The rise of the all-encompassing COVID-19 pandemic has handed us the opportunity to collectively examine and understand ecofascist rhetoric. Suggestions that “humans are the virus” and “the earth is fighting back” feed into myths about overpopulation, rather than placing the onus of responsibility on the unsustainable structures and systems we rely on under late-stage capitalism.
To summarise, ecofascism centres Malthusian theoretical ideals, which contend that exponential population growth is unsustainable and will eventually outstrip Earth’s resources if left unchecked. At its core, this notion of overpopulation suggests that population control measures need to be implemented in order to conserve the environment. The overpopulation myth often posits that countries in the Global South with high birth rates are to blame for unsustainable population growth, failing to recognise that carbon emissions from the Global South are a mere fraction of those produced by the Global North. The idea that humans are collectively bringing about our planet’s demise also ignores the complex and sustainable land management systems developed by Indigenous people around the world. In reality, the wealthiest 10% of the global population are responsible for 50% of global carbon emissions, while the poorest 50% are responsible for 10% of emissions. This cements for us that the overpopulation rhetoric is predicated on racism, colonialism and classism.
Population growth is not unsustainable: the West’s way of life is unsustainable. Unless we realise this, it’s easy to conflate sustainability with the choice not to have children in aim of reducing overpopulation. Here is where the burden falls disproportionately on people with a uterus: we each have to individually consider whether bringing children into the world is the right thing to do amidst the existential threat that is global warming. Ecofascist, anti-natalist rhetoric weaves its way into our consciousness here, causing people to decide that choosing not to have children is the best thing they can do to help fight climate change.
Internalising ecofascist narratives about reproduction is particularly insidious because it speaks to people on the left in a way that other ecofascist arguments fail to. The left is historically the most concerned with mitigating anthropogenic climate change. Thus, choosing not to bear children might help people with uteruses feel like they are doing their bit, as if they were choosing to lower their meat consumption or take public transport. It is so easy to sell the idea of a childless future to ourselves under the guise of progressiveness – without realising that in doing so we are reinforcing sexist norms which regulate bodies that can become pregnant.
Reproductive justice champions the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy: to have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. When people feel as if the best thing they can do for the planet’s wellbeing is abstain from having children, it exhibits yet another mechanism through which people’s choice on how, when and if they choose to reproduce is limited by the patriarchal structures they reside under.
In the instance that we were to decide that population control measures were necessary, the solution to this would still not lie with antinatalism. The key to lowering birth rates is in the education and empowerment of women on a global scale. When women are given the resources and autonomy to control their own reproductive choices, not only do birth rates lower, but death rates lower too. Access to contraception, sexual health education and safe and legal abortions are necessary steps not only in achieving sustainable population growth, but in providing women, non-binary people and trans men with equal rights, opportunities and independence.
To individually perform population control on our own wombs is to invite ecofascism into our lives. We must remain wary of how perpetuating overpopulation myths by limiting our own reproductive choices might exert normative pressure on others to do the same, and consider how a society that has internalised antinatalist ideals might strip resources for parents and families from its public health policies and campaigns. Thus, our continued pro-choice fight for reproductive justice must also strive for a world in which the choice and ability to have children is not constrained by ecofascist rhetoric.