It’s been a central tenet of this website that the global rise in far-right sentiment is partly a displaced expression of repressed anger and fear about climate change. The context for Friday’s atrocity in New Zealand confirm that if that was ever true, it’s now becoming less so. I’d seen odd reports that some elements of the global far-right were abandoning climate denial in favour of what one might call genocidal eco-misanthropy, and had noticed that (for example) Marine Le Pen is no longer a climate denier. She’s ahead of the pack, given the influence of Bolsonaro and Trump in persisting in outright denial. There are a lot of pre-existing ideas that can easily be coopted by far-right newborn environmentalists, as Paul Caterell details here. I’ve long felt that initiatives such as the Dark Mountain project were so misanthropically Malthussian in their response to accelerating environmental meltdown as to share common ground with those inclined to see climate change not as a threat but an opportunity, and I’m not talking about the superficial TED Talks utopianism of so much that passes for ‘environmentalist’ discourse but something much more sinister.
The self-definition of the Christchurch terrorist as an “eco-fascist” led me to this article from the New Statesmen. It should alert everyone connected to environmental activism and climate campaigning to be extremely wary of discourses which unite deep ecology, geographical boundedness, animal rights, veganism, a return to the soil, and forefathers. Names to look out for include Pentti Linkola, Danielle Savoy and Savitri Devi, and images popular with eco-fascists include Norse runes (particulary the ‘life rune’ – see above), forests and what has been jokingly called ‘cabin porn’. The article has many more details about the linguistic and semiotic clues that may indicate the presence of eco-fascist ideology. It partly involves turning on its head the standard right-wing trope that Hitler was a vegetarian and an environmentalist. The most cutting edge fascists celebrate those aspects of Nazism, recognising that ‘Lebensraum’ was partly about creating an ecological utopia by cleaning up the toxic elements that were polluting it with their very existence*.
The core of eco-fascist discourse, and by far the most dangerous one, is overpopulation. On a recent Extinction Rebellion protest I was handed a glossy leaflet by David Attenborough’s charity outfit, the headline of which highlighted overpopulation as the core problem we face. Leaving aside the fact that had Attenborough not persisted in his climate denial for so long we probably wouldn’t have got to this point so early, his focus on overpopulation seems to be hugely problematic. If you claim that the problem with the world is the existence of too many people but are not willing to take the logical step of either killing yourself or not making any more, then the issue immediately gets reformulated into: there are too many other people. Which leads to the question: Who gets selected for eradication and/or sterilisation? Now, while we may be naïve enough to go on blithely claiming that it’s other people’s apathy and overconsumption that have caused the problem, we can’t pretend we don’t know what solutions those forces occupying or angling for power across the world, from the US to the UK to Brazil to Italy and elsewhere, are going to propose when things get really bad.
Of course, it’s natural and good that many people seek to change their own lives before telling everyone else to do so. The sudden plethora of vegan restaurants where I live in East London is remarkable. Am I suggesting that anyone who turns vegan is a potential fascist? Absolutely not. But at a time when lots of young people are educating themselves online and demanding that climate change be treated as an political emergency rather than being left as an awkward social taboo which most adults would rather suffer than combat, it’s incumbent upon us to identify, expose and exclude anyone linking land, nature and race.
There are very few eco-fascists who dare to take their principles offline and put them into practice; we just saw how destructive it can be when they set out to advertise their beliefs, to create mass rather than mere social media memes and to impress Rupert Murdoch as well as their fellow 4chan trolls. Most will do so at a somewhat more subtle level than Brenton Tarrant. What appear to be innocuous memes promoting sound environmentalist values may have hidden resonances, so we have to learn how to spot and call out all instances of language which seems to hint at a connection between blood and soil. For example, at that same XR demonstration someone got up and repeatedly used the phrase ‘our lands’. Was that person an eco-fascist? Almost certainly not. But as Foucault pointed out, there is a sense in which our words speak us rather than we them, in which ideas circulating in society have more power than the people who voice them. We can’t allow genocidal nihilism to infect the enthusiasm of this new generation of climate activists, most of whom get much of their information and ideas in the same forums where identitarian and eco-fascist memes circulate, pushing the notion that the main culprits for climate change are not corporate power and unfettered capitalism but mass migration and multiculturalism. Hence we need to be extremely vigilant about which words and images we use both on and offline and be particularly careful when addressing the thorny issue of overpopulation. Maybe it will come down to a battle of symbols: not the so-called “life” rune, symbolising life for our particular ethnic group and death to everyone else, but this symbol, representing the protection of the life chances of every single one of the true, universal Us.
*It’s worth reading up on what Jared Diamond has to say about the link between environmental pressures and genocide in Rwanda; this presentation gives a brief account of it.