Coronavirus and the rise of ecofascism

Callum Sawyers on the worrying potential for a new trend in post-COVID discourse

Callum Sawyers
8th May 2020
Image: Tim Savage on Pexels, Tullio Saba on Flickr and Wikipedia
The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a major effect on global politics. Once the pandemic is over, questions over the actions taken, and how long it took for decisions to be imposed, will be asked of many different governments. We don’t know how long COVID-19 will dominate politics, but the rhetoric the pandemic has helped normalise is worrying, long term, and unexpected.

One example of the rhetoric that seems to have benefitted greatly from the outbreak is ecofascism. What was once a relatively unknown political ideology has been thrust onto centre stage. Ecofascism is, as philosopher Michael E. Zimmerman describes, a system “that requires individuals to sacrifice their interests to the well-being of the 'land'”. On the surface, you might not think that you’ve heard any rhetoric that fits into this description over the last few months, but I can guarantee that you have.

Pictures of Venice’s clean canals and Chinese metropolises free of smog are plastered all over social media, alongside comments such as "humans are the real virus" and "nature doesn’t need us", usually accompanied by an ungodly smattering of emojis. This might just seem like the classic post you’ve come to expect from those weird Facebook aunts and uncles that you never got around to unfriending after they forced you to add them at a New Year’s Eve party (yes Susan, I’m speaking to you), but their reach is unbelievable.

The strain humans have on the environment is more attributable to corporations than people simply existing

The omnipresence of these kinds of posts, and the message that they’re spreading, raises eyebrows once you begin to think about exactly what they’re saying. By suggesting that simply by living, humans are detrimental to the Earth’s flora and fauna, it provokes questions about what needs to be done to stop this damage. How exactly do the people who parrot these ideas want us to remove humans from the equation? I’m not claiming that humans have no effect on the environments that animals and plants call home; however, I am claiming that this isn’t caused by the mere fact of human existence. According to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, not humans simply existing.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t seen world leaders calling for a mass culling of their citizens, or calling on them to sacrifice themselves: this wouldn’t make much sense in stopping a virus. However, the language entering the mainstream discourse could still have a devastating impact when the world’s attention turns back to climate change.

Blaming human existence for environmental problems shifts the blame from big companies onto the average person

Currently, governments seem unable to put measures in place to restrict companies that bear the brunt of the responsibility for this climate emergency, in fear of hurting profit margins and their economies. Something else, then, will have to give. By normalising the rhetoric that the simple existence of humans is directly responsible for these problems is unproductive in combatting them. It serves only to shift the blame from the big companies onto the shoulders of the average person.

As we get closer to the point of no return in the fight against climate change, this rhetoric could easily be used as an excuse to persecute certain groups of people. Arguments about the population of developing countries, and the fossil fuels needed for their rapid industrialisation, could very easily turn nasty. Already in recent years, calls have cropped up for governmental population control due to ‘overpopulation’ . It’s not a mainstream idea, but the fact it’s even up for discussion is a very worrying development in global politics.

Anti-lockdown protests mean that we've already seen people who are willing to sacrifice lives for the economy

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen channels such as Fox News present people who would rather die than let the US economy collapse. This willingness to let people die for the economic benefit of the nation has also been one of the reasons behind the recent ‘reopen America’ protests. If people are willing to sacrifice their lives, and the lives of others, for the economy, it’s a strong possibility that we’ll see similar thought processes crop up regarding climate change in the future.

The effects COVID-19 will have on future political discourse are still unknown. However, the rhetoric that’s resulted from it could very easily be a taste of what’s to come in the fight against climate change, if world governments continue to fail to act and keep to targets and promises. Crises have a tendency to push previously fringe political ideologies to the forefront, and ecofascism seems the latest manifestation of this trend. It’s up to us to make sure this dangerous rhetoric doesn’t take hold of the mainstream.

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