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During the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine when every gathering center of the world was left empty and no one was visiting anywhere, I remember seeing several videos and pictures on social media of animals being spotted in places they normally would not be. Dolphins swam in temporarily abandoned canals. Deer roamed barren city streets. With these observations came a collective understanding that human beings are the reason these animals were forced out of their natural habitats in the first place. Clearly, without human beings, these animals are returning. Some, however, reached the dangerous conclusion that humanity itself is the cause of the planet’s suffering and that the world would be better off without us. This set off alarm bells in my head as a diligent anti-fascist. Humanity is not the cause of the planet’s destruction; capitalism is.
To claim that the world would be better off without humanity is to pit humans against each other rather than realizing that it is capitalism and imperialism that have put us all in the dangerous environmental position we are in today and they are escapable. Passionately valuing the health of the environment without looking to change the system that endangers its health in the first place is what leads to eco-fascism, or the idea that certain scapegoated groups are responsible for the world’s ills and their lives are worth less. Eco-fascism is a dangerous trap that often plagues environmentalists, and it’s easy to see why. Through the individualistic lens of capitalism, it would seem that every person is making the active decision to buy lots of plastic things, throw things away and drive poisonous cars. The individual litters, the individual buys from cheap fast fashion brands and the individual wastes clean water. If someone were to draw a conclusion from that information alone, one could see how easily they could fall into the trap of believing that it is the conscious actions of every person that have placed us into the environmental Armageddon we now face.
But that is simply not the case. It is not the everyday individual who has the capacity to spill thousands upon thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean or use the water supply of entire states to mass produce plastic products. That is not the work of individuals, but corporations who are incentivized to increase their profits infinitely and therefore figure out new and creative ways to coerce the masses to consume infinitely. This means using the technique of planned obsolescence, when a product is designed to stop working so the consumer must buy more; artificial scarcity, like in the case with diamonds and other precious stones; and thoughtlessly abusing natural resources like water and certain metals to the point of endangering lives and ecosystems, including practices like fracking to get as much oil out of the earth as possible. Neither the everyday individual nor the collective is responsible for these incredibly harmful practices. These are the result of a small handful of incredibly rich and powerful people who adjust social, legal and economic practices to benefit their own wealth accumulation.
Importantly, capitalism is not inherent to humanity. Reading this, one might be thinking that capitalism is created and reinforced by humans, and therefore the crimes of capitalism are still the crimes of humanity. But there are other ways of living that do not replicate the harm of capitalism. Many indigenous societies have been forced into capitalism against their will as a result of Western imperialism. To claim that those cultures, which have often been violently forced into capitalism’s wasteful, consumption-heavy practices, are responsible for the harms of their own oppressors is incredibly ignorant. This mindset reveals the blindness of the arguer to the idea that capitalism and its harmful conditions are not universal.