Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our world has changed massively in the way we work, travel, and socialise. From Wuhan, China, where the virus was first discovered, to the busiest cities in the United Kingdom: our pace of life has significantly reduced, in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines in order to tackle the spread of the virus. Following such drastic reductions in human activity, we have witnessed many parts of our planet begin to thrive, seemingly “recovering” as the Earth gets some well-deserved rest. Whilst seeing otherwise worn-out habitats flourish brings to many of us some positive news in such uncertain times, it has raised the question of whether our jubilation at the recovering beauty of the natural world is appropriate amidst the pain and suffering that the corona virus has brought us globally.
In China, there has been significant reductions in air pollution; in India, carbon emissions have fallen for the first time in four decades; in Italy, the Venice canals are running clear: many challenges on the agenda for tackling climate change are seemingly being fought as a trade-off of the adaptations to the changing and quite strange world we currently live in. Undoubtedly, the introduction of social-distancing measures and subsequent reduction in economic activity around the globe has illustrated the ecological resistance of the natural world as it blooms in the face of decreased challenges. For myself, and many others alike, the healing of the Earth has provided a light in what sometimes feels like very dark days, however, this has lead to much controversy surrounding what some have viewed as celebrating a virus which has already caused so much death and devastation across the globe.
Today, there have been over 17 million cases of corona virus, with approximately 668,000 deaths globally; in the UK, the NHS has been stretched far past its capacity, with doctors, nurses, and other essential workers exhausted from operating around the clock to provide care; the global economy has been predicted to take a hit of $8.8 trillion as a result of a volatile stock market. We are living in a historical moment in the making.
As we adapt to the new “normal” of life, with decreased physical interactions and non-essential trips being limited, a huge part of our social lives have become virtual. Whilst this has allowed us to catch up with family, friends, and colleagues, shop and support the economy without having to leave our homes, and kept the flow of vital news and information in circulation, social media has also allowed for the rise of online feuds, now more than ever as we all stress and struggle in the face of the unknown. Debates from how governments across the world have handled COVID-19 threats, to those who conspire on the origin of the virus: these controversies have been a hot topic on apps and websites such as Twitter and Facebook. With green-living and sustainability having a strong presence on my own social media, it has become apparent to me that there is considerable debate around whether corona virus has brought about ideologies aligning with eco-fascism.
Eco-fascism is a political model that has been theorised in which the interests and needs of individuals are sacrificed to the needs of nature – it can be used to describe aggressive environmental activism. Eco-fascism is much more common than you would think when you consider the discrete ways in which this type of activism can wriggle its way into our conversations. For example, blaming climate and environmental issues on overpopulation and over-industrialisation is an easy response to the global issues our planet faces today. Although both do play a role in climate change, food insecurity, etc., these are things that presently occur mostly in developing countries, centuries behind the first world. Cultural differences and privilege allow us to hold such processes that we no longer heavily rely on accountable for environmental challenges, without recognising those in the third world who cannot have a quality of life until such processes take place.
This poses the question: as COVID-19 temporarily decreases our activity on this planet and subsequently allows many environmental factors to recover, can we acknowledge this in a positive light without expressing eco-fascism ideologies? I believe in the new “normal” we live in finding positivity can be challenging. If the natural world can provide you a moment of comfort and calm in the chaos, can it truly be harmful? There is a balance between recognising the positive effects to come from an event as awful as corona virus, as oppose to branding COVID-19 as some sort of “blessing in disguise”, to sacrifice the population in favour of the planet. As we move further along with COVID-19 research, there is hope in the future. Scientists, environmentalists, and politicians globally will continue to work together to ease us out of this pandemic, all the while continuing to battle climate change and save not only us but our planet too.