Design a site like this with
Get started

“Humans are the virus”: Pandemic Eco-Fascism

By: Michelle Angkasa

If you were on social media around March, the apex of the Internet’s coronavirus panic, you probably stumbled upon tweets or posts like these:

These posts pull on our heartstrings with pictures and videos of macaques raiding villages in search of food, mountain lions wandering empty neighbourhood streets, or elephants happily napping in a tea field. However, beneath its sunny, optimistic veneer, hides a much more nefarious message, one that sounds concerningly like eco-fascism. 

What is eco-fascism?

According to environmental historian Michael E. Zimmerman, an eco-fascist would push for “a totalitarian government that requires individuals to sacrifice their interests to the wellbeing of the ‘land’… the splendid web of life, or the organic whole of nature, including people and their states.” Some say that it has its roots in Nazism, and the “traditional agrarian romanticism and hostility to urban civilization” (Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier). It is also associated with the Nazi ideal of ‘Blood and Soil’, in which members of a nation have an otherworldly connection with their homeland. Hitler wanted his supporters to feel a connection to a “glorious historic past based on descendants who worked off the land”. 

Ecologist Garrett Hardin contributed “Lifeboat Ethics” to the eco-fascist discussion, an ideology that builds upon the theory of the Tragedy of the Commons. It basically states that countries cannot and should not help others if their own “lifeboat” is sinking, because they must protect their own first (which as you’ll notice, opposes the entire concept of climate debt). 

So what?

There are many critiques of eco-fascism. The most glaring concern is its origin in Nazism, and its many associations with white nationalism. White nationalists take this narrative of environmental degradation and blame it on illegal immigrants. Even Hitler was a lover of animals and nature, despite having zero regard for (non-Aryan) human lives. Several high profile mass shooters in recent years have been self-proclaimed eco-fascists, such as Brenton Tarrant, who shot and killed 50 people at a New Zealand mosque in 2019. It also takes cues from Malthusianism; a theory that overpopulation is the root cause of climate change, thus putting the blame on developing countries. This theory and its racist implications have since been debunked. The actual culprit? Consumption.

However, the “protect our people first” sentiment that’s at the core of eco-fascism still resonates with many countries. In situations of trial, most governments would close themselves off to protect the wellbeing of their own citizens, sometimes at the fatal expense of others. For examples, look no further than the explosion of populism, xenophobia, popularity of anti-refugee/immigrant policies and trade protectionism that led to the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, or even in certain countries’ response to COVID-19. 

Aaand there’s more!

National Geographic wrote this informative piece debunking these viral animal posts. In short, they conclude that these animal encounters are either a) patently untrue, or b) simply the short term result of decreased human activity, and therefore not a sign that “the earth is healing”. In the same way, the reductions in carbon emissions we’ve seen during this pandemic are a blip, and not a sign of a sustained trend. In fact, according to this Smithsonian article, they could very easily bounce back as countries continue to open up. Furthermore, as Constantine Samaras, a climate expert at Carnegie Mellon University says, “A pandemic is the worst possible way to reduce emissions. There’s nothing to celebrate here. We have to recognize that, and to recognize that technological, behavioral, and structural change is the best and only way to reduce emissions.”

Wear a mask to prevent coronavirus & debunk fake news to prevent eco-fascism

Just as there’s no easy solution to coronavirus, there’s no easy solution to tackling climate change or rapidly increasing biodiversity loss. The real work will take time, a change in social norms, and enormous political will- propelled by community organizing. Beware of convenient narratives such as the oft-repeated “we’re/humans are the virus”. At best, they’re distracting, but they can be outright dangerous at worst. 

Things may seem bleak right now, but there’s still plenty of good news! For some examples, check out the wonderful KarunaVirus site, which collects positive stories from around the world about coronavirus. And of course, environmental activists have been working tirelessly through the pandemic to keep environmental justice and climate action at the forefront of lawmakers’ minds. Let’s keep our focus on that, and not get sidetracked by these eco-fascist ideas. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: