Originally published by Verve
“It’s two sides of the same coin in that we’re governed by men who have disrespect for women; who have disrespect for the environment and can’t see the world beyond their short-term, individualistic gains.”
This quote from Emma Dabiri, referencing both the climate crisis and Kavanaugh tribunal on a BBC Newsnight recap of 2018, was one of the most succinct summaries I had seen for the ecological, economic and moral mess we find ourselves in.
It’s no secret that men have disproportionately controlled the narratives of western science, education, economics, politics and faith for a long time, and as time goes on, it’s more and more difficult to label the impacts of said control as coincidence.
The human desire for conquest is nothing new, but with the European scientific awakening and industrial revolution driving the modern era, it made it much easier and more efficient to conquer both nature and people. Much of western philosophy surrounding the natural world at this time viewed nature purely as a mechanism, larger than ourselves but that which humans transcended, and therefore something to be subjugated. This idea played directly into the hands of men that were already largely in control.
In this vein both women and nature were commoditised, misinterpreting the balance of nature as a bottomless punch-bowl of pleasure and resource, and treating women in much the same way. Control and exploitation of nature and women became the norm, with various religious and political smokescreens devised to keep up and extend the status quo, a lot of which can still be seen today. (For instance, a lot of legislation is passed dictating the reproductive rights of women, yet little to no action regarding climate change, the biggest threat to innocent life especially women.)
Such smokescreens were extended further to the gains that could be got in other lands. The labeling of non-white people as sub-human fit conveniently into the paradigm of “man versus nature”, therefore excusing atrocities such as the Scramble for Africa, Atlantic Slave Trade and destabilisation of India. In a similar fashion, it was convenient to state that God favoured the white man, giving rise to the “Manifest Destiny” justification for colonial genocide in North America.
Alongside the social and moral disgrace, so too is the ecological impact of imperialism. Research has revealed that the European colonisation of the Americas changed the climate, with the genocide of 56 million indigenous people cooling the Earth’s average temperature by 0.15°C between the late 1500s and early 1600s.
Those same colonial attitudes have persisted since then, using the stolen lands and resources to drive climate change in the opposite direction, taking us ever closer to the 1.5°C limit while continuing to exclude women and non-whites with varying severity.
The irony is that for all the supremacist grandeur of scientific, civilised and moral advancement carried by European colonial attitudes, the deliberate destruction of cultures traditionally more respectful of their surroundings has played into the crisis we’re in today. There’s no denying the amount of ecological practice and knowledge lost by colonial ousting is significant, and even of those cultures which remain, the opportunity to pass such knowledge on is dwindling. It’s currently estimated that one indigenous language goes extinct every two weeks. Recognising this, it is only relatively recently indigenous peoples are being approached by governments to advise on environmental policy.
Other steps towards restoring balance including efforts to decolonise and the increase of indigenous women in politics to challenge the status quo are proactive, but that isn’t to say that colonialism is over or that even the genocide has stopped. We still see a disturbing lack of protections for indigenous women when compared to their white counterparts, as well as the ongoing eugenic genocide of indigenous peoples throughout Canada, the U.S and South America via forced and coerced sterilisation.
So how do we counteract this?
Many colonial nations fail to reconcile or even acknowledge their colonial past (especially the UK and by extension U.S) despite ongoing calls for reparations to be made. Increased education surrounding such oppression, as well as nations stepping up to assist or at least advocate the decolonisation of indigenous peoples they’ve harmed is essential.
Also essential is a paradigm shift in our collective relationship with nature. This great and callous test, at the expense of trillions of lives, has culminated in systemic discrimination of countless species. In the time colonial, supremacist men have explored and imposed patriarchal dominance onto those deemed lesser we have reached a breaking point as a species,with only 12 years left to minimise the worst impact of climate change.
A solution put forward by ecofeminist Val Plumwood suggests that the dualism between male and female in patriarchal-dominated society is the same type of division seen between humans and nature, and therefore to redress the balance of equality would mend these harmful chasms:
“I argue that western culture has treated the human/nature relation as a dualism and that this explains many of the problematic features of the west’s treatment of nature which underlie the environmental crisis, especially the western construction of human identity as ‘outside’ nature.”
Her work “Feminism and the Mastery of Nature” focuses on the reconciliation of four core oppressions in society and their relationship to one another; gender, race, class and nature. A notion which is echoed in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals today. It is no coincidence then, that one of the most impactful solutions to slowing climate change is the empowerment of women.
Feminism, much like the fight against climate change, is no longer a fight for power but a fight for survival.