Since the pandemic struck, a slew of stories pointing to what appears to be the positive impact of coronavirus on the environment have been circulating on social media. While it is indeed true that carbon emissions have significantly decreased due to a nosedive in air travel, road traffic and industrial activity, experts and activists are warning that the rise in such rhetoric can distract attention away from real climate policy solutions and lead to dangerous eco-fascist ideas.
What is eco-facism?
Eco-fascism is a subset of a far-right political ideology. While far-right conservatives tend to be associated with climate denial, some younger generations of conservatives are more likely to perceive the climate threat and are adopting racist and xenophobic eco-fascist ideas about the drivers of ecological degradation.
Fascism itself is associated with white supremacy and violence against marginalised and minority groups, such as immigrants and non-white populations. Proponents of eco-fascism argue that humans are overburdening the planet, and blame the demise of the environment on certain populations, who they believe are causing more damage to the environment than others. The solution to the climate crisis, according to this ideology, is the creation of “racially pure” nations to restore a sustainable system.
Last summer, the young man who is accused of murdering 22 people in a shooting in El Paso, Texas, revealed his targeting of Mexican immigrants was rooted in eco-fascist ideas in his manifesto.
Indeed it is true that anthropogenic consumption has damaged the environment. But eco-fascists place unwarranted blame exclusively and solely on groups they deem “inferior”, who tend to be marginalised minorities in society. These claims are unsubstantiated.
Some eco-fascists, for example, incorrectly blame people of colour for using disposable products that contribute to plastic pollution, without highlighting the enormous environmental damage that fossil fuel firms are responsible for, or how developing countries are historically accountable for the least emissions.
Why are people talking about it now?
More people are now talking about pernicious eco-fascist ideas as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic. An increasing number of online chatter in a number of forums have suggested that the virus is a “cure” to humans, pointing to the significant decline in carbon emissions and air pollution due to reduced industrial activity as a justification of the devastating human cost of the pandemic.
It is worth noting that not all eco-fascist posts are coming from right-wing commentators. Some of the myths that have appeared due to the pandemic, for instance, may not be exclusively conservative, but the messaging may suggest eco-fascist undertones. Take viral videos of wild animals in nature, such as edited videos of dolphins swimming in Venetian canals, which insinuate the idea that “humans are the virus”.
Speaking to Teen Vogue about the topic, climate activist and author Naomi Klein said: “This is the time to be really vigilant about any idea that this pandemic is weeding out people who needed to be weeded out anyway. These are facist logistics.”
The statistics show that ethnic minorities, who tend to be poorer, marginalised, and engaged in low-paid essential non-medical work in many societies, and people in developing countries are especially vulnerable to the virus. But it is absolutely xenophobic, racist and incorrect to suggest that they are responsible for more environmental damage than other populations or that the pandemic is a form of climate-positive “population control”.
How can we combat eco-fascism?
We can each do our bit to combat eco-fascism and eco-fascist ideas. Here are some of the things we can do.
- Be more aware and careful about our discussions and conversations about the climate crisis during the pandemic, and be alert to climate solution suggestions that may support racist ideologies.
- Look out for the “who” – some eco-fascist posts advocate for the weaponisation of environmental protection measures against certain populations, regions or areas who are deemed to be the “source” of the ecological damage in question. Does it characterise a certain group as the cause of the environmental harm?
- Stay informed, engaged and principled by fact-checking and referring to the scientific evidence when reading about the climate crisis.
- Discuss practical and effective climate solutions that include all communities – divesting from fossil fuel consumption, eating a plant-based diet, supporting circular economy models.
Lead image courtesy of European Space Agency (ESA).