Saturday, March 9, 2019

Ecofeminism



When I first began writing this blog for my Global Environmental Change module, I took on an "Ecofeminist" direction, which Professor Mackay actually really liked. But I decided to change it to focus on more technical stuff. When doing coursework, I always feel I need to prove that I'm smart. On top of that, I somehow felt that "hard sciences", followed by natural sciences, were more capable of proving smartness than social sciences. In other words, I believed, as many of us subconsciously do, that traditionally "masculine" subjects were more "rational", "scientific", and "objective" than traditionally "feminine" subjects, and therefore more valuable. This is clearly evidence of some institutional indoctrination. I have come to appreciate "feminine" subjects a lot more now, and would like to celebrate the connection between feminism, academia, and the environment.

But first, let's address the politics.


As a woman, whenever I talk about feminism, I fear coming across as self-righteous and holier-than-thou. There has been a lot of negative press surrounding the "feminist" label, such as criticism for promoting misandry. But I think there's a big difference between the study of political relations (including the politics - power relations - that underlie everyday social relations, like gender studies) and the practice of politics (i.e. advancing an agenda). People go into academics because they want to master the obscure. I'm not trying to advance any agenda, except that of my own opinion.

Feminist theory examines feminist politics, and women and men's social roles, experiences, and interests, in a variety of fields. In Ecofeminism, we analyse the relationship between women and nature. 

I was first introduced to Ecofeminism during my Global Environmental Politics module back in January 2017. Ecofeminism was coined in 1974 by Françoise d’Eaubonne, who argued that there are particular and significant connections between women and nature. It strongly correlates with intersectionality, a framework used to understand systemic injustices and social inequality in general. Ecofeminism relates the oppression and domination of not just women but all subordinate groups - people of colour, children, the poor - and, by extension, non-human entities - animals, land, and nature itself. 


Or should I say, herself? Ecofeminism also discusses our frequent association of nature with the feminine. From Greek Goddess Gaia to Mother Nature, spiritual ecofeminism is a branch of ecofeminism centred around recognising that the Earth is alive, that we are interconnected, and that we should be caring, compassionate and non-violent towards one another. Sounds hippie? Perhaps such ideologies seem radical to us because the persistence of capitalism and paternalism as dominant ideologies have caused culture to become separated from nature.

Cultural ecofeminists contended that women have a more intimate relationship with nature because of their gender role as nurturer and the intimate biological involvement in reproductive cycles. Advancing the feminist movement and embracing feminine values would thus improve our interactions with environmental systems. Hence, there is advantage in associating nature with femininity, in that this inspires women to take up environmental and feminism causes. In practice, many women put themselves on the front-lines of grassroots environmental leadership, from ecologist Rachel Carson, to women-of-colour activists against environmental racism. More recently, Greta Thunberg led young people to take to the streets for climate action.


On the other hand, feminist eco-criticism, or radical ecofeminism, focuses more on intersectional issues. Early ecofeminists determined that solving the injustices to either women or the environment issues would require undoing the social status of both. By the 1980s, radical ecofeminism emerged, contending that the patriarchal society equates nature and women in order to subjugate, commodify and exploit both. The phrase "Rape of Mother Earth" reflects this notion. Therefore, to treat both injustices, these critics believe that this association must be challenged.

I think that the crux of intersectional issues is really a classic Marxist struggle between the "haves" and the "have-nots", and the various methods the "haves" employ to make the "have-nots" stay that way. Capitalism is public enemy number one. But this deserves a separate post of its own.

One could get lost in these debates. At least we can all agree that there's nothing more apt for my blog theme!


What brought me back to this topic was this article I just read on the role of bicycles in promoting women's suffrage. Cycling is a great mode of transportation, which is also eco-friendly, and deserves a separate post of its own as well!

Happy International Women's Day!

Monday, March 4, 2019

BIG BANKS R EVIL

Christiana Figueres (former executive secretary of the UNFCCC) gave a talk in Oxford: she said that we, as individuals, should prioritise and do these four things to combat climate change:
  1. eat less meat
  2. use public transport or cycle
  3. find out what you're investing in or where your money is, to avoid supporting high-carbon assets
  4. vote

We hear about the first two, and the last one, quite often these days. #3 not so much. I want to talk a bit about that today.


When I first moved to Canada, I opened a bank account under a major bank, because it seemed easier, more straightforward, more reliable, and was what I'm used to. (They also offered a one-time $300 bonus. Hey, free money.)

After I started accumulating some savings, I felt really possessive about my money. (It's my money! What are they doing with it?) 

I then opened an account with a Credit Union. It was easier, more straightforward, and more reliable than I imagined. Plus, the service was great - very personal, because they cater to a smaller customer base. There were a few inconveniences compared to the big bank, but there were also a few other benefits. Eventually, I made a complete switch from the bank to the CU


Here's a comparison between banks and CU's, and a step-by-step for opening an account, provided UBC.

Basically, CU's are not-for-profit, co-operative (e.g. I own $5 of shares in my CU), and are dedicated to investing in the local economy and serving the community (e.g. my CU donates to the local food bank). I feel much more comfortable keeping my money here. The hassle was worth it.



This article ends on a skeptical note regarding the banking debate: "A lot of what passes for sustainability is actually nothing more than public relations". Which is another way of saying greenwashing (see: this post).


While I acknowledge that the more profits a company is making, the more it's able to invest in PR campaigns to improve its image, I am completely unsurprised that big banks invest in big oil. (Read: this article.) When I was at UCL, the student-led protest group "Fossil Free" was very active and vocal about the imperative for the university to divest from fossil fuels.


Even if Fossil Free couldn't convince the Provost, I'm always grateful for some solidarity. After all, standing together makes all the difference.

Just like if all of us moved our money somewhere better. Your dollar vote matters, including the passive ones sitting around


Where do you stash your cash?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Protesting Plastic Packaging

A while ago I posted this: 


It reminds us of the hierarchy of the 3R's, and suggests a few new ones: Refuse  Reduce  Reuse →  Recycle  Rot.

Now, we can refuse disposable packaging used for other things by refusing the thing itself. (Yours truly once ordered a VR Google Cardboard from the famously-packaging-excessively-Amazon that yours truly never used... Just an example of what could be refused.) But food is something we can't live without.

Check out this aesthetic animation by kurzgesagt on the plastic pollution. 

I've been trying to cut down on my plastic waste when I shop for groceries. Although this study shows that you would need to use your cotton bag 7100 times before it has a lower environmental footprint than single-use plastic bags, I bring my own canvas bag, my own containers for nut refills and my own plastic bags for packaging individual vegetables, and I avoid most packaged products. A lot of vegetables come in packaging; I always choose the loose ones, and I never tear out a plastic bag for them. (Meat spoils faster, and needs constant refrigeration and packaging; luckily I've cut it out!)

I haven't found unpackaged corn. :(

There are a few issues here. Firstly, I prefer fresh produce, and I assume that less energy has been used compared to processed options. However, this study found that more fresh broccoli is wasted in the kitchen (20%) than if it had been processed (5%), which could result in a higher environmental impact. Still, another study found that despite processed food reducing retail-level food waste, the greenhouse gas emissions from and material and energy investments required for processing (e.g. canning) and refrigeration (e.g. freezing) mean that fresh green beans and blueberry and mussels are the better option for the environment. (On this note, I highly recommend using winter as a fridge, as my 姥姥 always does.) 

Meet this guy's fridge.

Secondly, a lot of fresh produce bruise easily (such as spinach and strawberries), which means they have to be packaged to facilitate transport and protect freshness. Food waste research found a tradeoff between reducing packaging and reducing food waste: packaging accounts directly for a small portion (10%) of the total impacts of food production, and effects of switching to recyclable packaging is negligible compared to the effects of reducing food waste. The recommended solution is not to increase packaging though, but for correct packaging and effective distribution. 


All these comparisons were done using the LCA. For those of you who don't know, LCA stands for life cycle assessment, which is an internationally recognised method for accounting for the sum of all environmental impacts at every stage of a product's life cycle.


I've also been trying to cut down on single-use containers. At my university, almost all food is displayed or served in single-use containers and utensils. Maybe the small student population doesn't justify installing central dishwashing. (This study found that the breakeven point for 1 ceramic cup is 39 uses to have the same environmental impact as 39 paper cups, and 1006 uses for foam cups.) Anyway, when I buy food, I always offer to use my own container. They do give a discount for that, which I find encouraging. 


Towards getting the most and best product using the least disposable packaging, meal kits are the worst. A while ago, I couldn't resist a meal kit promotion and ordered a week's worth, but after seeing all the packaging that went into it, I felt guilty and ridiculous. London's Abel and Cole used slightly less packaging because they loved to include hardy root and stem vegetables, but all the condiments came in tiny amounts, individually packaged. 


I sometimes wonder if my protest is too silent to be heard. But I've been challenged for my (unusual?) practices, so I know that people are noticing: I was dispensing nuts into my own container when the store manager stopped by and told me to use the plastic bags they provide; I ordered a pizza at uni and told them to put it on my plate, but they told me to "just take a [paper] plate! It's free!" 

And I'll admit that there are "bigger fish to fry". (Stay tuned for that, I'll talk about banking next!) But it gives me a little comfort to feel like I'm doing a small part to protest our industrialised ways.

I'm interested to learn what YOU do for everyday sustainability!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

and then we'll be okay

Sometimes I think about the future (or lack thereof) of humanity and wonder what's the point of anything. And sometimes I sink into paralysis. 


Some time ago, my boyfriend sent me this.



Meanwhile on Facebook...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Empathy

Last week, I explored the reaction to environmental crisis from a place of fear

What if we come from a place of empathy?


That was hard to watch. 😭 

This video of a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose was quite frequently referenced when the plastic straw campaign first took off. 

Plastic straws suck!

I remember friends all over Facebook posting about saying "NO" to plastic straws and wondering, "why the sudden hype?" 

Nas Daily's hot take on the plastic straw dilemma echoed my thoughts. (Linked: Facebook video that I can't embed here.) In short, he points out hypocrisies in the environmental PR policies of some big companies. Specifically,
  1. he criticises McDonalds for banning plastic straws but still using plastic spoons, cup covers, and other disposable plastic;
  2. then goes on to criticise McDonalds for wanting to save turtles, while being responsible for  millions of other animals dying every year - pigs, cows... basically, the meat we eat. 
  3. He calls this selective empathy
  
Meat?                                       Pet?

Selective empathy is when we care about some plastic, some animals, and some humans. Nas concludes that saving one plastic straw is good (Practice the new and improved 5R's! Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.), but caring about the actual problem is even better. 

Yes, the plastic straw campaign could encourage people to begin to care more about environmental issues. On the other hand, it's also a form of virtue signalling, or greenwashing. 



Back to empathy.

WWF trapped a man indoors for a week and filmed his experience as they introduced pollution, global warming, and habitat loss to his living quarters. (Linked: another Facebook video.) The man, Francis, narrates his experiences, which helps us empathise with the suffering we have brought upon wildlife. The video invites us to empathise with our future too: "But we can't leave the planet."

Brené Brown on Empathy

Perhaps, in order to better respond to our self-sabotaging trajectory of damage to the environment, we would do better to feel it first. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Apocalypse

Happy 2019! What better way to start off the New Year than with The Apocalypse!


I really like how this video shows that the "the world is going to end so let's give up and enjoy ourselves while we can" mindset is just another form of climate denialism. Good stuff.

One critique I have for ContraPoints ("Oscar Wilde of YouTube") is that (at the risk of catastrophizing) an environmental refugee crisis may eventually lead to Total War.

The last time that happened, someone dropped 2 nuclear bombs somewhere.

SIPRI (The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), a think-tank that does research on security, conflict and peace, has a research programme dedicated to Climate Change and Risk. Together with SEI, SIWI and SRC (the Planetary Boundaries folks), they try to encourage institutional reforms in the UN Security Council to better manage security risks of climate change.


Linking climate change to security is a "survivalist" approach in environmental discourse. It may be more effective - more Realistic - than the other approaches identified in Dryzek's book (which are environmental governance, sustainability, and activism).

A few reasons why I'm restarting this blog:
  1. New Year New Me 
  2. Academia can feel alienating from big picture concerns 
  3. To explore a wider range of environmental discourses than my thesis. "Alternative theses", if you will. (Amber, 2018)
  4. Engage in discussion and debate with readers 
  5. It's a regular thing, so I won't forget 
A few principles I'll blog by:
  1. Short and sweet
  2. Use memes
  3. Link to other content creators - there's so much information out there already
  4. Catalogue resources - tags 
  5. Document personal communication - I've talked with so many people about environmental issues, it's a shame our conversations don't have a wider reach 
  6. I'm left-leaning (duh), but I'll try and keep things balanced


Uh... I'll try, ok Regina George? 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Ending Note

This coursework has pushed me to examine the central question of my educational pursuit. Why did I want to study this, here, and what do I want to achieve? I like how this evolved from a space where I explored different questions I have while toying with Mean Girls memes, to a space where I provided serious answers to my own questions, and even began answering others' questions.

In my learning process, I've made key changes to my blog, such as toning down on ecofeminism, because I believe in reformist rather than radical environmental discourses.

I intend to continue blogging, because I truly enjoyed the process of writing to engage a wider audience. Blogging has helped me learn a lot more than exams have, and it has created "intellectual output" that I'd actually revisit when I've forgotten about it. Since I'm writing for a topic I care deeply about, too many things were left unsaid. I also have a punny blog title, which is handy.

I'm left with many more questions to ponder. Ultimately, it's important to remain optimistic and proactive.

That was my Prom Queen speech. Thank you for reading!

Ecofeminism

When I first began writing this blog for my Global Environmental Change module, I took on an "Ecofeminist" direction, which  ...