COVID-19 will not cure our environmental problems
The only 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 all walks of life. If this cause – born out of love and shared understanding – is not at the heart of all environmental work, then the work itself is useless. In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, ecofascism poses a serious threat to the cause of environmental justice.
Rejecting any sense of shared humanity, ecofascism pits members of the population against each other, suggesting that some must suffer to protect “the organic whole of nature”. He blames overpopulation, immigration and marginalized communities for climate change. Ecofascism has gained ground in the past year of COVID-19-induced lockdowns as supporters build their case at the intersection of pandemic and climate change. Ecofascists, emerging from the dark corners of the Internet, create passionate appeals for a mainstream audience.
Humans, they claim, are the real virus. And widespread lockdowns and deaths are the cure for climate change and environmental devastation.
Flavored with false good intentions and carefully packaged for mass consumption on social media platforms, the rhetoric is easily consumed by an audience hungry for good news. Although this is a far-right movement, it permeates mainstream culture with eerie ease. By displaying photographs of cleaner water, liberated wildlife and smog-free skies, ecofascists light up their imaginary silver COVID-19 liner. In doing so, they are making fun of the environmental justice movement.
Ecofascism goes so far against the causes of environmental justice because it assumes that some members of the population should be oppressed for the benefit of others. Environmental justice, on the other hand, takes a fair approach to solving environmental problems, recognizing that BIPOC and low-income people are disproportionately affected by ecological crises. Oppression never happens randomly. It is a calculated and long-term phenomenon in which certain groups of the population are deemed disposable and unworthy of protection. This pattern of oppression is clearly illustrated by COVID-19: being oppressed during a pandemic means death.
This rhetoric is especially destructive when one realizes the extremely racialized nature of the pandemic. Under-represented minorities are hardest hit, in large part because of systemic inequalities in health care, housing, wealth, criminal justice and education. Far from being the great equalizer, COVID-19 has exposed huge loopholes within the institutions that are supposed to take care of us.
And the link between ecofascism and racism has not been lost for ecofascists themselves. Eco-fascists have merged with white supremacists to form thriving online communities. Here on the web, they suggest that the widespread killing of immigrant populations is the key to preventing climate change. An extremely anti-Semitic group, they hail the German fascist leaders of the 1930s and 1940s as the founders of the environmental movement. They strangely possess a fascination with Norse mythology bordering on obsession, using Norse symbols to recognize each other online and fervently worshiping the Norse gods. Ecofascists are united in their belief that the climate crisis can only be resolved through racial “purity”.
Ecofascism, after all, is the monstrous offshoot of white nationalism and white environmentalism.
It is not always so obvious. But the micro-attacks by white “environmentalists” against environmental activists of color can be just as damaging as cult online communities. Traditional environmental movements are known to whitewash and exclude these activists. Even the lightest shade of ecofascism can serve as the stage on which this exclusion occurs.
The dismantling of the colonialist heritage which opposes environmental justice cannot be done without dismantling ecofascism. If environmental justice is ever to be achieved – if the flame of white supremacy is ever to be extinguished – we cannot tolerate an eco-community that celebrates a disease “freeing” the Earth from humans.
It’s not entirely bad to see the Earth as a living and self-regulating being. Gaia’s hypothesis locates the earth as a collection of all organic and inorganic entities forming an interactive and constantly 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 a ground defense against humans. If the universal Gaia system exists, then we humans are truly a part of it.
So if the Earth doesn’t conspire to get rid of us, how can are we talking about the environment and COVID-19 in a framework that recognizes that every human life is of equal importance, portrays 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 improve ourselves, to improve our habits, and ultimately to improve our world. We can find sustainable local businesses to support. We can learn to produce less waste. We can support politicians who come up with concrete solutions to pressing environmental problems. We can use this time to search harder to find our place in the natural world, not separate from it. We can amplify the voices of marginalized communities that have been most affected by COVID-19. But we can’t celebrate the pandemic – not even for a second.
In the era of COVID-19, the dog whistles of ecofascism have become ubiquitous, and as environmental activists we must work tirelessly to drown them out.
Sarah Siegel is the associate editor of the blog. Contact her at [email protected].