At this time of the COVID-19 outbreak, some media posts have evoked the term ecofascism, popularized originally by the American philosopher Michael E. Zimmerman. Zimmerman defined “ecofascism” as “a totalitarian government that requires individuals to sacrifice their interests to the well-being of the ‘land,’ understood as the splendid web of life, or the organic whole of nature, including peoples and their states.” Marc Hudson, in an article in The Conversation, warns readers to be aware of “far-right arguments disguised as environmentalism.” Hudson maintains that the activist group Extinction Rebellion has purportedly spread posters “Corona is the cure, humans are the disease.” Hudson also highlighted that there is circumstantial evidence that a supremacist group called the Hundred-Handers is spoofing XR imagery and may be behind these posters. Nevertheless, he continues, sentiments about “saving the planet” are becoming overshadowed by far-right movements that are racist or fascist. In another article in The Conversation, Prakash Kashwan expresses moral outrage at what he sees as the racist roots of the American conservation movement.
Before giving in to this moral outrage, let us honestly examine our species’ contribution to planetary justice. We might consider that we are the only species that creates racist and oppressive societies (against every other species on Earth as well as members of our own species), wages wars, enslaves billions of others, and creates caste systems. We also claim to be a species capable of acknowledging our faults.
It seems that ecofascism is a twisted fantasy about environmentalists who supposedly pose a threat to a democratic society. No environmentalist or environmental group has ever supported totalitarian, authoritarian, or murderous regimes, unless these individuals or groups are mentally deranged or criminal. This applies to Hitler as well as to all individuals that support violence as a means of progress. Hitler had many other “interests” besides being ostensibly “green,” such as promoting the Arian race, taking over the world, and committing genocide. He also liked painting. Not every artist is a fascist. Similarly, we do not assume that Michael Zimmerman was a Nazi supporter just because one of the philosophers he often cited was Martin Heidegger, who was a member of the Nazi Party. Deranged individuals who shoot human beings supposedly for an environmental cause are neither green, nor ecocentric, nor animal-ethics supporters, but simply pathologically insane. The term “ecofascist” applied to environmentalists is a contradiction in terms, since both ecocentrism and animal ethics support rights to life of all living beings on Earth—including, to state the obvious, humans.
What we are actually bearing witness to, instead, is that environmental activists around the globe, especially in developing countries, from Asia to South America and Africa, are being murdered, their numbers increasing each year (Global Witness 2019). We also bear witness to the mistreatment and slaughter of billions of nonhumans in industrial “supply chains,” alongside the persecution of thousands of their defenders by government officials, loggers, miners, and others involved in the destruction of the natural world through ecocide.
In this alternative conception that I’m proposing, ecofascism should apply to murdering environmental activists across the globe, to normalizing the slaughter and suffering of billions of living beings, and to choosing to ignore the ongoing extinction of species. Nonhumans are killed and driven to extinction either indirectly through habitat destruction (especially industrial-scale agribusiness that claims the land as “resources”), or directly through overhunting, overfishing, and poaching. As Sandy Irvine, a member of the British Green Party, wrote in October in his Facebook post, a minority of “identitarians” is extremely vocal and hyper-aggressive, with their virulent accusations of this or that “phobia” and demands to “check your privilege.” It is intimidating many members of the Green Party and other organizations into acquiescence with bad ideas, such as the looming pseudo-threat of the far-right penetrating environmentalism, for fear of being denounced as a transphobe, xenophobe, or racist. Identity politics obscures our one identity, namely Earthlings. Or, alternatively, to put it in the words of Aldo Leopold, that we are “plain citizens” of the land. Focusing single-mindedly on human beings as “black versus white” or “poor versus rich” or “innocent versus guilty” also serves to sideline and obscure the extermination of wild species and the enslavement of domestic animals rampant in our time.
The mass mistreatment and killing of animals for consumption or medical experimentation or planetary-scale eradication of wild habitats should not be excluded from the diagnosis of injustice. Protection of all living beings must come from all sides of the political spectrum, from all human beings of all colors, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc. We share the same planet and the same future and should support all-species pluralism, ecodemocracy, and inclusive justice of all planetary citizens (Kopnina and Cherniak 2016; Gray and Curry 2020).
Gerardo Ceballos, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and his colleagues have pointed out that we lost at least 500 species that know about over the past 100 years (a number that is the tip of the iceberg), a tally that would normally take 10,000 years to accrue (Ceballos et al. 2017). Ceballos and coauthors describe the phenomenon as “biological annihilation” affecting all ecosystems as well as the provision of vital amenities for civilization. They warn of cascading impacts of biodiversity loss, including more frequent pandemics such as COVID-19, as well as humanitarian crises caused by climate change and ecosystem collapse. It seems extremely short-sighted and obtusely human-centered to focus solely on inter-species inequalities and grievances as the planet burns. Inequalities, in fact, will only get worse and turn vicious, when the struggle for survival of human beings and billions of other living beings undermines both the physical and moral foundations of civilization.
While Kashwan’s (2020) accusation of racism, against Aldo Leopold and John Muir and against conservation organizations, feeds the fantasy that sinister greens are striving to impose eco-fascist regimes, the fact that a single species is destroying and dominating all others is muted if not blithely ignored. The image Kashwan uses in his post of Native Americans holding banners “This is stolen land” is titled “Native Americans protest President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, July 3, 2020.” Nothing about environmentalists. No intimation is offered in this use of imagery and reporting of the fact that the land was also stolen from nonhuman beings. In this alternative conception, ecofascism directed to other species serves to obscure, and ultimately legitimate, the eviction of indigenous animals from their lands (most were there before human settlers) through the conversion of wild habitats for the use of a single supposedly superior species.
Kashwan tries to reconcile human and nonhuman interests in the last sentence: “In the long run, it is clear to me that conservation will succeed only if it can support the goal of a dignified life for all humans and nonhuman species.” Yes, we all want justice. But, as Patrick Curry observes, “since we depend utterly on the Earth but the Earth so does not depend on us, there is an unavoidable hierarchy of value. Thus, social justice does not exist on the same level of importance as ecological justice.” Social justice advocates seem to believe that if inequity, discrimination, racism, and neocolonialism are eliminated, in their eyes less significant environmental issues such as biodiversity destruction will solve themselves. Yet no thought is given to food production for almost 8 billion apex predators—for poor or rich, humans are high in the food chain.
There do exist social justice advocates with a wider lens. However, the moral outrage of identity politics is largely blind to how we, as a single species, not only discriminate, but exterminate other species from the face of the Earth, and make nonhuman individuals suffer so we can eat them or experiment on them, and refuse to even acknowledge our ongoing species racism and planetary injustice.
Read ‘Reversing ecofascism’, by Helen Kopnina, on the #EarthTongues blogTweet
Ceballos G, Ehrlich PR and Dirzo R (2017) Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), pp. E6089-E6096.
Curry P (2020) The Poverty of Identity Politics. https://blog.ecologicalcitizen.net/2020/10/01/the-poverty-of-identity-politics/
Global Witness (2019) Enemies of the state? https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/enemies-state/
Gray J and Curry P (2020) ‘Representation for nature’: Ecodemocratic decision-making as a practical means of integrating ecological and social justice. In Kopnina H, Washington H (eds) Conservation: Integrating Social and Ecological Justice. Heidelberg, Springer, pp. 155-166.
Hudson M (2020) Beware far-right arguments disguised as environmentalism. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/beware-far-right-arguments-disguised-as-environmentalism-134830
Kashwan P (2020) American environmentalism’s racist roots have shaped global thinking about conservation. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/american-environmentalisms-racist-roots-have-shaped-global-thinking-about-conservation-143783#comment_2324582
Kopnina H and Cherniak B (2016) Neoliberalism and Justice in Education for Sustainable Development: A call for inclusive pluralism. Environmental Education Research, 22(6): 827-841.