Saturday, April 21, 2007

There's One Movement Now!

There's Only One Movement Now...

In honor of International Women's Day (you did remember International Women's Day, Right?), the IUCN has released an extensive report detailing exactly how awful climate change is going to be for women. How bad will it be? Really, really bad. That is, women are going to disproportionately endure the consequences of climate change - the hunger, the drought, the diseases, the economic burden, the poverty, because women make up a majority of the world's poor. And, of course, women are disproportionately under-represented among those people who make climate policy decisions, and poor women even more than rich ones.

There's a summary here at Mother Jones, and a link to the original PDF file. I really recommend you read it.

Now the thing that I'm probably best known for (and it is a pretty teeny bit of fame) is an essay I wrote last year entitled "Peak Oil Is a Women's Issue." I don't think I've ever written anything that got so much attention - among other things, it got reproduced on a DOE subsidized website right next to an article by Newt Gingerich - my face and Newt's put together (now there's a vision for you - Gah!).

And the reason this article was so famous wasn't because it was so revelatory - I was only pointing out the obvious. But a vast majority of people who read the article responded as though I was saying something really knew, because they'd never really thought about it before. Now we know (gee, could we have guessed) that climate change *and* peak oil are going to be a major 1-2 punch for women all over the world. They threaten not only to do us a great deal of harm, but to throw back gains in things like population stability. Women have fewer children when they know the children they do have are likely to survive to adulthood. Women who think war or poverty or disease or hunger may take away their sons and daughters keep having babies, because that's the only way they can be sure of having children live to adulthood. If we want to see the world's population level off and decline, we *MUST* see these issues as women's issues.

But not just women's issues. The days of there being all these balkanized little movements must end. Because Peak Oil and Climate Change are, obviously, issues for women - and for every man who has a reason to care about their mothers, their sisters, their friends, their lovers, their daughters - that is, all men. And Peak Oil and Climate Change are Men's issues - because who do we think will overwhelmingly be dragged off to fight our resource wars? Who will be killed by oil companies trying to get at the last drops in Africa? Who will go to jail for selling illicit things to support themselves and their families? Who resist and fight and be cut down with guns? Yes, the US does involve women in combat, and our daughters are at risk too, but men die of poverty and violence in ways that women often do not. And those men are our fathers, brothers, sons and lovers, friends and family.

And, if you think this is just a matter of gender, think again. Perhaps you've never cared much about the anti-racist struggle, or perhaps that's where you devote your energies. Well if you look, the poorest women and children and men in the world, the ones who die first of hunger and disease, the ones who first dragged off to die in foolish wars or put in jail, the ones who suffer the most and about whom we care the least are not white people. Climate change and Peak Oil will only make that worse. When I attended ASPO-Boston, a group of protestors flooded into the room - black and latino people from the urban city of Chelsea, one of the poorest and most polluted places in the country. Many of the powerful people sitting in the room at ASPO did not see themselves, instinctively, as on the same side as the protestors. We have to change that, and change that now. Peak Oil and Climate Change are as much about racism and institutionalized poverty as they are about ice cores and depletion rates. We should fix this because it is the right thing to do - but if not for that reason, then out of pure self-interest. Because what is done to the least of our brethren will be done to us tomorrow, when we are poor and our power is stripped from us. That's not the best reason to care about the way peak oil and climate change affect non-white people. But if you cannot do it for any other reason, remember, that at some point, all of us will be "other." Unless we take power and ensure that it is never acceptable to bargain away the lives of people who are poor and not powerful, our lives will be next.

There is only one movement now. Are you involved in the struggles for immigrants rights? Or for that matter for a sane and humane immigration policy? Well if you think that's a nasty situation now, imagine it as poverty rises and food grows shorter, as water struggles and desperation merge. As Mexico's oil fields, and thus political power and wealth decline, we're going to increasingly see that no border can keep everyone apart. And we're going to need our immigrants more than ever - people who in their own lands or here have worked in agriculture - because we need 50-100 million new farmers, and most Americans haven't got the faintest idea where potatoes come from. So let's start talking about land redistribution, and about humane border policies and dealing with the simple reality that hungry, impoverished people (who are in many cases hungry and impoverished because of our policies in their nation) will do whatever it takes. Again, if you can't think of any other reason to care, think that someday, you too might be willing to do whatever is needed to feed your family. Remember, the least of our brethren are *US* (to paraphrase Jesus).

Perhaps you are anti-globalization, pro labor or anti-free trade or just one of the millions of ordinary people on every side of the political spectrum who have noticed that despite all the claims, you aren't getting any richer - in fact, things are getting tougher every year. Well, there's no question that climate change and peak oil are going to drive globalization into the ground - we simply can't keep transporting things around the globe that we can perfectly well make where we are. The only question is whether we'll all be driven into the ground or not in the process - we need to localize our food and manufacturing, we need to rebuild local economies. These issues are inextricably linked with the future - climate change alone could eat up 20% of the *World's* GDP - and we are not acting fast enough.

Perhaps you've been a long-time environmentalist, always concerned with climate change, but you don't understand peak oil. Or perhaps you are worried about peak oil, but think climate change isn't definite yet. Time to get over those misconceptions. The two are going to intersect in painful ways - we have to start planning for a future that is both lower emission and simply lower in every other way. Let's be honest, there's no real difference. If your concern about peak oil is based on the science - on that actual study of the material that's out there, you know that the science of climate change is far less controversial, and far less debatable. That's not to say peak oil isn't real - just that I think you have to be kind of a nutcase to look at the evidence for peak oil and say, "yes, that makes sense to me, but I'm not buying climate change." And if you are any kind of environmentalist, you know that finite things run out - period. So who cares whether the peak is 2010 or 2005 or 2015 - we all know it isn't going to be a thousand years from now. Let's remediate together.

Saying there is only one movement now does not mean that things like the struggle for economic justice or civil rights is over - it just means that every single person who believes that there is hope for a decent future, and who has some investment in that future now shares the same basic goals. We must remediate and adapt to what is coming. We must deal with peak oil and climate change. We must get over our stupid prejudices and divisions and form a whole cloth movement of universal JUSTICE. Peak oil is about Justice. Climate Change is about Justice. They are about the most basic questions of human justice - who eats? Who lives? Who has water? Who decides? Who gets health care, and to have their kids live to grow up, who gets enslaved and impressed into military service? Who decides to let someone die, and who actually does the dying?

If any of this seems revelatory to you, if it has never before occurred to you that poor black women in Kenya or New Orleans are like you, and are the face of your future and your potential allies, time to wake up! If you've never thought of peasant farmers and people who are shot for trying to unionize in Ecuador as your brethren, people whose rights and needs should be a part of your focus, it is time to wake up. If you don't see the problem of immigration and the loss of manufacturing jobs for poor white people in the south as linked to each other and to you, wake up. If you don't recognize that Justice for everyone means justice for you, it is time to WAKE UP!

There are a lot more regular people than there are rich folks, politicians and corporate powers. So of course they want us to be balkanized, divided, debating. They want feminists to see poor southern white men as their enemy, instead of allies and victims of corporate greed. They want peak oil tarred as something only for "liberals" and climate change advocates to be "hippie environmentalists." They want churches to fight over whether or not to deal with climate change and Jews and Moslems to wonder if they have any common ground at all. Guess what - we do - and it is the simplest common ground in history. We want to live, to go on, to prosper, to have enough, to live in a just society, to have peace, and hope for the future. That depends on unity. Getting over our differences and finding common ground will be hard work. The only reason to do it is because it is so necessary. Those in power are terrified of ordinary people and their anger, their fear and their passion for justice. Of course they want as many ordinary people as possible fighting over things like gay marriage and Don Imus. Of course they don't care if poor people die, or go hungry - hungry people are too weak to fight, and dead people can't call out for justice.

Sooner or later we're all going to wake up and notice, because the future will be slapping us in the face. I vote sooner. I vote now. I vote today. I vote we scare the fuck out of them, and save the world.



RAS said...

Good essay Sharon! You might if I distribute it some (with proper credit to you of course)?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sharon!

anna in canada said...

Amen, Sharon.

I'll add, too, that there's a movement in the North here (really North, not just in Canada! Like around the Arctic Circle) where First Nations people are beginning to say that climate change is a human rights issue. The use, in the south, of the huge volume of fossil fuels to sustain the southern lifestyle (and by South, I'm talking about anywhere south of the Arctic) is causing changes in the North that are utterly disruptive to an entire way of life. Whereas on Vancouver Island we might see the decline of the Polar Bear as lamentable and rail against its extinction, in the North this is one of the things that an entire culture depends on for food. Ditto the ice sheets (for transportation, if nothing else!).

In brief, Climate Change is actually causing cultural genocide. And we're only just barely beginning to notice.

Anonymous said...

Some good points, and thanks for writing this post.

A few remarks -
why is it that people tend to see childbirth/children as strictly 'women's issues'? The last I checked, conception required two sexes. I suggest that we will not make a real dent in overpopulation unless MEN also change: it is the very social dumping of 'child responsibility' totally on women while millions of men continue to demand sex regardless of 'consequences', that causes a great deal of our over-population problems...but no one ever talks about that fact. I'm sick of the double standard about who is 'responsible' for overpopulation.

Since the USA has about three times as many persons as it can sustainably support already, 'importing' 50 to 100 million MORE people would be rather idiotic - the ones already here will have to learn to grow their own potatoes, or starve. Or perhaps you were assuming that 50 or 100 million already here will die so they can be harmlessly replaced in the natural resource consumption of the USA? I'm all for people being able to feed their families, but I'm afraid we will run up against a hard reality of limited resources if we try to shoehorn 50 or 100 million MORE people into this country in the midst of increasing scarcity and deprivation. It is likely we can count on plenty of violence from some already here, were waves of people to come up from Mexico looking for sustenance...just as we could not expect a warm welcome from most Canadians if 100 million US citizens decided we had a right to move into Canada and use 'their' resources because we didn't have enough here. As for people 'getting along' and seeing each other as allies - some people seem to be able to have that outlook, but a certain percentage of people just don't seem to think that way, no matter what. We may have to accept that some humans simply don't see that as we do, and never will. You can educate someone, but you cannot make them think or decide things rationally instead of from their baser instincts, or emotion, or old prejudices...or even decide for them what the 'rational' thing is - therein lies a fatal flaw of our humanistic hopes. People during moderate or transient hardship tend to melt boundaries, but the moment things ease up, or get really bad, they tend to return to their clannish ways...history is full of examples. It is likely that we have genetic programming that encourages clannish behavior, as an old survival mechanism - and perhaps a certain mindset is required to overcome that antiquated programming.

Squrrl said...

Applause for Sharon! A most rousing essay, and I've been thinking very much along the same lines. It is all the same fight--it is all the same issue. Even little things that you wouldn't think of--a pet issue of mine, for example, is cloth diapers. When you look at the environmental impact of disposables--which of course includes significant oil consumption in manufacturing, materials, and shipping--suddenly it's clear that, again, it's all the same issue. The more people can see that, the better off we'll be.

To the last commenter--Sharon's comment about 50,000 farmers was probably inspired by an interview she linked to recently, in which Richard Heinberg discussed his current belief that more sustainable--and inherently more labor-intensive--agriculture bids well to support far more people than was previously generally held to be possible; more people, indeed, than modern, industrial agriculture is effectively supporting. For another interesting article on the subject, look here:

As for the rest of her comment, I cannot help but think of the urban apartment complex I recently lived it--tucked away in an unused corner of the complex was an area where you could sign up for garden plots if you so chose. And in those plots grew, not generally potatoes and peas and corn, but yard-long beans, okra, bitter melons, kabocha other words, the people growing gardens there, the people who might prove to be an absolutely invaluable resource in times of food scarcity, were immigrants.

Just sayin'.

Squrrl said...

Awww, my link didn't work right. Let's try again, shall we?
reprints/OrganicAgSaveWorld _Jan04.pdf

I had to put a couple spaces in it to make it hopefully work out right, so if you copy and paste, remove the spaces. Sorry if I mess up yet again and waste everyone's time, but it's a worthwhile article.

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