Burning Backwards: The Scorch Borders of Colonial Temporality

W. Schwartz*

 

Abstract: Fire is irreversible—an entropic release that scatters and disorganizes aggregate pockets of life, fuel, and resources. In fighting wildfires, forest managers attempt to scorch borders of death into the planet so that onrushing blazes have nothing left to burn. This article suggests that such tactics reflect a far-right political ecology which has come to terms with the limits of material resources (and thus perpetual economic growth). A far-right environmentalism has broken from the myth of endless growth propagated by mainstream economics. While this myth has been critiqued on the left for over a century in efforts to halt its deleterious social and environmental effects, the far-right response is quite different. Rather than halt the pursuit of perpetual growth, far-right sentiment, as expressed by the 2019 eco-fascist mass-shootings and popular right-wing media, attempts to burn a path for continuous growth by searing exclusionary borders between the present and future.

Keywords: Geocolonialism, Temporality, Capitalism, Eco-fascism, Political ecology

 

Introduction

Backburning is a strategy employed to contain wildfires like those that swept Australia, the Amazon, Siberia, Alaska, and California in 2019. This strategy entails scorching the land in the path of a wildfire so the approaching blaze has nothing left to burn. The fire’s future trajectory is rendered lifeless and barren—fighting fire with future. The temporality of this practice, in which borders of death are constructed around islands of capital accumulation, serves as a useful platform for considering a political ecology of the far-right, particularly its relation to the future. A growing sentiment has emerged on the right that uses the rhetoric of environmental preservation and futurity to enact violent exclusions in the present. I trace this sentiment to a geothermal colonialism that pursues growth through death. At stake in these considerations are multiple foreclosures of space and time. When and where do humans “belong” and which humans are empowered to adjudicate this cartographic alchemy? Just as wildfires are contained by creating backlines of inorganic death, far-right neonationalism scorches borders into the earth upon which to impose exclusions.

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