At a time as bleak as this, it’s only natural to look for a ray of hope. For many of us, that appeared when photos surfaced on Twitter of dolphins and swans returning to canals in Venice, attracting millions of likes. The idea that COVID-19 has given nature a chance to restore itself whilst humans stay out of the way is a beautiful one, even if it’s not true.
It has since been revealed that the swans pictured were in a smaller island off Venice where they regularly appear, and the dolphins were filmed hundreds of miles away in Sardinia. I think we can all agree that this is innocent enough, looking for some light at a dark time.
The drastic decrease in polluting activity can’t be scoffed at even if its effects aren’t as immediate as we would like to think. This sudden change of pace should be considered as an insight into the possibility of a different future that is needed to fight climate change.
While the majority of us are thinking about something removed from the crisis that’s going on, a bit of hope for the future, there is something darker blossoming on right-wing fringes.
The idea that the decrease in polluting activity has benefited the environment has naturally led to another idea that’s grabbed the imagination of many. It can be summed up by one tweet that garnered almost three hundred thousand likes:
It follows a logical pattern, but it inevitably leads to the dark conclusion that in order to protect the planet humans must die. Though the person behind this tweet has said it was intended innocently, it showcases a diving off point into the kind of thinking you find in extremist fringe movements. These movements use it to justify eugenics, brutal population control measures, and ethnic nationalism. In this context, this is called eco-fascism.
Eco-fascism stems from environmentalism. It is based on the belief that the only way to deal with climate change would be a massive decrease in the human population. It places the blame for climate change on overpopulation and uses this to scapegoat the blame onto those in developing nations with higher birthrates. This leads to off-shoots of thought on eugenics.
It sounds pretty new-fangled, but it’s a theoretical political model that’s been popping up for about one hundred years now. You can see it in the romanticised pastoral imagery of Nazi Party propaganda and their slogan on ‘Blood and Soil’. Ted Kaczynski, aka “The Unabomber”, is a figure cited as highly influential upon ecofascist thought. In 2019, the man behind the Christchurch massacre self-identified as an eco-fascist. In the same year, the El Paso shooter wrote in his manifesto that “if we can get rid of enough people then our way of life can become more sustainable”.
Last month, The Hundred-Handers, a white supremacist group, launched a poster campaign carried out under the guise of a fake East Midlands branch of Extinction Rebellion, which echoed the same rhetoric: “Corona is the Cure. Humans are the Disease.” The account has since been deleted.
There is no denying that human activity is destroying the planet. Despite this, it is not individual humans that are causing pollution. It is the structures that we have collectively set up and that will continue to stay in place no matter what sizeable portion of the world’s population may die due to COVID-19.
This is why it’s so counter-intuitive that eco-fascism appears to be making a comeback. If anything, the current crisis highlights that it is not humans are not to blame for climate change: polluting industries are.