Following the rapid spread of COVID-19, social distancing and self-isolation measures have been implemented worldwide, leading to a wide shutdown of society. As a result, the lack of human activity has led to a “cleaner” environment, or so it seems. Images of crystal clear rivers and animals flourishing, matched with record low levels of air pollution have been widely circulated on social media. More often than not, these posts are followed by the assertion that all of humanity is to blame for climate change; that we are the disease.
It’s pertinent to ask who contributes to climate change the most and how?
Some of the content that has circulated widely on social media have included images of the canals in Venice being clear and animals returning to these habitats. This was soon matched by responses such as “Earth is healing,” including by a far-right group posing as environmental group Extinction Rebellion who had stickers proclaiming that “Corona is the cure, humans are the disease.” However, these images were soon proven to be misinformation.
Perceptions that humans are “the virus” play into eco-fascist sentiments about the environment and reinforces notions that mass immigration and poor people are to blame. This is dangerous for several reasons. But what exactly is ecofascism? Defined very loosely, ecofascism combines white supremacy and environmentalism and advocates for conservationism through any means necessary, including eugenics and mass murder.
This also feeds into other harmful ideas like the overpopulation myth, which argues that resource scarcity is due to population growth. Overpopulation discourse is rooted in eugenics, primarily focusing on the Global South to the exclusion of nations in the West. This rhetoric is disputed by statistics which show that half of carbon emissions are produced by half a billion of the world’s richest people who comprise 7% of the global population, while 50% of the world’s poorest only produce 10% of carbon emissions.
The foundations of fascist ideology are rooted in the idea of security. Climate change threatens environmental security whereby their aim is to preserve it in which they can establish a future white ethnostate. As elements of society, such as the economy are starting to crumble due to the widely-implemented shutdown, fascists are taking advantage through the spread of propaganda.
An investigation into Neo-Nazi networks on Telegram and other channels by The Guardian has shown that fascists often rely on narratives of systemic and societal failures, some of which have been highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis, to spread disinformation, recruit and organise. The survivalist element in fascist ideology advocates that only the strongest and fittest will survive. Through the assumption that COVID-19 is the “cure,” the vulnerable such as the elderly, disabled, and those who are immunocompromised become collateral damage in the fight against climate change.
Ecofascist narratives such as population-control have also been peddled by more ‘liberal’ environmentalists in the past which only further reinforces Western hegemony and dominance, particularly when it comes to potential environmental solutions.
This also largely obscures the fact that it will be working-class people who will pay the price, especially in less developed countries where they may lack the necessary resources and infrastructure to survive the drastic effects of environmental and ecological crises.
Environmental degradation and exploitation are a global issue and there have been very few attempts by governments to transition to clean, green energy. Globalisation and increased trade facilitate the need for constant manufacturing and production to fulfil the market’s constant supply and demand, particularly across developed, wealthy countries. In Australia more specifically, ongoing colonialism and land exploitation and profiteering by industry giants have resulted in marked environmental impacts such as extreme weather conditions, resource mismanagement and temperature increases.
As climate change becomes more of a pressing matter, it becomes easy to latch onto simple narratives. Combined with the rising tides of fascism, migrants, especially from the Third World, become an easy scapegoat. This kind of rhetoric also helps justify harsh, strict immigration policies and border closures, particularly in places like Europe, the US, and Australia, some of who are greatly responsible for carbon emissions. These measures have great consequences for many from surrounding underdeveloped nations who are at risk of becoming climate refugees due to potential environment devastation.
Additionally, assigning blame to humanity absolves those who actually wield power – from the coal industry to politicians in Canberra – of the harm they are actively doing to the environment. It also places the burden of environmental responsibility on the Global South and peoples resisting ongoing colonialism, especially those who are directly impacted by climate change.
Racist approaches to environmentalism are far from the solution. While the shutdown has placed a temporary halt on society, and by extension, industrial activity, this is not sustainable in the long-term, particularly as it has costly economic and health impacts. It is imperative that a just transition into green energy is embraced, rather than looking towards genocidal solutions.
This is why anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism and anti-racism are essential to the fight for climate justice. An environmental movement that fails to consider the nuances of history, class, and colonialism will only exacerbate existing inequalities by reinforcing fascist notions of who is and isn’t worth saving in the fight for a better future.