Eco-fascist rhetoric finds its roots in white supremacy and xenophobia, specifically because the human life that it disregards is that of BIPOC.
Humans are not the virus. We are not a sickness or a disease, and y’all should stop singing this tired refrain as we are all reeling from the global Coronavirus pandemic. With several false reports of animals flourishing as cities slow down due to quarantine recently going viral (how ironic), a concerning amount of people have responded with the sentiment that the presence of humans living and taking up space on our planet is its own type of sickness. People are even circulating an article from 2018 about the ozone layer finally beginning to heal, undoubtedly without reading the date or anything beyond the title, and somehow connecting it to the sudden diminished presence and activity of humans as most of us uphold our social responsibility to stay home during this time.
Some have also named COVID-19 as Mother Nature’s vengeance, “Earth’s vaccine” for the human virus, or the universe’s way of making the world a better place. Self-righteously deeming it some sort of divine intervention, they imply that the massive loss of life and our collective grief over those lost lives are somehow worth it for the sake of the planet, or even necessary. This pandemic has helped to facilitate the development and worsening of trauma and grief in entire communities, and rhetoric that frames this as a blessing for those who deserve to live here and a penalty for those seen as unworthy is not only deeply insensitive, but dangerous.
It also fails to take into account the fact that those who have profited from industrialism and hazardous environmental practices will never stop seeking out ways to maintain their capital. In fact, due to the current virus, the Trump administration has weakened public health and environmental enforcement, waiving several mandates put in place for our protection to instead benefit the oil and gas industries (and this comes after Trump has already worked to roll back rules against power plant pollution and remove federal water protections).
The people who are and who will continue to be impacted the most by this pandemic are poor, working-class, unhoused, incarcerated, and detained communities who are disproportionately BIPOC. This is not only in terms of a health risk—with elderly, disabled, immunocompromised, the working poor and unprotected, those already neglected by the medical industry, and folks with comorbidities being at the highest risk of contracting and dying from the virus—but also in terms of economic access and stability. Those who are already poor and disenfranchised are less able to self-quarantine properly if they still have to go to work or will not have the financial resources to afford rent and essentials if they are now unable to work. And, of course, those in detention centers and prisons are not able to practice social distancing in order to prevent rapid spreading of the virus, while unhoused folks have very limited access to be able to do basic hygiene practices like washing their hands. To compound this, actually contracting the virus will leave them with a mountain of medical debt and they may not even receive proper treatment due to well-documented medical racism, ableism, and fatphobia.
The fact is that there will be and already have been many preventable deaths due to the violently unequal systems that marginalize these vulnerable populations in the first place. To suggest that any of what is happening is due to the will of Mother Nature, a god, or the universe is beyond atrocious, especially when we have wealthy white people freely admitting their belief that the U.S. should allow 2-3% of its population to die (more than 8 million people) in order to revive the stock market. Valuing nature over human lives and valuing money over human lives are the same kind of malignancy.
Instead of critiquing the exploitative systems in place that ensure social and economic disparities, many are allowing their eco-feminist, conservationist, environmentalist, or spiritual ideologies to wade dangerously into eco-fascist territory—which does absolutely nothing to help us, especially marginalized folks. Capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism—not humanity itself—are the conditions that breed the destruction of natural habitats, the poisoning and polluting of our water supply, and the defiling of the health of our planet and our bodies. It is imperative that we make that distinction. When we do not, it leaves room for the most damaging systems of our world to thrive even more by throwing marginalized people under the bus.
Eco-fascism—an emphasis on the preservation of nature that disregards human life—finds its roots in white supremacy and xenophobia, specifically because the human life that it disregards is that of BIPOC. Along the same vein of eugenic thought, which uses ableism, racism, and classism to determine who must live and who must die for the “greater good” of society, eco-fascism should absolutely be understood as a tool of genocidal efforts. Nazism’s “Blood and Soil” mantra, which has now been adopted by the alt-right as demonstrated in Charlottesville, is an eco-fascist refrain asserting that only people Indigenous to a land—essentially tied to the soil by blood—have the right to live there and that the environment should be preserved by culling the population of “rootless” immigrants via genocide and/or deportation.
Much like—or perhaps exactly like—the tyrannical Thanos, his forced “balancing” of the universe, and the scarcity myth that informed his violent actions, eco-fascists are beyond willing to sacrifice people in order to preserve environments and natural resources, and they believe that they have the right to determine that people must be expelled. The El Paso and Christchurch mass shooters both held eco-fascist beliefs and cited them as their motivation for murdering “Hispanics invading Texas” and people praying in mosques, with the Christchurch shooter even describing immigration as “environmental warfare.”
A white supremacist group, Hundred-Handers, is currently impersonating a climate change organization called Extinction Rebellion in order to spread these beliefs while drawing specific connections to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eco-fascist rhetoric works to obscure the responsibility of white colonialism and its long history of destruction, as well as imperialist presences in predominantly Black and brown countries. It ignores capitalist industrialism and environmental racism, especially how large corporations actively destroy the world in pursuit of profits and territorial control. While many of the people currently regurgitating “humans are the virus” talking points on Twitter and beyond are certainly not intentionally promoting white nationalism, their words are still aligned with a dangerous school of thought. Regardless of their belief system, simply blaming people as a whole for the state of the environment is an insistence that many of us should take the blame for the very oppressions we’ve had to suffer under.
As many have pointed out, eco-fascism is a logic that finds footing when its arbiters only acknowledge a revisionist historical narrative that completely disregards the truth of Indigenous people’s relationship with nature. For millennia, Indigenous communities have demonstrated the possibility of peacefully and respectfully communing with the Earth. They have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is possible to live on this planet and respect it and allow it to thrive while feeding, clothing, sheltering, and caring for ourselves. We could learn so much by following the lead of Indigenous climate activists, heeding their wisdom, and honoring their work.
In the midst of this pandemic, with so much loss and uncertainty and even more on the horizon, we have to understand that institutional and corporate disregard for the planet cannot be divorced from disregard for marginalized beings from those same destructive systems. Know that when you post and share variations of “humans are the virus” online, you are parroting the rhetoric of white supremacists. Instead of doing that, I encourage you to remind others and yourselves of the capitalist, corporate, colonialist, and imperialist failings of a deeply unequal world.