The whole reason to fight for a better planet is to help create a world in which everyone can thrive and be healthy. This includes all animals and plants, as well as people from every walk of life. If this cause — born out of love and shared understanding — is not central to all environmental work, then the work itself is pointless. In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, ecofascism poses a grave threat to the cause of environmental justice.
Rejecting any sense of shared humanity, ecofascism pins members of the population against each other, suggesting that some must suffer to protect the “organic whole of nature.” It blames overpopulation, immigration and marginalized communities for climate change. Ecofascism has gained traction in the past year of COVID-19-induced lockdowns as proponents build their case at the intersection of the pandemic and climate change. Ecofascists, crawling out from the dark corners of the internet, craft impassioned appeals to a mainstream audience.
Humans, they claim, are the real virus. And the lockdowns and widespread deaths are the cure for climate change and environmental devastation.
Flavored with faux good intentions and packaged neatly for mass consumption on social media platforms, the rhetoric is readily consumed by a public starved of good news. While it is a far-right movement, it permeates mainstream culture with disturbing ease. Displaying photographs of cleaner water, liberated wildlife and smog-free skies, ecofascists illuminate their imaginary silver lining of COVID-19. In doing so, they make a mockery of the environmental justice movement.
Ecofascism runs so contrary to the causes of environmental justice because it assumes that some members of the population must be oppressed for the benefit of others. Environmental justice, on the other hand, takes an equitable approach to solving environmental issues, recognizing that BIPOC and low-income people are disproportionately impacted by ecological crises. Oppression never occurs randomly. It is a calculated and long-term phenomenon in which some groups of the population are deemed disposable and unworthy of protection. This motif of oppression is illustrated clearly by COVID-19: To be oppressed during the time of a pandemic means death.
This rhetoric is especially destructive when we realize the extremely racialized nature of the pandemic. Underrepresented minorities are being hit the hardest, largely due to systemic inequalities in health care, housing, wealth, criminal justice and education. Far from being the great equalizer, COVID-19 has exposed enormous flaws within the institutions that are supposed to take care of us.
And the link between ecofascism and racism has not been lost on ecofascists themselves. Ecofascists have merged with white supremacists to form thriving online communities. Here, on the web, they suggest that the widespread murder of immigrant populations is the key to preventing climate change. An extremely anti-Semitic bunch, they hail fascist German leaders of the 1930s and 1940s as the founders of the environmental movement. They oddly possess a fascination with Norse mythology that borders on obsession, using Norse symbols to recognize each other online and fervently worshipping Norse gods. Ecofascists are united in their conviction that the climate crisis can only be solved through racial “purity.”
Ecofascism, after all, is the monstrous spawn of white nationalism and white environmentalism.
It’s not always this overt. But microaggressions from white “environmentalists” toward environmental activists of color can be just as harmful as the cultish online communities. Mainstream environmental movements are notorious for whitewashing and excluding these activists. Even the lightest hue of ecofascism can act as the stage upon which this exclusion occurs.
Dismantling the colonialist legacies that work in opposition to environmental justice cannot be done without dismantling ecofascism. If environmental justice is ever to be realized — if the flame of white supremacy is ever to be extinguished — we cannot tolerate an eco-community that celebrates a disease “liberating” the Earth from humans.
It is not entirely wrong to see the Earth as a living, self-regulating being. The Gaia hypothesis situates the earth as a collection of all organic and nonorganic entities forming one interactive and ever-evolving system. Mother Nature lives somewhere directly beyond this science.
But we can recognize the Earth as a self-regulating entity without implying that COVID-19 was created as an earthly defense against humans. If the universal Gaia system exists, then we as humans are very much a part of it.
So if the Earth is not conspiring to rid itself of us, how can we talk about the environment and COVID-19 in a framework that recognizes every human life as equally important, depicts the climate crisis realistically and unites the cause of environmental justice with the power of love?
As activists, we can use our time spent in quarantine to better ourselves, to better our habits and, ultimately, to better our world. We can find local sustainable businesses to support. We can learn how to produce less waste. We can support politicians who propose concrete solutions to pressing environmental issues. We can use this time to look harder to find our place within the natural world, not separated from it. We can amplify the voices of marginalized communities who have been most affected by COVID-19. But we cannot celebrate the pandemic — not even for a single second.
In the era of COVID-19, the dog whistles of ecofascism have become pervasive, and as environmental activists, we should work relentlessly to drown them out.