Recent years have seen out-of-control wildfires rage across remote Brazilian rainforests, densely populated California coastlines, and major cities in Australia. What connects these separate events is more than immediate devastation and human loss of life. In Global Burning: Rising Antidemocracy and the Climate Crisis (Stanford UP, 2022), Eve Darian-Smith contends that using fire as a symbolic and literal thread connecting different places around the world allows us to better understand the parallel, and related, trends of the growth of authoritarian politics and climate crises and their interconnected global consequences.
Darian-Smith looks deeply into each of these three cases of catastrophic wildfires and finds key similarities in all of them. As political leaders and big business work together in the pursuit of profits and power, anti-environmentalism has become an essential political tool enabling the rise of extreme right governments and energizing their populist supporters. These are the governments that deny climate science, reject environmental protection laws, and foster exclusionary worldviews that exacerbate climate injustice.
The fires in Australia, Brazil and the United States demand acknowledgment of the global systems of inequality that undergird them, connecting the political erosion of liberal democracy with the corrosion of the environment. Darian-Smith argues that these wildfires are closely linked through capitalism, colonialism, industrialization, and resource extraction. In thinking through wildfires as environmental and political phenomenon, Global Burning challenges readers to confront the interlocking powers that are ensuring our future ecological collapse.
Jeff Bachman is Senior Lecturer in Human Rights at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC.