On July 9, protesters in Sri Lanka stormed the president and prime minister’s residences after months of growing turmoil in the country due, in large part, to poor policy decisions and supply and food shortages, which were particularly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Sri Lanka’s government and economy collapsed, prominent right-wing figures amplified narratives that primarily put the blame for the country’s problems on a “green agenda,” particularly a 2021 ban on chemical fertilizers, claiming that “woke Western liberals” had “destroyed the country” and that “climate change activism” should be treated as “a national security threat.”
In May 2021, the Sri Lankan government made a “sudden policy shift” and banned chemical fertilizer without “increas[ing] domestic production of organic pesticides and fertilizers, or provid[ing] farmers with subsidies to buy these.” This swift implementation resulted in over 2 million farmers — approximately 27% of the country’s labor force — rushing to find natural fertilizers. The ban was upheld for only six months, but it wrecked crop yields and further exacerbated an already dire economic crisis.
This policy was one of several bad decisions made by then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Since he took office in 2019 and installed his brother as the prime minister, Rajapaksa’s government has been allegedly involved in corruption, abuse of power, and nepotism. It also introduced major tax cuts that led to a significant loss in tax revenues and completely depleted foreign currency reserves, greatly adding to the problems that ultimately led to the country’s economic collapse.
In response to this multifaceted crisis, American right-wing media have seized on the story to push their anti-climate agenda, focusing blame primarily on the short-lived environmental policy despite the complexity of the situation in Sri Lanka. Notable right-wing media reactions include:
- On July 11, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson dedicated a segment to Sri Lanka’s plight and focused on the country’s mismanaged farming policy, claiming that “woke Western liberals … completely destroyed the country.” Throughout most of the segment, the on-screen chyron read: “Entire Country Collapses Because of Green New Deal.”
- TheBlaze’s Glenn Beck claimed on July 11 that the current “chaos” in Sri Lanka foreshadows America’s future if the country continues to insist on being a “green economy.” Beck also cited Sri Lanka’s previous economic achievements as evidence that progressive policies, such as “Build Back Better,” will inevitably fail, and he also pushed this narrative to over 1.4 million followers on Twitter.
- On July 11, right-wing radio commentator Jesse Kelly cited the country’s plight in a rant that likened climate change activists to Nazis and communists and suggested they have the “intention to kill a billion people”:
JESSE KELLY (HOST): You need to start hearing them as people who intend to starve you and your family to death so you can eat your kids. In case you think that's hyperbole, please look at Sri Lanka right now. Normal, peaceful, formerly extremely prosperous people. Sri Lanka has been a beacon, an economic beacon for some time. They're pooping in the prime minister's pool before they burn down his home. That happened over the weekend.
Normal people will turn into monsters. Millions of people will die. Climate change, activism, wherever it takes place, whether it's the office of the presidency, a senator,r a governor, some hippie chick on the corner, the HR manager — wherever climate change activism is found, it should be treated as if it is a national security threat with the ability, frankly, the intention to kill a billion people — billion with a B as in boy.
- Conservative outlet RedState asserted on July 11 that in Sri Lanka, “a lot of the blame comes down to western environmental activism taking hold of the country’s policies.” The piece concluded, “These policies aren’t sustainable for anyone, but especially for those countries in the developing or only recently-developed world, it’s especially harmful. That won’t stop the left from pushing its religion on others at home and abroad, potentially crushing more nations along the way to their twisted version of utopia.”
- Right-wing digital strategist and former Daily Caller staffer Logan Hall tweeted on July 12 that the “green energy transition” is why Sri Lanka “literally just collapsed.” He also claimed that terms like “safeguarding democracy” are “a metaphor for government-mandated famine.”
- In a July 12 editorial, right-wing outlet National Review declared that Sri Lanka’s collapse shows a “failure of Leftism” because “combining green fanaticism with government power is simply unaffordable.”
- On July 13, right-wing contributor Larry Behrens wrote an opinion piece for The Daily Caller blaming “economic environmentalism” for Sri Lanka’s collapse and claiming, “The Green Agenda has perfected the art of the targeted attack from unaccountable bureaucrats.” Power the Future, a conservative anti-climate group, also tweeted out the article.
- On the July 13 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Douglas Murray commented on the environmental movement and “the green agenda,” claiming “the Sri Lankan government fell for a bunch of, basically, left-wing, western activist ideas, … and they went so far, so fast on it that basically much of Sri Lanka’s agriculture is not there anymore.”