migrants and refugees, afraid of war, afraid of environmental disasters. With both hands, they cling to what they know and what has protected them in the past. They reject anything that threatens their few remaining certainties. Neither the Left nor the Greens offer new certainties, let alone protection. Only the far right has a story they trust and want to believe in. Without migrants, everything will be fine again. The environment is not a problem.

Vegan, gluten-free, and cargo bikes symbolize what the vast majority of the population does not want. Collective solidarity as offered by social security is 'something of the past'. What we do ourselves, we do better. Hence the moralistic finger-pointing and ideological tales of happiness, connectedness, democracy, and human rights don't stick. People want bread on the table. It explains why the Greens and the Left are being depreciated. Add to this an often misplaced 'woke ideology' that instills a sense of guilt for past colonisations and a 'ya basta' is created that is being recuperated by the far right.

It cannot be repeated often enough: the Greens and the Left are right, but they need to come up with a strategy that allows them to be proven right too. Today, their story is about things people no longer want: change and solidarity. 'Our traditions' and 'leave-me-alone' do better.

The success of the far right is partly due to the lack of a credible and protective narrative of the left and greens. Listening to people’s needs can help a lot. A story about work, justice, poverty inequality, and broad social protection, alongside a story about living well with material prosperity, distribution, and redistribution can help a lot. An effort should be made to create a convincing narrative for people who resist the hard facts and blindly choose disaster.