In her exclusive uncensored eco-conscious and wellness column for Three Magazine, environmental communicator and writer Sarah Robyn Farrell (a.k.a Sustainable Sarah) tackles environmental issues from cultural and social angles.
I used to be a massive superhero movie fan! Whilst I’m not into them as much as I once was, I still went to watch the Marvel Avengers movies. In Infinity War, Thanos (the baddie) believes that wiping out half of the human population will restore ecological balance and save Earth. Something (SPOILER) he actually manages to do by the end of the film. It’s pretty extreme and why he’s the baddie – duh – who gets taken down in the following film End Game.
Thanos, whilst fictional, is a pretty prime example of something called an eco-fascist.
What is eco-fascism?
If environmentalism were a set of twins, eco-fascism would be the evil one. Trust me when I say that a deep dive into the eco-fascism internet rabbithole will leave you nothing short of visibly shuddering.
Whilst eco-fascism can take different forms, at its core, it is a concept that disturbingly marries environmentalism with nationalism and often white supremacy. It is often coupled with the belief that the only way to preserve life on earth is to reduce the human population. More specifically, to reduce the human population considered to be a threat to a certain culture, ethnicity or way of life. Most often people who are migrants, poor or non-white.
“[Eco-fascism] makes way for white nationalists to weaponize green messages .”
Remember the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 51 people dead after an attack on two mosques? The mass shooting that took place in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas leaving 23 people dead? (The El Paso death toll rose to 23 just this week, after Guillermo Garcia died after 9 months in the hospital). Both perpetrators of these mass shootings held eco-fascist ideologies. One of them actually self identified as an eco-fascist. In their respective manifestos they made reference to a hatred for things like “high immigrant birth rates”, consumer culture, plastic pollution and the belief that the population needed to be reduced in order to make their way of life more sustainable.
Marrying racial exclusion and so-called environmentalism is nothing new. For example, the ideology of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany was not solely based on eco-fascism, but it certainly included elements of it. Sadly, as the reality of environmental and climate breakdown faces us all, it is becoming more and more common for white supremacists and neo-fascists to adopt environmental concerns. Something that Hampshire College professor emerita Betsy Hartmann has called “the greening of hate.”
As we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic, some eco fundamentalist groups have been rushing to claim Covid-19 as ‘nature’s revenge on humanity’. But as Laurie Penny states in her recent article on Wired (which is a great read by the way): “If you are really so keen to be punished, there are websites for that. If you find yourself eager to see the whole species punished, that’s not a fetish, that’s fascism.”
Even those with ‘less extreme’ views have been sharing social media posts about how “humans are the real virus” or how Coronavirus offers the “great reset” for Earth to heal. Many online commentators and activists have called this out as being eco-fascist too. This has led to an increase in the number of people writing about and searching for the term “eco-fascism”.
If you’re not deep into the environmental justice movement and the nuances of eco-fascist thinking, it is understandable that you would think this is a bit of a stretch. And whether or not you believe it is eco-fascism, it is insensitive as all hell. People are dying.
Here’s the thing: whilst having fewer human demands on the environment would lead to a reduced environmental impact, indicating simply that humans are the problem or that overpopulation is our main environmental concern (something that many white environmentalists – even the likes of Jane Goodal – get wrong) neglects some fundamental truths:
- It ignores that rampant, unregulated capitalism, extractivism and the myth of infinite economic growth is the real challenge we face.
- It assumes that humans cannot live in harmony with nature – which is a misnomer because we ARE nature and have just become disconnected from it.
- It ignores the fact that indigenous and traditional communities have been and still do live in relative harmony with nature. As such it is our way of life that must drastically change.
It also makes way for white nationalists to weaponize green messages to lure people into embracing racist and anti-immigrant agendas. As Joel Achenbach says for the Washington Post: “Those who blindly follow their romantic inclinations are as vulnerable to fascists as the Weimar youth. Please don’t let that be you.”
How to spot (and stop) it
In his article It’s Not “eco-fascism”—It’s Liberalism, Samuel Miller Macdonald warns us of allowing the convenience of labeling something as eco-fascist, let “plain old racist liberals off the hook”:
“While we’ve seen at least two self-proclaimed eco-fascist mass shooters so far (the other one in El Paso), and may see more in future, I think it’s fair to say that the most dangerous people today are the respectable, powerful establishment liberals effectively maintaining the systems driving ecological collapse while downplaying the extent of the crisis and the need to take dramatic action.”
“Now more than ever we must do what we can to spot and stop eco-fascism in its tracks.”
Macdonald makes a good point, encouraging us to reflect on how our existing system and years of colonialism and capitalism, have violently targeted black, brown, indigenous and poor people – at the same time bringing us to this point of planetary crisis.
As we see a rise of neofascist leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro and extreme-right wing sentiment around the world, now more than ever we must do what we can to spot and stop eco-fascism in its tracks. Here’s how:
- Be wary of the media you consume and share. Don’t share things that whisper to or can be weaponized by eco-fascist ideologies.
- When discussing things like overpopulation, be sure to consider the nuances of this issue. If you are reading or watching something about it, consider who is proposing the argument and be sure to diversify your readings to include people of colour and those from the global south.
- Adopt a truly anti-racist approach to life and environmentalism. As Achenbach says: “Ask who is welcome where, and why. Work to incorporate inclusive ideas of civil and human rights into environmental discussions, and push against racism, environmental or otherwise, whenever possible.”
- When discussing matters of the environment, online or otherwise, try to steer away from a defeated and apocalyptic discourse that can easily play into the agenda of apocalyptic white nationalism. Focus on discussing solutions too.
PS: I cover the topic of overpopulation from a different angle in my last Stay Sustainable Column: Cancelling Parenthood for Climate Change. Check it out.
Until next time,
Stay Sustainable x
Read more from Stay Sustainable here.
Sarah is a founding member of the youth-led climate justice group African Climate Alliance and the creative director and founder of transparenCI, a creative agency that specialises in environmental communications and working with NGOs and ethical companies trying to make a difference.
Feature image: Zoya Pon