The natural and the urban appear to us today in their complex entanglements. Cities are not simply built on nature; nature rather intertwines with urban infrastructure and industry in active and emotive ways. The binary constructed between the natural and the urban is based on the assumption that global capitalism has not yet swallowed the planet whole- which it has. Seemingly innocent social media posts and news headlines have been celebrating the clearing skies, chirping birds and drunk elephants. Such phenomena are too ecologically and politically complex to imply anything about the relationship between the natural and the urban. Ecosystems are far from restored and claiming that the pandemic helped nature win back what human urbanism stole parallels ecofascist ideas mostly without the intention to do so.
Ecofascism is an authoritarian ideology that positions certain individuals or communities as expendable in the interest of natural balance and purity. It ascribes moral dimensions to natural disasters suggesting they purge the planet of deserving humans. The lines along which society gets divided into those deserving of death and those deserving life are essentially racist, classist, sexist and nationalistic. This is because injustices are institutionalized into medical, financial and military bodies. Mainstream media and governments are blatantly indifferent to the disproportionate vulnerability of the elderly, immunocompromised and frontline workers. Normalizing or belittling their deaths as just “nature taking its course” is ecofasist. It depoliticizes the pandemic to say that the virus does not know borders of any kind. The pandemic is boldening social and economic divides and entrenching institutional injustice.
Climate is studied over large regions and for a span of 30-35 years. Climate change is a consistent and long-term damage to biodiversity and natural habitats. The “unexpected side effects” of the pandemic are momentary and do not amount to the severity with which human activity has changed the ecosphere. Some of the changes do not even have a necessarily conservationist meaning. Marine life became visible in Venice, Italy only because the reduced boat traffic allows sediments to settle at the bottom of the river without the water itself getting any less polluted.
Human activity itself needs serious unpacking. Humans are not inherently “bad for the environment”. Accelerated climate change only started with colonial and industrial expansion. Human activity then seems to be a more accurate cause of the climate catastrophe than humans themselves. This is where the public discourse of environmental science usually stops. However, framing individuals as consumers with free choice and blaming them for said choices erase from the public view that mass industries and imperial militaries are the largest pollutants. Human activity is not homogenous and thus varies in its impact on the climate. Not all of us are responsible for climate change. For example, Indigenous communities know how to live sustainably, but suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change as targets of both murderous capitalism and the military-industrial complex.
The depoliticization of public health and environmental science is devastatingly dangerous. “Natural” science is a cultural practice of knowledge production, and its products are not “objective” nor exempt from critical problematization. Our climate activism should center on ecological justice for Indigenous communities, war victims and frontline workers. Transformative environmental science should be done from feminist, anti-colonial and anti-racist positions like the Civic Labratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) does. CLEAR is a feminist anti-colonial lab specialized in measuring plastic pollution through action-based and activist research. This is important because ideas and practices of ecological conservation have a history of co-optation by fascists and eugenicists. For example, “overpopulation” is a racialized construction of scarcity. It led to indigenous women being forcibly sterilized during the 1960s and 70s in the United States and refugee women in Lebanon being bombarded with patronizing birth control discourse despite the inadequacy, if not absence, of all other healthcare services. Even the calls to help poor, immigrant and refugee communities during the pandemic adopt a worrying discourse. They focus on protecting the larger society, namely the less purgables. This present reality and not-so-different history make it crucial for us to actively counter sugar coated ecofascism.
The optimism of an environmental “awakening” is not only unfounded but also catastrophic because reversing the effects of climate change or even slowing them down will need fundamental and consistent political and technological changes in the global economy. The silver lining is mutual survival with our ecosphere. Global capitalism and militarization stand between us and that.
If we are not self-cur-able by means of antibodies or wealth and access to healthcare, it is not a single death we will die. Infection is death. Hunger is death. Poverty is death. Not until we take the boldest actions to abolish the instruments of our deaths will we live our best local collective lives, grow our food, sew our cloth, and raise our glasses on every sweet late afternoon.