The coronavirus crisis has ground the world to a halt. Originating in Wuhan, China in November 2019, before spreading throughout Asia, to Europe and the United States and now to Africa, at the time of writing there have been over 2.2 million cases globally, with over 155,000 of those people having sadly lost their lives…
In an effort to stop the virus, countries across the world have enforced strict lockdown measures; these vary from country to country, but broadly speaking include complete bans on international travel, encouraging people to work from home where possible and banning all non-essential internal travel and mass gatherings.
Unsurprisingly, these restrictions have had an impact on carbon emissions and air pollution; with many airlines reducing the number of flights by up to 80%, some train companies in the UK suspending all services and a large number of the UK workforce now no longer commuting as they work from home, emissions from the transport sector alone will no doubt have reduced during this time. In the EU, daily CO2 emissions have fallen 56% on pre-crisis levels, whilst in the US a government estimate forecasted emissions to fall by 7.5% this year. With more people staying in their homes, localised pollution has fallen leading to improved air and water quality and a reduction of negative human impact on wildlife; for example, the deserted streets of Welsh town Llandudno were recently taken over by a herd of goats usually restricted to the mountains.
Whilst under normal circumstances I would celebrate the needed reductions in CO2 emissions and pollutants, currently against the bachroup of the huge human, social and economic costs of coronavirus, it is hardly moral to cheer these events. However, some people have been pushing a Malthusian narrative which portrays the coronavirus as ‘Mother Earth’s vaccine’ against humans, celebrating the ‘return of nature’ and asserting that ‘humans are the virus’, ‘Earth is healing’ and that ‘corona is the cure’. These proclamations are often accompanied by an image of a clear river, blue sky or wildlife, like the classic example below from Twitter (the photos of which actually turned out to be fake):
^An example of a BAD TAKE
Appreciating the world around us is healthy and should be encouraged, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with admiring the nature around us that this year may be flourishing slightly more than usual. However, claiming that coronavirus is some natural “saviour” to spare us from the fate of climate change is problematic, especially given its potential align neatly with ecofascist ideas. Eco-fascism is a doctrine that sees limiting population as the way to curb climate change, whilst perpetuating white supremacist ideas. Eco-fascists believe that the best way to reduce emissions is through population control, by force if necessary, and that in a post climate-change world climate refugees (who disproportionately will come from the Global South) will pose an inherent threat to those in wealthier nations. Today’s eco-fascists are greatly inspired by Madison Grant, who in 1916 warned of the decline of ‘the Nordic race’ and proclaimed that white people should decide which forms of life were “worthy” of life. These ideas were peddled by terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, as he cited Madison in his justifications for the massacre.
Given eco-fascist’s obsession with overpopulation, and their intertwining of white supremacist ideas with environmental concerns; discussions around population control often are based on the assumption that those who should be having less children are non-white, poor people from the Global South. Parading the virus as Mother Earth’s vaccine and claiming humans are in fact the virus suggests that whoever is spouting this dangerous rhetoric is comfortable with vast numbers of people dying. In fact they see this as collateral damage as the earth ‘healing herself’. With initial studies in the UK showing that BAME people are more likely to contract coronavirus, and the elderly and those with underlying health conditions also vastly more at risk, coronavirus is not the great leveller it has been touted as; those with more economic, social, health and racial privilege are less likely to be badly affected by the virus. This reality fits neatly into eco-fascist doctrine, where deaths of people of colour are seen as acceptable losses; heralding the ‘return of wildlife’ and ‘nature healing herself’ at the expense of the deaths of thousands of often marginalised people is a fascistic, dangerous narrative to accept.
Instead of seeking positives from the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, should we not be questioning the systems that human life is built around, and asking ourselves if our hyper-consumptive, resource-intensive way of life is really necessary? Capitalism, the economic system that 21st century life is dictated by, will always seek to adapt to protect its never-ending quest for profit, no matter the human or environmental costs. By definition, capitalism sees environmental destruction and human suffering as externalities, unimportant side-effects of accumulating wealth.
Lockdown has shown us that our lives can be different; communications technology can negate the need for international travel for conference and meetings, some jobs may not even be necessary at all, whilst the value of key workers has never been clearer, despite what their payslips say. People are supporting local, smaller businesses that are rooted in communities and give back to their local areas, eschewing multinational corporations that value profit over all else. Additionally communities have rediscovered the value of mutual aid and cooperation, and with little else to do, many people have been spending more time in nature appreciating the green space around us. As we envision a world after lockdown, rather than looking inwards and blaming each other for the earth’s problems, let’s consider that an economic system that values profit over human life and nature might actually be to blame, and build a new way of organising life around the principles of mutual aid, solidarity and compassion for each other and the world around us.
Therefore, (this really shouldn’t need to be a reminder) but thousands of people dying from coronavirus is nothing to be celebrated, firstly and most importantly because this view plays into an eco-fascist worldview built heavily on white supremacy, and secondly, because the effect it has of slightly reducing the world’s population has only a very negligible impact on the environment anyway. So not only is the ‘corona is the cure’ narrative a gateway into eco-fascist thinking, it’s also fundamentally untrue. Please, if you see this narrative, call it out.
We don’t need a deadly virus for us to tackle the climate crisis. This has shown us what the world could be like if our leaders acted in line with the science and embraced the solutions we already have.
I’ve written about the racist myth of overpopulation before in a previous piece, so if you’re interested in learning why population isn’t to blame for the climate crisis, do have a read.