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For today’s NOW Labz CSW Hangout, we will provide the full transcript of the multi-sourced digital chat session:
Joseph Robertson: Welcome to this morning’s NOW Labz Climate Talk, sponsored by Quipu.cc and the HotSpring Network. Yesterday, we had the privilege of a brilliant, intimate and deeply insightful discussion between three women, on the relationship between women’s rights, gender-based violence and education. Today, we focus on climate justice at the human scale, and how this impacts families, communities, and most specifically, the rights and the security of women and girls. (I will be passing comments through from some of our remote attendees with limited access to VOIP and chat.)
Dean Shilling writes, via email: I worked for three years on a local streambed conservation project in a remote area of Africa, where drought had never been endemic and where suddenly, the water was not flowing. We traced the historical records, and found no evidence that there was a history of the stream changing course or drying up seasonally. The dryer streambed altered the soil composition, leading to a saltier local environment. Fresh water became more scarce at an escalating rate, and we soon had record rates of evaporation, record low water volume, and record high earth salt content. The result was a declining capacity for people in the community to stay together, a scarcity of time and productivity, and added conflict.
Joseph: While we are waiting for a couple of other invitees to arrive, I would like to redirect our attention to the question of local impacts generally, not just water or remote areas subject to desertification. I had put out the question to some participants about whether there were ways we could expect women in the United States to feel the impact of climate change differently from men.
Carmen Visna: I have spent most of my life in Spain, and recently moved to California for a 6-month work project. I was surprised that, despite the degree to which California is a leader in climate awareness, there were real problems with dry whether, dust, air quality and water quality. I had expected these would be less prevalent. They are less prevalent than in other places, but still, families were seeing increased rates of asthma, and women I met were being told to be careful about seafood and even about drinking water, when pregnant, due to particulate matter levels and what appears to be runoff from 1) the Fukushima meltdown in Japan and 2) the dumping of waste into the Pacific.
Joseph: Do you think, Carmen, that this affects women and their personal liberties?
Carmen: Yes, of course. While CSW is about the rights of women and girls, we have to consider that when an historically oppressed group faces structural violence—of which climate change is just one form—the impact can slow progress toward extricating that group from the hold of historic inequities. And, yes, women’s health is directly impacted.
Joseph: It is interesting to me to think about the solutions side of this. Whenever we talk about climate change, there is a tendency to look at the horizon and see only the perfect storm gathering, but what about solutions? If we implement real solutions that move us away from combustible fuels, won’t we correct a lot of the structural violence inherent in the hyper-exploitation of fossil fuels?
Carmen: “I believe so. If we could create a different mode of energy economy, we could ameliorate some of what turns out to be climate injustice. Though much of what will go wrong is already built into the global climate.”
Joseph: Thank you, Carmen.
Hank Dorian: I worked on air pollution and water pollution issues for some time. And what I always found was that communities were degraded by these in ways that directly impacted the choices parents had available. Single mothers fared the worst, because they had the least amount of leeway in terms of resources and time, and so that lack of flexibility in expanding the scope of local activities for their children meant a more difficult situation in general. I constantly heard complaints from women who said they wanted their city or municipality to provide better recreation and better green spaces, and thanks for the work we were doing.
Angela Dorian: I want to add that I met Hank on one of those projects, and he is right. It was young women who were seeing their futures decided, to some extend, by the prevalence of contaminants in their environment. I think we have to add CO2 to that list, and consider that climate change is a form of structural violence that has both political and economic solutions we have not yet tried.
Riga Listin: I want to respond to that last idea by saying that I know it is unpopular to argue this, but it is my experience: there are ways in which the climate crisis is liberating women. Women are taking leadership roles that are there because there is no more time to waste, there is nothing to do but lead, and they are the ones stepping forward. I have witnessed this in places like Germany and Finland, but also in Africa. It depends where you go, but the climate crisis has allowed people of all kinds to step forward and lead in ways they might not have expected to be possible.
Joseph: Thank you, Riga. That is an important insight. It will come back to us later in the week, as well, when we discuss participation—the right to participate in political decision-making, in business, etc., and the prevalence—as well as sovereignty. Are there ways we can tap the untapped resource of women who have not yet stood up, but who are ready, willing and able? Are there solutions that can be specifically designed to both combat climate change and do this?
Carmen: Yes, I think we can do that. I think if we follow the logic of renewables, which require a grade of decentralization, as you have written about, Joseph, then I think the building of community base which is resulting can motivate this kind of change.
Angela: I would tend to agree. I know that I have long wanted to see more opportunities at the local level to take action that will directly influence outcomes for the better. If our energy economy and our political economy both localize, we can free people to do more for themselves and their families, while allowing them to live the full potential of their character.
Dean Shilling: That’s interesting. That is, in a sense where I was going with the reference to streambed conservation…. where structural inequities lead to climate fallout, and local resources are depleted, we see quality of life degraded, and that includes civil society and issues of conflict, safety, etc. The interference brought by resource scarcity can impede the full expression of human character in circles where the dominant culture is already working against the progress we seek.
Carmen: And, we have to consider that we need to treat culture as something we don’t want to see eroded by climate destabilization, or by forced migrations. Culture defines us and informs us, even as it constrains us. We want traditional cultures to evolve a space for women to be whole people in society, without losing their cultural rights.
Riga: This was central to the discussion yesterday… how do we educate people who claim that what stops them from recognizing that space for women to be whole people is cultural norms and traditions?
Joseph: Can we “evolve” the generations together?
Angela: If solutions are right…
Joseph: I do think that we gained something by talking today about how practical solutions to the climate crisis, specifically that will spark a transition from dirty, inefficient, primitive energy sources, to clean, efficient, renewable energy sources, can actually do something to change the structural constraints within which women and girls have to respond to the fallout from climate destabilization. We can decentralize energy and decentralize political decision-making, empowering more people everywhere.
Carmen: What is happening is that a new kind of leadership is becoming necessary, one that is more locally attuned, more rooted in human relationships.
Angela: And that will have to benefit women. We can only more forward as communities of people if we work together and work as peers.
Joseph: Excellent closing statements! Thank you, everyone, for this far-ranging conversation.
We are inviting everyone who attended and anyone who was not able to, to post comments and to suggest policy specifics, that they believe would achieve some of what we spoke of here. This, I believe, is just the beginning of some fruitful “non-ordinary workflow” (brainstorming) on climate justice and structural violence.
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