Opinion

Beware the rising tide of eco-fascism

“If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”

These words are taken from the manifesto of Patrick Crusius – entitled An Inconvenient Truth – which he uploaded to the website 8chan shortly before going out and massacring 22 people and injuring more than 24 others in El Paso last August. Most of the manifesto is devoted to anti-Hispanic and white nationalist sentiment, but significant portions focus on how environmental destruction will cause suffering for future generations, as well as Crusius’ hatred of consumer culture and his belief that the average American is unwilling to change their lifestyle. He claims to have been inspired by the Christchurch shooter in March last year, who wrote that immigration is “environmental warfare” and claimed “there is no nationalism without environmentalism”, before killing 51 people in two mosques. The philosophy behind these beliefs is known as eco-fascism, and it is one that is infecting mainstream politics.

If we want to combat eco-fascism (and we absolutely should) it is important to understand what it entails and what distinguishes it from other environmentalist movements. Broadly speaking, eco-fascism is defined as a movement that embraces totalitarianism to protect the environment, at the expense of individual and human rights. It allies traditionally far-right policies, such as eugenics and race science, to radical green beliefs, including ‘deep ecology’, which promotes the inherent value of all living things, human or not. Eco-fascists view the oncoming climate crisis as being driven by humans, and see the best solution to be a rapid reduction of the human population. Eco-fascists have recently propagated the view that humans are the real virus, and that COVID-19 is not a tragedy but Earth’s way of fighting back against her oppressors. Their beliefs have inspired terrorist attacks, from recent mass shootings rightback to Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber. What separates these eco-attacks from the more common blow-up-a-whaling-ship type is that they specifically target disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, such as Hispanics in Texas and Muslims in Christchurch. This is the core reason why eco-fascism is a force that must be stopped.

Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic could play into the idea that fewer humans equals a healthier world. Carbon emissions are down, hardly anyone is taking flights, and there are viral images showing the return of dolphins to Venetian canals. But these images are fake, and any short-term benefit of fewer emissions will be erased once people are free to leave their homes again. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is disproportionally killing the old, sick, and poor; hardly the groups that are causing the most environmental damage. Similarly, when freak climate events begin to regularly devastate the planet in the upcoming decades, those least at fault will bear the brunt of the damage: the UN estimates that 75% of the costs of the crisis will fall to developing countries, despite the poorest half of the world’s population causing only 10% of carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change isn’t Mother Earth seeking revenge against those who wronged her, just as COVID-19 isn’t some sort of cleansing virus. To frame it that way is both wrong and immoral.

You may wonder why it’s so important to focus on what is at best a fringe ideology. The truth is that while out and proud eco-fascists remain rare and are found mainly in obscure online communities, some of their beliefs are beginning to make their presence known on the political stage, particularly amongst right-wing parties in Europe. This is dangerous in itself, but especially because it could lead to extremists seeing their views legitimised by political leaders, inspiring more hateful attacks. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party in France have claimed that “borders are the environment’s greatest ally” and declared that the planet can only be saved by clamping down on immigration. This is linked to the COVID-19 outbreak because it raises the question of whether a re-empowered nation-state is best equipped to handle a crisis involving the mass movement of people. Le Pen herself takes the view that climate concern is inherently nationalist, as those who are nomadic do not care about the environment, because “they have no homeland”. It is easy to see how this sort of rhetoric could intensify anti-immigrant aggression as people watch the world move closer and closer towards complete ecological collapse.

Elsewhere, Hungary’s president has called for aggressive movement on climate change policy specifically to stop migration, and the youth branch of Germany’s far-right AfD are hoping to expand beyond their nativist base by bringing climate issues to the fore. In Austria, the Greens have gone into coalition with the conservative People’s Party, producing a first-of-its-kind government that aims to be carbon neutral and environmentally friendly, while simultaneously placing stricter controls on immigration and banning the wearing of Islamic headscarves in schools. Expect to see more governments of this flavour formed in the EU and beyond in the next few years.

Do not be fooled by nationalists bearing gifts. It is no solution to say, “only those within our borders are worth saving, let the rest of the world fend for itself”. Instituting a form of climate apartheid where the wealthier nations are able to escape global heating, hurricanes and drought and then using ‘green’ border policing to seal off those who are suffering is unacceptable. The rich world, having done the most to exacerbate climate change, is in no position to cut off the hands trying to climb into the lifeboat. As well as this, it is possible that as the right moves away from climate denial in the face of frequent disaster and conflict, they will assign blame to the growing population of Africa, which is set to double to 2.5 billion by 2050.

Scapegoating those set to be worst affected by climate change does nothing to solve the problem, and the current pandemic has taught us that assigning blame to individual nations does nothing to help global cooperation. Climate change, like COVID-19, is a global crisis.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that a certain group of people are expendable just because they were born on the wrong side of an imaginary line.

Cillian Sheehan

Cillian Sheehan is a Theatre Editor at the Oxford Blue. He studies History & Economics at St John's College and is going into his second year. When not at Oxford, he lives in Cork, Ireland.