Last spring, anti-immigrant stickers started to appear in Finland with the message “economic refugees - crime against nature”, falsely attributed to Elokapina (Extinction Rebellion Finland). While these did not receive much attention, a sticker in the UK with the message “Corona is the cure - humans are the disease”, likewise attributed to Extinction Rebellion, caused more furor. Extinction Rebellion UK was quick to denounce the message.

Unfortunately, while these particular slogans originated outside Extinction Rebellion, they are a reminder that the environmental movement is not immune to anti-immigration, racist, or outright misanthropic messages. The amalgamation of these with ecology is commonly called “ecofascism”. Fascism is an ideology which, at its core, denies the fundamental equality of humans, and instead assigns them different values, often based on nationality, ethnicity or other eugenic categories. Opponents to democracy and plural societies, fascist regimes or movements are characterised by strongly hierarchical, dictatorial leadership structures, and often use coercion and violence to enforce their authority in all aspects of life and by any means necessary. In practice, this can go – and has gone – as far as murdering those deemed unworthy, culminating in some of the worst genocides in human history.

I feel that it is important to state at the outset that fascism, in any form, is antithetical to what we as Elokapina stand for. But we cannot merely be fascism-agnostic. Whatever expedience there may be in claiming otherwise, Elokapina is a political movement. While the observed rise in greenhouse gas emissions and its causal link to rising temperatures are not political questions, our demands will affect people’s lives in ways that make them inherently political - and this makes our movement political. I would argue that denying this basic fact is not merely naive or disingenuous, it is also dangerous. Not only does it leave room for cooptation, movements that declare themselves to be “apolitical” or even “post-political”can themselves take a dangerous turn. Absolute truth claims and an expressed need to bypass the political system for a greater good are among the defining features of absolutist, fascistic movements.

Ecofascism is no outright paradox

Of course, environmentalism, today, is mostly associated with the political left - and, I believe, rightly so. For many, the wish to protect the natural world and the wish to do well by our fellow humans come out of the same sense of empathy, compassion and fairness, while on the far right, environmentalists, including Elokapina, are widely derided. Discussing ecofascism is not meant to suggest that ecology and environmentalism today are naturally or predominantly rightwing. Clearly, they are not.

At the same time, it is important to recognise that ecofascism is no outright paradox. Modern ecology and fascism are not merely ideologically compatible, they have shared historical origins. In Europe, ecological thinking and the “blood and soil” ethno-nationalism that culminated in the European fascist disaster of the 20th century can trace their shared roots back to early 19th century Germany. In a backlash to modernity and accelerating social change, a call for a more holistic understanding of nature combined with unmistakably ethno-nationalistic, racist and antisemitic sentiments. In this atmosphere, agrarian romanticism was seen as counterweight to urbanisation and industrialisation.

This is exemplified in Ernst Moritz Arndt, a writer, poet, and one of the early modern environmentalists. Arndt wrote with striking clarity of the relationship between humans and nature: “Once we understand nature and the necessary sense of connection, everything becomes equally valuable: shrub, worm, plant, human, rock, none comes first or last, but everything becomes one”. At the same time, however, he was a fervent antisemite who fantasised about an ethno-national state: “The Germans have not been bastardized by foreign peoples, have not become half-breeds. More than many other peoples, they have remained in their native state of purity”.

While it may be tempting to dismiss ecofascism, perhaps along with fascism more generally, as a particularly German phenomenon, the common roots of fascism and modern ecology are surprisingly universal. In the early 20th century, the influential American zoologist and environmentalist Madison Grant, a pioneer of conservationism widely credited with saving animal and tree species from extinction, was also a firebrand eugenicist and white supremacist. Grant saw industrialization as a threat to societal order as much as to the Redwood forests which he helped preserve. His seminal 1916 racist manifesto “The Passing of the Great Race” warned of “polluting the nordic stock” of America with immigrants from countries he saw as racially inferior. The link to fascism could not be more explicit when Hitler himself extensively quoted Grant in his speeches.

Ecofascism also has Finnish roots

To Arndt, Grant, and many of their allies and admirers, racism, ethnonationalism and environmentalism were no uncomfortable bedfellows, they were equally integral to their ecofascist ideology. Another belief that I have encountered when discussing ecofascism is that it is not really an issue in Finland. This kind of “national exceptionalism” is not unusual, of course – indeed, many Finns, while concerned about climate change also believe that our personal lifestyle is sustainable, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

But when it comes to ecofascism, it is particularly jarring. One of the most prominent modern ecofascist intellectuals was Pentti Linkola, a radical deep ecologist, and a person still revered in parts of the environmental movement. It is important to note that, of course, not all proponents of Deep Ecology are ideologically aligned with ecofascism - Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term, was decidedly anti-fascist, and readily extended the value he attributed to all life to human beings.

However, borrowing from Naess but also channeling Arndt and Grant, Linkola not only advocated that “Everything we have developed over the last 100 years should be destroyed", but used the popular far-right trope of a lifeboat when describing humanity facing the ecological crisis. According to Linkola, “When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship's axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides.” This is not merely misanthropic. It explicitly gives some people the right to live, and a justification for others to be killed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Linkola was also hostile to democracy, which he considered “inferior to any form of dictatorship”.

And while the modern day mass murderer Anders Breivik referenced Arndt in his manifesto, the perpetrator of one of Finland’s worst acts of mass violence in recent times, the 2007 Jokela school shooting, admired Linkola and wrote in his “Natural Selector’s Manifesto” of a need for a “total war against humanity" due to the threat humanity posed to other species.

In modern ecofascism, Grant’s fear of a replacement of the “White Race” also mixes with convenient blame-shifting. Like other rightwing environmentalists, Linkola focuses on the perceived threat of a “population time bomb”. This shifts responsibility for the ecological crisis from the Global North (where population has been largely stagnant) to the growing populations of the Global South, ignoring the fact the vast majority of Greenhouse gas emissions originate among the world’s wealthiest, concentrated in the richest countries.

Fascism relies on existential fears

Fascism relies on images of existential threats in order to justify violence and authoritarianism. Ecofascists like Linkola employ a picture of inevitable ecological and societal collapse to fill this role - so it is not surprising that their ideas are resurging amidst the climate crisis. Worryingly, such a vision is also shared among several other proponents of “Deep Ecology”. In Finland, in addition to Linkola, prominent “Deep Ecologists” with ecofascist inclinations include Eero Paloheimo and Timo Hännikäinen. In resigning from the Finnish Green Party, the former cited his opposition to “mass immigration”, and the resulting mixing of cultures. Hännikäinen, a poet and essayist, goes even further and advocates violence in defense of nature. Most recently, he has become infamous for his misogynistic rants, and has found a new audience amongst Finnish neo-nazis.

Radical ecology must not become misanthropy

In addition to the apparent popularity of the tenants Deep Ecology among modern ecofascist, the qualitative nature of the term itself can also be used to dismiss criticism, and delegitimise alternative viewpoints as “shallow”. Although Jem Bendell’s relation to Extinction Rebellion seems nowadays somewhat ambivalent, his writings continue to be influential. In his “Deep Adaptation” manifesto, Bendell not only makes astounding, and at least highly questionable claims about near-term human extinction, he also seeks to preemptively dismiss those who disagree with his vision of imminent collapse as being in denial, and contrasts this with his “own post-denial state, shared by increasing numbers of my students and colleagues”. Jem Bendell is no ecofascist - in fact, he recently explained why Deep Adaptation must not itself facilitate fascism. Nevertheless, when we exaggerate the situation to an unrealistic extreme, that too can amplify a climate of fear or despair in which ecofascism will flourish.

The climate crisis is a scientific reality, but our truth claims must not extend to political demands

While claims to sweeping and exclusive truths do not directly lead to totalitarianism, they are ubiquitous in cults and totalitarian regimes. Again, we have to be careful not to jump to the wrong conclusion: the climate crisis and the ecological crisis are real. If we continue on our current trajectory, we are likely to face abrupt ecological disruption in the next decades. But when we rightly demand that politicians and the media “Tell the truth” about climate science, we must be careful not to also claim to hold deeper philosophical or political truths in other areas. Of course, we can have beliefs - and even deeply held convictions - that we can argue for, but we should not claim to have a priori “deeper” truths or insights than others.

Even Extinction Rebellion is not immune to rightwing thoughts

A year ago, when first editing the “Heading for Extinction” talk, I was startled to find a slide that framed “mass migration” as a risk of climate change, illustrated with a trail of refugees in front of Europe’s outer borders as a backdrop. This slide has long since been removed, but Extinction Rebellion still sometimes seems to struggle, more than I would like, to clearly separate ourselves from far right rhetoric. Before joining XR, in 2016, Rupert Read had already warned against “continued mass migration” as a threat to societal cohesion. But even while acting as one of XR’s most prominent spokespeople, Read continued to rail against a supposed ideology of “globalism”, a popular alt-right trope that echoes the 19th century backlash to modernity. Acknowledging our responsibility for the majority of emissions, in 2018, he explained that “We should be willing to take some climate refugees”, but continues to say “but we literally don’t have the capacity to take very many. There ought to be lifeboats, it is better for some civilisation to survive than for no civilisation to survive”. The similarity of his “lifeboat ethics” to those of the American ecologist and white-supremacist Garrett Hardin and of Linkola could not have been lost on Read, a reader in philosophy. No doubt that for him, the lifeboat presents no vehicle towards deeper eugenic aims, but apparently still a necessary “emergency measure” when faced with the climate crisis. And as recently as last year, Readwrote of a post-pandemic world in which “the direction of travel, as it were, of people, commodities, finance and production should be back toward the local.”

As a migrant myself, the rhetoric of localism, in which particular people belong to particular parts of the world, and particular parts of the world belong to particular people, not only invoke the “blood and soil” mythology, it also feels deeply alienating: what does my own, or anyone’s movement across national borders have to do with the climate crisis? And if migration is demonstrably not the cause of the problem, then what aims does “relocalising” of people really serve?

The far right may turn from climate denialism to ecofascism

In the past, the far-right in Finland has mostly embraced climate-change denialism. Climate activists, including us in Elokapina, have been seen as the enemy - hundreds upon hundreds of hateful social media posts attest to this. But that may be about to change. The newly reformed “Sinimustaliike” is explicitly ecofascist. Along with the usual tropes of misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia, their stated policy goals are to protect Finnish nature and biodiversity, and to live in harmony with nature, ending not only ritual slaughter, but also fur-farming and animal testing (but preserving the presumably “natural” right to hunt). It would be too easy to fool ourselves believing that their ecology is sincere and not merely a fig leaf or vehicle for more sinister aims. While that may be true for some in the movement, the greater threat in ecofascism lies in the combination of a sincere concern for nature with a hatred for groups of humans. This is what we must resist, the threat could not be more urgent.

There can be no ambiguity where we stand: on the side of humanity against fascism

The political system extends beyond political parties. In my view, if we want to change the political system, we must not claim to be doing it from the outside, but acknowledge that we are part of it. With the acceptance of being a political movement comes the responsibility to acknowledge the political reality of our environment, and the broader consequences of our demands and actions. That does not mean we will take a stance on every issue. However, on questions that relate directly to our core demands and that are overlapping with our movement, I believe that neutrality cannot be an option.

To me, it is important to state clearly that we, as a movement, are not anti- or “post-democratic”. To the contrary, we demand equal consideration and participation for all. I feel it is equally important that we do not come to view humans as a virus, or fall for the oversimplistic depiction of humanity as an oversized herd that needs to be culled. I believe we need to understand ourselves as an important part of a finite ecosystem, with unique capabilities to destroy, and a unique responsibility to protect it. We must not advocate or cheer for a collapse of humanity or of civilization. Instead, we need to demand radical action to protect the planet that supports it. And in our rejection of ecofascism, I believe there can be no doubt: we are an anti-fascist movement.

Till Sawala