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Ecofascism: What It Is & How to Spot It

Ecofascism: What It Is & How to Spot It

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There are a lot of memes circulating about clean air right now. They boast catchy slogans like “humans are the virus” and “overpopulation is the problem.” These might seem like positive environmental messages, but take a closer look, and you can see that these ideas have roots in ecofascism.

An Earth Day Primer

On Earth Day, let’s call out ecofascism and center social justice in our fight for environmental justice. As humans practice social distancing due to COVID-19, the natural world is bouncing back in unexpected ways. While (albeit fake) memes about animals enjoying empty human spaces and imagery from space showing a drop in pollution levels can be celebrated as positive environmental outcomes of the global pandemic, we can’t ignore the fact that xenophobic and anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise. The connecting thread is ecofascism.


WHAT IS ECOFASCISM?

When people say “humans are the virus” or “overpopulation is the problem,” they imply that human lives should be sacrificed for the planet and take aim at Black, brown, and Asian lives.

These dehumanizing sentiments disproportionately target disadvantaged populations. Fascist regimes have historically used dehumanizing language to incite violence and justify genocide, from Nazis referring to Jews as “rats,” to Tutsis in Rwanda being called “cockroaches,” and Donald Trump saying that immigrants aren’t people, but “animals.”

Dehumanizing people by equating them to a virus or referring to certain groups as animals in a negative sense only serves to encourage cruelty and hate. Humans are animals, and as Aph Ko points out, “the fact that being called an ‘animal’ is even an insult speaks to the ways that animals-as-less-than has been naturalized in our culture.”

As environmentalists, our activism is for the rights of all oppressed beings, meaning that we won’t accept that some lives are less important than others. Dehumanizing language is a hallmark of fascism, a form of authoritarian, nationalistic, dictatorial, and often oppressive government. Whether in the name of the environment or otherwise, fascism does not allow for intersectional or multi-perspectival thinking—it’s unacceptable. We can’t make excuses for fascistic thought.


A BRIEF HISTORY OF ECOFASCISM AND HOW IT’S RESURFACING TODAY

Plenty of people throughout history (and even some in fiction—hello, The Handmaid’s Tale) have used the environment as an excuse to oppress and harm people. Nazis in Hitler’s Germany and white nationalists at the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville both used the slogan “blood and soil” to support killing people in defense of the land. In 2019, a mass shooter in El Paso wrote "If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable." Earlier that year in New Zealand, a shooter in Christchurch self-identified as an ecofascist.

Less than a year later, Donald Trump and certain Republican governors are implying that elderly and immunocompromised people should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the economy. People are saying that humans are the virus.


THERE IS NO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE WITHOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE

Racism, colonialism, and capitalism born of both have caused a litany of crises in our society: income inequality, inadequate access to housing, trauma, mass incarceration, and climate breakdown (to name a few). These circumstances are exacerbated by the current health crisis.

In the U.S., Black and low-income communities are being hit the hardest by COVID-19. One reason is that people in these communities are more likely to develop underlying health issues that make the virus more deadly. These chronic conditions are often caused by proximity to industrial facilities, highways, and other sources of pollution, which is a form of systemized environmental racism. In the Navajo Nation, where many people have underlying health issues and don’t have running water in their homes, there are more COVID-19 cases per capita than almost anywhere else in the U.S.

These communities are also on the frontlines of the climate crisis. As extreme weather events begin to put a strain on resources and essential infrastructure, it will be the Black, brown, Indigenous, disabled, sick, and poor folks who suffer first and suffer the most.

In fact, past struggles show that when we focus our efforts on initiatives led by these communities, real change happens. Author of Rising, Elizabeth Rush writes extensively about communities in the U.S. facing rising sea levels. In her essay about Fox Beach in New York, she follows the story of a conservative, low-income community that advocated together to relocate their homes and have the state rehabilitate the land into wetland after Hurricane Sandy. The importance here is that this effort was led by the community that was impacted.

Thanks to a movement led by the Sioux tribe and Indigenous allies, protests at Standing Rock successfully forced the Army Corps of Engineers to pause construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline in September 2016 and again in March 2020. As Rebecca Solnit notes, the effort “brought together perhaps the greatest single gathering of native North Americans (from Canada as well as the United States) ever [...] it has demonstrated yet again that the environmental movement and human rights campaigns are often inseparable.”


THERE IS HOPE IN INTERSECTIONAL ACTION, BUT WE NEED SYSTEMIC CHANGE

We can still glean hope from signs of life that mother nature has shown during these weeks of slowed economic activity. These side effects of the pandemic prove that the planet can still regenerate if we give it the chance, even with nearly 8 billion people living here. But we can’t sit back and hope that business as usual will do the trick. One thing that the virus has shown us about crises is that “if you wait until you can see the impact, it’s too late to stop it.”

Imagine if big businesses were required to allow employees to telecommute just two days a week—one study shows that this could save more than 9.7 billion gallons of gasoline per year. What if the government required companies that sell plastic-packed products to pay for recycling plants? Or if the cattle industry was required to revitalize one acre of rainforest per cow? These kinds of changes are possible, but they must come from the government. Rather than rely on people’s individual actions like going plastic-free or vegan, we need to hold the people in power accountable for their actions.

In our blog, Is the Zero Waste Trend Sustainable?, we discussed how the Instagrammable zero waste movement does not drive enough change because it does not include enough people (this movement comprises primarily white women of privilege). And in our recent blog, You’re An Environmentalist During A Pandemic Lockdown, we explored the steps that activists can take right now to fight for a greener future (from home). If we want to emerge from this pandemic ready to build a better future for everyone (and we really, really do), then we must condemn ecofascism and work for an environmentalism that’s inclusive and rooted in social justice; an environmentalism for all.

 

The Meow Meow Tweet blog is a collaborative thought project between the founders of Meow Meow Tweet and our editorial team. This post was written by Faye Lesser.

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