Ecofascism isn't new: white supremacy and exterminism have always lurked in the environmental movement

It's easy to think of climate denial as a right-wing phenomenon, but a growing and ultra-violent strain of white-nationalism also embraces climate science, in the worst way possible.

Several of the recent white nationalist mass killers have described themselves as "ecofascists" and/or have deployed ecofascist rhetoric in their manifestos. The short version of ecofascism is that it's the belief that our planet has a "carrying capacity" that has been exceeded by the humans alive today and that we must embrace "de-growth" in the form of mass extermination of billions of humans, in order to reduce our population to a "sustainable" level.

In some ways, ecofascism is just a manifestation of "peak indifference": the idea that denial eventually self-corrects, as the debt built up by a refusal to pay attention to a real problem mounts and mounts, until it can no longer be denied. Eventually, the wildfires, floods, diseases (and ensuing refugee crises) overcome all but the most dedicated forms of bad-faith motivated reasoning and self-deception, and people start to switch sides from denying science to embracing it.

But there's an ugly side to peak indifference: that denialism can give way to nihilism. As activists seek to engage people with the urgent crisis, they describe it (correctly) as an existential threat whose time is drawing nigh. Once people acknowledge the threat, it's easy for them to conclude that it's too late to do anything about it ("Well, you were right, those cigarettes did give me lung-cancer, but now that I've got it, I might as well enjoy my last few years on earth with a cigarette between my lips").

Ecofascism is a form of nihilism, one that holds that it's easier to murder half the people on Earth than it is to reform our industrial practices to make our population sustainable. Leaving aside the obvious moral objections to this posture, there's also an important technical sense in which it is very wrong: we will need every mind and every body our species have to toil for generations to come, building seawalls, accommodating refugees, treating pandemic sufferers, working in more labor-intensive (and less resource-intensive) forms of agriculture, etc. etc. The exterminst doctrine assumes that we can know before the fact which humans are "surplus" and which ones might have the insight that lets us sequester carbon, cure a disease, or store renewable energy at higher densities.

But ecofascism isn't an entirely new phenomenon. Pastoralist and environmental thinking has always harbored a strain of white supremacy (the Nazi doctrine of Lebensraum was inextricably bound up with an environmental ideology of preserving habits from "excess" people -- as well as the wrong kind of people, whose inferior blood made them poor stewards of the land.

The connection between eugenics and environmentalism runs deep. One of the fathers of ecofascist thought is Madison Grant, who worked with Teddy Roosevelt to establish the US system of national parks, and also to establish a whiteness requirement for prospective US immigrants. This thread of thinking -- that there are too many people, and the wrong people are breeding -- carries forward with the environmental movement, with figures like John Tanton, who started his career as a local Sierra Club official, but went on to found the Federation for American Immigration Reform and co-found the Center for Immigration Studies, warning Americans to defend against a coming "Latin onslaught," revealing himself to be a full-blown white nationalist who is revered today as the ideological father of the ecofascist movement.

Meanwhile, the eco-left kept having its own brushes with xenophobia. In the early 2000s, the Sierra Club underwent an internecine struggle to reform its official anti-immigration stance and purge the white nationalists and xenophobes from its ranks. In the early 2010, Earth First had to oust co-founder Dave Foreman as his pro-environmental activism was overtaken by his anti-immigrant activism, with splinter groups like "Apply the Brakes" taking hard lines on borders and immigration.

Today, the ecofascist movement is closely aligned with the Trump administration, through links to Steven Miller and Jeff Sessions. The former executive director of FAIR is now serving as Trump's citizenship and immigration services ombudsman. Ann Coulter demands that Americans choose between either "greening or browning" their future. Richard Spencer wraps white nationalism in green rhetoric, and Gavin McInnes has directly linked environmentalism to anti-immigration ideology.

Pushing back against this are two complementary strains of environmental thought: the bright greens who see democratically managed, urbanized, high technology as the way through the climate crisis (dense cities enable a circular economy, heal the metabolic rift, and leave more land free for habitat and carbon-sequestering trees); and the climate justice movement, which recognizes that poor, racialized people are the least responsible parties for carbonization, and the most vulnerable to the climate emergency, and emphasizes climate remediation steps that are led by, and responsive to, the priorities of indigenous people and the Global South.

In 2013, the Sierra Club and the environmental activist group 350.org threw their support behind immigration. Earth First! has gone a step further, calling national borders “scar[s] on the earth”.

“The entire earth is a closed system, and the idea that people crossing borders is going to have a major impact on any individual environment is absurd,” said Veery Marten, an Earth First! Journal collective member. “The culprits of this white supremacist violence citing alleged environmental interests are almost always middle class white men who are not lowering their own carbon footprint. It’s not really about consumption, it’s about who’s allowed to consume and gate-keeping these resources.”

Environmental activism is still far from fully making amends for its history, though, and indigenous groups and people of color still feel sidelined in the movement.

“The environmental movement is increasingly reconciling with what it means to try to protect land on this continent when this land is stolen,” said Marten.

'Bees, not refugees': the environmentalist roots of anti-immigrant bigotry [Susie Cagle/The Guardian]