Hava Liebowitz (BFA 2021) collects velvet blazers and has been accused of witchcraft.
Illustration by Cat Cao
While many of us have spent our time inside coping with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on our work and education, entire countries have begun prioritizing survival over all other concerns. In Italy alone, which has suffered more than 8,000 deaths due to the virus, the government has instituted fines of up to €3,000 ($3,300 USD) and possibly time in prison for anyone “leaving their house without a valid reason.”
In the wake of this pandemic, the masses have understandably been on the lookout for a silver lining. Many have found it by celebrating the marginal decrease in pollution that has resulted from the abrupt halt of human activity. From clearer water in the canals of Venice to a reduction in CO2 emissions by air travel, our environment has seen observable changes. But observable doesn’t necessarily mean significant, sustainable, or even entirely correct. In fact, a lot of the misinformation currently circulating exists to support the right-wing ideology of ecofascism.
Ecofascism combines racism, xenophobia, and toxic masculinity with environmentalism, and it doesn’t just live in the shadowy corners of the internet. Ecofascism is the thought process that motivates eco-terrorism. Notorious eco-terrorists include the Christchurch shooter and the El Paso shooter. Like most mass shooters, they see human society as "the problem," and consider themselves outsiders to that society. They are by definition anti-migrant, anti-refugee, and pro-eugenics. Most of all, ecofascism hinges on the belief that a mass extinction event is the solution to climate change.
But what does this have to do with sharing cute photos of swans in Italy? Well, most extremist movements don’t rely solely on their few adherents to share their message. They grow through a lot of well-meaning people spreading misinformation, especially when it’s sandwiched in between a more sensible content like infographics on washing your hands. For example, author and civil rights activist Adrienne Marie Brown shared this photo on her COVID-19 Instagram story:
Adrienne Marie Brown, activist and afrofuturist author of "Emergent Strategy," perhaps the most important contribution to sustainability literature in the past decade, would never consider herself aligned with fascism. The picture and caption don’t carry a dogmatic tone, either. The danger of this ideology is that it is so relatable. Every person, at some point or another, has taken in the world around them and felt, temporarily, a loss of faith in humanity. And it is true that our species will one day be extinct like all species before us. But the proliferation of this message has primed us to accept even more extreme messages, like the idea that COVID-19 is “cleansing the Earth.” But cleansing the Earth of what? Or whom?
This is not the first time that ecofascists have viewed plagues and natural disasters as evidence that their beliefs are sound. The term eco-fascist was coined by Murray Bookchin in criticism of a publication that hypothesized the AIDs epidemic as having a positive impact on the planet. Since the 1960s, the American environmentalist movement has been synthesized in the popular imagination with the Hippie movement. Fast forward to the present day, and environmentalism is considered at once universally left-wing and apolitical.
This could not be further from the truth, as the fight for sustainability intersects with the fight for Indigenous peoples’ rights as well as classism, racism, and neocolonialism. (For more on this, read up on environmental racism). Ecofascists know that the climate crisis is hurting oppressed communities. Their beliefs evolved from a white supremacist history that dates back over a century, to a time when advocates of Manifest Destiny became advocates of conservationism as well.
Most of all, ecofascism hinges on the belief that a mass extinction event is the answer to climate change.
On the far-right, the sect continues preaching conspiracy theories on Reddit and Breitbart News, claiming that the coronavirus outbreak was manufactured by the Chinese government, and circulating podcasts about the virus by an outed white nationalist. The sect attempts to infiltrate the left while at the same time maintaining a firm presence on the right. Ecofascist propaganda is designed to appeal to the younger generation’s penchant for nihilism and well-founded hatred of the systems of power we live under — which makes a world without humanity seem peachy.
Ecofascists misappropriate environmentalist tenets like Deep Ecology —the concept that organisms and natural resources should not be measured by their usefulness to humans — to justify the idea that pandemics and climate change are necessary functions, that the Earth ridding itself of a pest. From this, they’ve developed the extremist view that climate refugees fleeing famine and natural disaster deserve to die. But those who are truly advocates of biodiversity understand that human beings are part of nature. Capitalism perpetuates a delusion that we are separate from nature, that nature is something we use and are sovereign over and not something we are a part of; this is an ideology that has allowed us to exploit the resources around us instead of the symbiotic relationship that we could have with our environment.
True sustainability is not the spread of COVID-19. True sustainability is Ethiopia planting 353 million trees to reverse the desertification of the Sahel region. The strength of humanity is its ability for cooperation. During this quarantine, we can take time to pause and observe how human travel and industry affect the world we live in, but we are best able to improve how we relate to nature when we are healthy and well. f