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  • Sat, 25, Apr, 2020 - 5:00:AM

Silver linings or ecofascism? It's not so clear.

White swans on water / Marija Zaric /

When I saw a tweet that claimed dolphins had returned to the Venice canals, my heart felt the lightest it had in quite some time.

I’m definitely not alone in saying that, for the sake of my mental well-being, I was in sore need of some positive news. My newsfeed was filled with little else but reports of death counts, supply shortages and governmental failures abroad.

A lot of the mood-lifting stories I’ve seen have been environmental silver linings. Lockdown orders have minimised the impact of usually-busy cities on their surrounding environment. Air pollution is at an all-time low in some locations, and waterways are clearing up. Deserted towns are being reclaimed by wild animals.

Except, not all of these stories are accurate. The adorable aforementioned dolphins? Unfortunately false. The swans returning to the Venice canals? Partly untrue (considering they are a year-round fixture of the Venetian island of Burano). The elephants that got drunk on corn wine and fell asleep in a Chinese tea garden (which, when you say it aloud, seems obviously bogus)? Most definitely fake.

Misinformation that has a lot of emotional value (like those linked to heart-warming animal antics) tends to spread rapidly. The supposedly miraculous impact on cities all over the world of a few weeks of inactivity speaks directly to what environmentalists have urged for years: we need great change to combat the climate crisis.

But a darker side of the environmentalist movement has also appropriated some stories to support opinions like: ‘Coronavirus is Earth’s vaccine. We’re the virus.’ and ‘the human race is so shitty that when we’re absent, the world begins to thrive again.

It’s easy to read such statements and attribute them to the same feelings of disappointment and urgency that lie behind the climate action movement. In many ways articles like these appear to want the same things as the climate strikers and other advocates — but they are not the same.

Extreme sentiments such as these are examples of ecofascism. Ecofascism is the use of authoritarian ideals in order to achieve climate justice. In discussions about Covid-19, ecofascism can look like claims that the pandemic is nature’s way of restoring balance; or, believing the social impact of the pandemic to be a worthy tradeoff for a positive environmental impact. Using reports of decreased air and water pollution to argue that the planet would be better off if humans just vanished, is ecofascism.

Ecofascism has a long history. Fascist regimes in 20th-century Germany merged environmental concerns with growing nationalism, racism, xenophobia and eugenics, neatly emphasised by the Nazi slogan, “blood and soil”. Protecting one’s country came to be synonymous with defending natural resources and ecological splendour from foreign, pest-like invaders.

The Population Bomb, written by Paul Ehrlich and published in 1968, was one of the works that helped frame overpopulation as the main threat to the environment. Ehrlich said of Delhi in 1966, “[I saw] people defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. . . . [S]ince that night, I’ve known the feel of overpopulation.” 

In 1966, Paris had about five million more people than Delhi. Then, and now — fifty years later — it’s seldom heard that Europe or North America have 'too many people'. Conversely, the xenophobic idea of a resource-sucking wave of migrants still publically resurfaces every now and then.

So when I read posts that invoke the image of humanity being a scourge on the earth, I worry. Such sweeping statements seem to be politically neutral at first, but they fail to address that the climate crisis weighs more on some communities than others.

Those statements gloss over how capitalist economies are responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions. They gloss over the fact that developing countries — even with a high concentration of people — have such disproportionately low rates of resource consumption and will thus unfairly bear the brunt of climate change. Dennis Dimick writes, “our cumulative impact on the planet is not just in population numbers, but also in the increasing amount of natural resources each person uses.”

The true fight for climate justice requires discussion on a range of complex factors. Neither overpopulation nor the existence of humanity are the sole cause of environmental degradation. It’s our current way of life which has established an unnatural, unsustainable relationship between us and our planet, and environmentalists know that we are equally as capable of being the solution.

When individuals internalise ecofascism, it can be dangerous. Both the Christchurch and El Paso shooters were motivated by ecofascist ideals, having referenced overpopulation as a motive for race-based violence.

Just like feminism without intersectionality, ecofascism disguised as environmentalism — no matter how subtle — needs to be called out and rejected at every opportunity.


  • Coronavirus /
  • COVID-19 /
  • Environmentalism /
  • Ecofascism /
  • Fake News /
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