Reports that the canals in Venice had 'cleared' as a result provided much of the stimulus for ecofascist narratives regarding the pandemic. PHOTO CREDITS: FLICKR, GNUCKX

During the pandemic, climate narratives have begun to circulate online with the idea that ‘humanity is the virus’ and ‘the earth is healing’ due to the expected decrease in carbon emissions as a result of mass isolation. While images of clean Venetian waters and returning wildlife seem joyous, they can lead to what is called ‘ecofascism’: the idea that ‘lesser’ human lives should be sacrificed for a simultaneous environmental and racial ‘healing’ of the planet. It shuns multiculturalism, suggesting that every ‘race’ must remain in the area of the earth that it ‘originates’ from.

“Shifting the burden of climate guilt onto ‘increased populations’ is completely unwarranted.”

The link between environmentalism, racial ‘purity’ and population control has been, and still remains, a large part of extreme right-wing thought, and has been used by terrorists such as the 1980s ‘Unabomber’ and the 2019 Christchurch shooter. Members of radical ecology groups such as ’Earth First!’ have become notorious for indulging these narratives – suggesting that, while awful, mass death from starvation can function as ’the answer to the Environmentalist’s prayer’. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s gaining traction in the current pandemic. It’s understandable to want the planet to heal, and to see the lockdown period as a positive thing for the environment. However, by celebrating this current ‘healing’, we falsely present a global pandemic as a necessary vaccine to humanity’s ‘virus’.

Humanity is not a virus; it is unequivocally unjust to celebrate the healing of the planet when it comes at the expense of human suffering. The short-term reduction in carbon emissions from lack of travel will have a limited environmental impact without continued structural change. And yet, even if social distancing was a sudden ‘antidote’ to years of climate breakdown, it still comes hand in hand with thousands of deaths, job losses and an unshakeable global sense of anxiety. To mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, we need to put the planet before profit. The current narratives that are putting the needs of the planet before people are warped and harmful.

The idea that the world is ‘purifying’ itself whilst people are in isolation feeds into common climate narratives of ‘overpopulation’ that seek to blame people for existing, rather than shifting the blame to the systems that make our way of life unsustainable. Low-income countries could increase their population by four billion and it would still hardly make a dent on global CO2 emissions; it’s the USA and EU countries that are historically responsible for a large proportion of global emissions. Shifting the burden of climate guilt onto ‘increased populations’ is completely unwarranted. Moreover, those deemed worth ‘sacrificing’ to reduce population size by ecofascists are always the most vulnerable.

“Those that our system is currently failing to protect from COVID-19 will continue to be failed by it in years to come.”

Those affected disproportionately by COVID-19 are those who live in impoverished areas, those who lack hygiene access, the incarcerated, the homeless, or those in lower-paid essential service jobs. A history of institutionalised racism and lack of equal opportunity means that in the UK, Black African households are 75% more likely than white households to suffer from overcrowding and impoverished living conditions. Those who celebrate the ‘healing’ of the world also endorse the idea that black and brown lives are expendable for the wider goals of the planet. A ‘healed’ planet is not worth having if it exists only for those who are privileged enough to survive unaffected by this pandemic. The very idea that the earth is being ‘cleansed’ at the expense of the working class, migrants, and minorities is an ecofascist one.

The communities most affected by the pandemic are those that are most vulnerable to climate change. Our planet won’t wait for the pandemic to end. These vulnerable groups will experience the ramifications of both a virus and a climate-based crisis simultaneously.


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Of course, a pandemic and a dying planet are two different challenges, and should not be dealt with in the exact same way. Our current efforts should stay focused on helping those who need it. However, the sense of global panic and drastic government action is exactly what Greta Thunberg is asking for when she says we must ’act like our house is on fire.’ From 2030 onwards, an estimated 250,000 people will die from climate change-related causes each year. These deaths will be people who cannot afford to move away from pollution, to buy food in times of agricultural poverty, to have water in times of drought. Those that our system is currently failing to protect from COVID-19 will continue to be failed by it in years to come.

Right now, we’re seeing the cracks in our systems of housing, healthcare and employment – cracks that vulnerable communities have been pointing out for decades. When the isolation period passes, those who struggled most will continue to be at risk as a more prolonged state of crisis descends in the form of climate breakdown. We must act with urgency, dedication and compassion to mitigate the devastating impact that lies ahead. We must not forget the stark inequalities that COVID-19 is revealing, nor the insipid ecofascist ideas that exist within our society. Only through fixing these failed systems of social justice and changing the climate narratives can we combat ecofascism and begin the actual ‘healing’ of both our planet and our communities.

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