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How Real Is the Threat of Eco-Fascism?

As sections of the global far-right rebrand as environmentally conscious, commentators have argued that climate disaster might produce a wave of eco-fascism – but so far, fascism remains pretty brown.

A blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near The Trail of 100 Giants in California's Sequoia National Forest on 12 September 2021. (David McNew / Getty Images)

The prospect of living through the chaos of climate change is enough to provoke terror in anyone. But if life-threatening and famine-inducing extreme weather wasn’t bad enough, some are now warning that the ecological crisis is creating the conditions for a growing eco-fascism. The fear is that political actors—be they politicians, street movements, or lone terrorists—will use environmental collapse to advance their genocidal ambitions.

Still on the margins, eco-fascism remains a contested concept among both its advocates and critics. But in their new book The Rise of Ecofascism: Climate Change and the Far Right, Sam Moore and Alex Roberts argue that a future in which we are forced to confront an organised eco-fascist movement is a distinct possibility.

Looking beyond their title to a broader survey of the far-right and its nature politics, Moore and Roberts define eco-fascism loosely as the part of the wider fascist movement ‘which most emphatically tries to affirm its natural basis’. If we draw on the contributions of writers like Sarah Manavis and Murray Bookchin, we could go further to define eco-fascism as a fascism which marries the goal of racial purification to an at least rhetorical commitment to environmental protection.

However, the specific hypothetical threat of eco-fascism co-opting the climate agenda may not be the biggest of our worries—especially as the contemporary far-right places far more emphasis on protecting fossil capital than saving the planet.

Far-Right Nature

Moore and Roberts are at their best when contextualising the modern eco-fascist threat within a broader history of the far-right’s nature politics. For them, far-right ecologism is the pursuit of fascism’s core aims of reproducing and maintaining racial hierarchies within and through nature, perhaps epitomised by the continued prevalence of the Nazi slogan ‘blood and soil’.

But contradictory ideas around nature have always been a means to articulate the usual talking points, rather than to meaningfully prioritise ecology. This remains true today: Moore and Roberts describe the contemporary far-right’s approach to climate change, despite historical nods at ‘nature protection’, as a combination of denialism and securitisation, with the first undermining mitigation and promoting continued extraction, and the second redirecting security complexes toward expanding and protecting sites of extraction from resistance. Solidarities with fossil capital ultimately win out.

‘The rise of eco-fascism’ therefore implies significant shifts within far-right ideology, spurred possibly by the gravity of our current impasse. The totalising threat of climate change requires a different scale of nature politics on the far-right, one which moves ecology from expendable tool to defining consideration. It also requires a departure from denial to an acceptance of the reality of climate change, including at least some recognition of the role of fossil fuels. Such shifts could maintain the classical fascist aim of reproducing racial hierarchies through authoritarian states, racial mass movements, and extrajudicial violence, but they would be based on new ontologies and solidarities.

The potential rise of eco-fascism, then, depends on whether these shifts actually take place.

Eco-Fascist Violence

Moore and Roberts make clear that their discussion of eco-fascism is ‘in anticipation of a politics to come’, rather than a diagnosis of ‘the politics of today’. And while there is presently no organised eco-fascist movement, there are at least two examples of self-described eco-fascists using terrorist violence with tragic effect.

In March 2019, two mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand killed fifty-one people. That August, a shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso in Texas killed twenty-three, mostly Latinos. The El Paso shooter identified as an eco-fascist, but the Christchurch shooter seemed to be more clearly motivated by the ideology: his manifesto tied climate change to usual far-right thought, a Malthusian ecological politics intersecting with ideas around racial replacement that culminated in the use of deadly violence against the Muslim ‘other’.

Eco-fascist terrorism is therefore a demonstrable threat to contend with as climate change intensifies. It might be rare, but it only takes one case to cause tragedy.

If we’re interested in whether we face an eco-fascist future, rather than one in which eco-fascism consists of a dangerous fringe, though, we have to consider the likelihood of its emergence into a viable political movement. And recent far-right movements operating both inside and outside of the state have demonstrated a commitment to classical far-right ecologism, rather than eco-fascism or movement toward it.

Among Donald Trump’s first actions as US President, for example, were the approval of oil pipelines and the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has propped up the coal sector while opening the Amazon to further extraction. Moore and Roberts also describe how Golden Dawn in Greece rejected renewable energy and supported expanded fossil fuel extraction, and how Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland rejected its own youth wing’s appeals for more acceptance of the reality of climate change.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally provides a rare but often-cited example of the electoral far-right softening its environmental image, putting forward ‘solutions’ that predictably include reducing population growth and halting immigration. Despite calls to make Europe the ‘world’s leading ecological civilisation’, however, Le Pen still focuses on abstract notions of nature while obfuscating climate change. Her parochial environmentalism is fundamentally localist, rejecting international cooperation and pledging to end subsidies for wind and solar power.


Given that this survey of the far-right today offers little to suggest an imminent shift from climate denial and solidarity with fossil capital, Moore and Roberts’ speculation on eco-fascist futures necessarily focuses on what ‘might’ occur, or what is ‘plausible’, and seems more rooted in historically-informed anxiety than an empirical basis. Such a speculative project might be defended on the basis that it prepares us for the worst possibilities—even if an eco-fascist future is unlikely, we should prevent it—but action should be based on a clear assessment of the balance of forces we face, rather than a theoretical dystopia.

If fascism is to emerge in response to climate change, it is more likely to be a development of capitalism deploying a combination of authoritarian state-power and extrajudicial violence. Its aim will likely be to protect fossil capital and broader regimes of accumulation as they become politically and ecologically untenable. Fossil capitalism, then, must remain the focus of our action.

What that means is that right now, the most effective anti-fascism—‘eco’ or otherwise—is building a mass movement for a socialist alternative. Only transforming the economy to subordinate capital to global labour can supplant the conditions which Moore and Roberts argue are giving rise to a resurgent far-right. Only a socialist vision of climate justice can displace the grotesque ideas animating individual eco-fascist terrorists. Only the organisation of the global working-class will supplant the death-drive of capitalism in decay.

Sam Moore and Alex Roberts’ The Rise of Ecofascism: Climate Change and the Far Right is published by Polity.

About the Author

Chris Saltmarsh is co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal. His first book is Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice (Pluto Press, September 2021).