As the climate crisis worsens and we see its widespread effects all over the world, it’s understandable that people will only get more fearful about how urgently humanity needs to act to save itself from total environmental disaster.
Just last week, the International Energy Agency announced that on a global scale, CO2 emissions are falling 60 per cent short of their 2050 “net-zero” target, despite current climate pledges. In non-scientific terms, that means we’re absolutely fucked if we continue on this trajectory.
But feelings of desperation can often evolve into something more dangerous and harmful rhetorics have started to permeate climate discourse. We saw snippets of this during the beginning of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns that were enforced. With reduced footfall outside, no cars on the streets or planes in the skies, the immediate drop in pollution and short-term pause of emissions made some people claim that, in fact, “humans are the virus”. Basically, they were insinuating that ecological “recovery” is only possible if we just… stopped existing.
However, not analysing the exploitative structures or systems that have created climate change and continue to exacerbate it, and instead, placing blame on things like overpopulation, immigration and, in some cases, “over-industrialisation” can be lethal when gone unchecked. At its worst, this approach to addressing climate change, also known as “eco-fascism”, has been linked with neo-nazi ideology, as well as mass shootings and terrorist attacks.
Wait, what exactly is eco-fascism?
Often linked to white supremacy in the West, eco-fascist ideology seeks to exclusively blame the climate crisis on marginalised people. That might include poor people, people of colour, disabled people and many other intersections of marginalised identities.
Instead of addressing structural inequalities that have created the climate crisis and the extractivist nature of capitalism, eco-fascists aim to inflict violence on minority groups, often using “environmental reasons” to justify their hatred. Although many eco-fascist ideas have historically circulated within right-wing extremist groups, anyone can get radicalised by the ideology
Theoretically speaking, eco-fascism is a political model in which a totalitarian state forces all of its citizens to act in a way that prioritises the environment above all else, including their or other people’s human rights. Environmental historian Michael E. Zimmerman, who has often been credited for the term, believes that there haven’t been any examples of eco-fascist governments in modern history, but argues that Nazi Germany’s social “Blood and Soil” policies came very close.
What are some of the most common eco-fascist arguments?
The false idea of “overpopulation” is by far the most common eco-fascist trope that gets passed around and even unlikely faves such as David Attenborough have fallen prey to it. Yet as you dig deeper, you begin to see how messy and violent the suggestions that populations need to be controlled get. In practice, how do you orchestrate population control without severely restricting people’s human rights?
When people focus on overpopulation rather than examining unsustainable overconsumption by rich countries, they’re deliberately ignoring the root causes of the climate crisis.
Restriction of movement also comes up when discussing emissions caused by different modes of travel. What can start off as an innocent discussion around plane emissions can end up as a xenophobic argument against freedom of movement and immigration, yet again blaming an “outside” group for environmental woes when we should be pointing fingers at the billionaires flying their private space jets.
Believers of eco-fascist ideology also have a tendency to overly romanticise the idea of “going back to nature”, and reversing technological and industrial progress that has been made in the modern age. Some get weirdly obsessed with Scandinavian Norse mythology too (don’t ask). However, the argument for “degrowth” is problematic and wouldn’t be feasible in many of our contemporary Western societies, nor would it be socially progressive.
Finally, it’s really worth noting what sorts of arguments people bring up when proposing to deal with climate change. Anything that involves more surveillance, more policing, harsher borders, violent enforcement of rules or a danger to human rights is usually a huge eco-fascist red flag.
So how can we stop people from falling down these eco-fascist holes?
Well, there’s the obvious, such as making sure our education system is putting climate change at the forefront and correctly informing people of its causes. But it’s also crucial to critically engage with and challenge people using the aforementioned eco-fascist tropes.
That’s not to say that individuals, especially marginalised folk, have to debate literal fascists, but as there’s so much misinformation around the climate crisis, it’s important to keep the communication lines open. People are far less vulnerable to such radicalisation when their very real climate fears are heard and validated. We’re all desperate for a climate solution, but we’ll find one much faster if we focus on community-based approaches instead of harmful conspiracy theories.