It’s been a long time since eco-fascism has been in the news, but we in the environmental community need to stay alert to this kind of thinking as more people wake up to the global climate crisis. Unfortunately, being concerned about the environment does not necessarily lead to leftist or even left-of-center ideology.
As people search for a way to make sense of the existential terror that is the climate crisis, they may stumble upon one of the myriad spaces online where solutions as drastic as genocide are suggested as the necessary response to save the planet.
So, what is eco-fascism? It’s exactly what it sounds like, a form of fascism with an environmental bend. An eco-fascist would use the global climate crisis as an opportunity to enact their far-right agenda or believe that genocide, race science, limits to human migration and unequally distributed resources are acceptable ways to address the climate crisis.
The Christchurch terrorist wrote of eco-fascism in his manifesto. An eco-fascist would not hesitate to kill thousands or resort to authoritarian solutions to preserve the planet for those they deem worthy to inherit it. While it’s mostly quarantined to the already far-right leaning parts of the internet, I find it hard to believe that this kind of thinking won’t become more prevalent in the future as we see three phenomena collide:
First, that the planet is warming to the point that irreparable damage has already been done, and nothing is being done quickly enough to fix it.
Second, that trust in liberal institutions are crumbling as they fail to address massive crises and massive wealth inequality (and in some cases enable them) which is one of the causes of the rise of Trumpism and/or 21st century fascism.
Finally, as a result of the failure of the current structures to address these problems, white nationalism, xenophobia, transphobia, and other bigotries that stem from one group “othering” the other to the point that they’re dehumanized will continue to rise.
This is especially important to the environmental movement right now because it’s not only growing, but it’s becoming more inclusive. Over the past few years, environmentalism started shedding its white, affluent skin; however, we still struggle with classism, a misunderstanding of privilege, ableism, and white supremacy. As those concerned with the survival of our planet learn about the systematic ways it’s connected to the oppression of the people on it, it’s imperative that we learn how to spot toxicity in the movement and make environmentalism synonymous with environmental justice.
It’s important to understand where this kind of ideology stems from so you can catch when someone in your orbit begins down this path. On a very basic level, an eco-fascist prioritizes saving the planet above those on it. According to one eco-fascist who spoke to New Statesman, this ideology puts the wellbeing of the earth at the forefront while turning away from “industrial and urbanite” society. That may sound like something you’d see on an eco-blogger’s Instagram, but remember, these people are using dog whistles. For instance, when Donald Trump talks about inner cities, he’s coding those terms to mean “black” and when he says “globalists,” he means Jews.
Overpopulation is one of the biggest concerns of ecofascists, and to succinctly summarize the problems with this idea, it’s more of a classist, white supremacist ideology than an environmental one. They believe that multiculturalism and the rise of non-white nations caused humans to produce too much too quickly, and therefore we need to cull the population. This is a handy case study not only for this kind of ideology but reflecting on just how surprisingly prevalent it is.
Concern with overpopulation boomed in the 1990s when scientists pointed to the number of people on the planet as one of the most concerning environmental threats. Pundits exacerbated the panic, and many expected environmental and economic collapse. The main premise of the overpopulation argument is that there are limited resources and too many people vying for them.
The problem with worrying about overpopulation is that not every human makes the same impact on the environment and resources are artificially scarce – they’re unevenly distributed. According to Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization, “Famines are not natural phenomena, they are catastrophic political failures,” meaning that actual capability to produce and distribute food is not causing starvation, but the reluctance to address poverty by the global economic and political elite.
Rather than assume this is the best of all possible worlds and assert that if people didn’t want their children to be hungry, they shouldn’t have had them in the first place, we could actually address the political structures stymying the distribution of basic human necessities.
The poorest half of the world’s population contribute just 10% of greenhouse emissions while the richest 10% produce half, according to a 2015 report by Oxfam. And even as those countries and corporations and the people who run them ignore the climate crisis, it’s the poorest people, those least responsible for the change, who will suffer the most. That’s one of the reasons I believe eco-fascism may be appealing to some – it totally exonerates them from contributing to the problem.
Unfortunately, many mainstream media figures still believe that population needs to be stifled, and all the solutions to that disproportionately police the lives and bodies of the poor, specifically the Global South and BIPOC. Even Bill Nye the ‘Science Guy’ points a finger to overpopulation on his recent Netflix show. It’s a tempting ideology to subscribe to, but look no further than China’s One-child policy to see the unprecedented heartache and disaster that comes from this kind of eugenics-informed thinking.
This ideology isn’t new. Savitri Devi Mukherji was a white woman and Nazi who believed in a fusion of Hinduism and Nazism (hence the adopted name) who advocated for a version of this. She believed in what she called “deep ecology,” animal rights, and a form of environmentalism (though she wouldn’t have called that). This ideology also isn’t isolated. When those opposed to human migration say things like “our country’s full,” they too are weaponizing the false scarcity of resources created by capitalism to further condemn those already on the losing side of this economic system.
This ideology isn’t prevalent – yet. I hope it never is. Yet, I want to strengthen the environmental movement’s resistance to this kind of right-wing ideology as it grows and inherits the complexities of a movement built on a diverse coalition. In other words, “so much for the tolerant left.” Let us not give any quarter to this kind of divisive rhetoric in our fight for justice for both people and the planet.