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Brexit, climate change, and the rise of the far right

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (four words that demonstrate just how far we've descended) announced an undemocratic five-week shutdown of Parliament today in order to force through a no-deal Brexit. It's a coup.

A no-deal Brexit drops the UK out of the single market and customs union without any arrangements. It also removes the Irish "backstop" - an arrangement designed to avoid a border division between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is important because a border would likely ignite violence between unionists and nationalists. It's hard to remember, but the UK, and particularly Northern Ireland, were subject to frequent, bloody acts of terrorism and atrocities by the British armed forces alike. Nobody should want to return to those times.

Just as there's been some talk of a "virtual wall" in the US, there's been talk of a technology-based solution in Northern Ireland. In both cases, technology would be used to track peoples' movements and allow people who had outstayed their welcome to be pinpointed. What that would necessitate, of course, is near-ubiquitous surveillance. And this still doesn't overcome the need for physical inspections of goods.

For me, Brexit is still personal. Although I have a British accent, I'm not a British citizen; I grew up there but lived on a European passport. The effect of Brexit is that I would be legally barred from returning to live in the country I grew up in. While there are many immigrants whose experience is far worse, with the potential for families to be split up, and the economic impact even for British citizens will be serious, I nonetheless feel a surreal kind of disenfranchisement. I'll forever be a tourist in the place that feels most like home.

I harbor a conspiracy theory about the rise of far-right nationalism across the world, of which Brexit is undoubtedly a part. And it's this: it's all about climate change. There's some backlash against inclusivity and "globalism", to be sure, and racist groups certainly have been emboldened. But these are all useful idiots in service to the real goal, which is to walk back environmental regulations that are creating unprecedented financial risk for certain kinds of global industry.

Take Bolsonaro in Brazil, who we now know sought to actively sabotage conservation efforts in the Amazon. (His first act upon achieving power was to pave the way for increased logging.) Or you could look at our very own President Trump, who has rolled back over 80 environmental regulations since lurching into the Oval Office.

A no-deal Brexit would also shut down any environmental pacts Britain had with Europe. It's already dropping its carbon price. And we're hearing a lot about a quick US trade deal, which may not mitigate the economic impact on the country, but is likely to have provisions that also carry an environmental impact.

To reiterate, this is mostly a conspiracy theory. But it makes sense that in a world with rapidly-diminishing resources (we're only at the foothills of this trend, but the effects are already serious), wealthy supranational groups that depend on those resources will want to make land grabs. Authoritarian, less-liberal regimes would allow those groups to maintain stronger control. Of course, climate change will also create more refugees, and there's a lot to gain by keeping the direct human impact of their industrial activities at arm's length.

If there's even a hint of truth in this, then the battle over Brexit - alongside Trump, Bolsonaro, and the rise of the far-right globally - is more important than immigration and the future of liberal democracy, which was already a life and death for many people. It's about who gets to survive.

We need to be on the streets. We need to divest from environmentally disastrous corporations. We need to vote in progressive, inclusive politicians who will put stronger controls on corporations who would sacrifice the environment for their bottom lines. And we need to make it clear that we will not accept this hyper-capitalist coup against democracy.