In conjunction with the Climate Change Blog Action Day, I want to focus in particular on the gendered impact of climate change. Nowhere is this more obvious than after natural disasters, when women and children are particularly vulnerable, a point illustrated all too well in the post earlier this week on the horrific situation for pregnant women in refugee camps in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Parma.
Gendered harms are also a consideration in understanding why utilizing population control is not a solution to Global Warming.
In the Different Takes Climate Change Series Winter 2009 issue, Betsy Hartmann lists 10 reasons why the linkage of population control and global warming is problematic. Note in particular points 3 and 4 below regarding reproductive and gender justice. She writes,
Climate change is clearly one of the most urgent problems of our time. It is also a highly contested policy arena with different actors from all sides of the political spectrum struggling to get a piece of the action. The population control lobby is no exception. Today, a number of mainstream population and environment groups are claiming that population growth is a major cause of climate change and that lower birth rates are the solution. This view threatens to undermine a progressive climate justice agenda that seeks both to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce economic, social, gender and racial inequalities. It also poses a danger to reproductive rights.
1. The numbers don’t add up. The industrialized countries, with only 20 percent of the world’s population, are responsible for 80 percent of the accumulated carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. The U.S. is the worst offender. In 2002 the U.S. was responsible for 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person, compared to only 0.2 tons in Bangladesh, 0.3 in Kenya and 3.9 in Mexico.
2. Blame games target the wrong people.Wealthy countries, corporations and consumers are getting off the hook. The challenge of climate change presents an opportunity for affluent Americans to rethink their wasteful lifestyles and get on board with a transition to a just and green economy. The problem is not ‘those people over there’ — it is us, right here.
3. Population control programs erode reproductive rights. Viewing family planning as a means to solve the climate crisis will set back progress on the delivery of safe, voluntary and ethical reproductive health services. That’s because there’s a big difference between family planning programs designed primarily to reduce birth rates and those premised on reproductive rights as an end that is worthy in itself.
4. Population control is no substitute for gender justice.
5. Linking population and the environment bolsters anti-immigrant agendas. By attributing environmental degradation to population growth, population and environment groups play into the hands of conservative anti- immigrant forces. In the greening of hate, anti- immigrant groups strategically deploy population arguments to gain support among environmentalists.
6. Fear-based stereotypes of overpopulation contribute to the militarization of climate change.
7. Population stereotypes victimize the displaced.
8. Population alarmism encourages apocalyptic thinking and distracts us from
the search for practical solutions to the climate crisis.
9. Shifting the blame for the climate crisis to the Global South prevents international solidarity.
10. Inserting population into the climate change debate divides the environmental movement at a time when we should be coming together. The implicit and explicit race, class and gender biases of population control are detrimental to building an inclusive movement for climate justice. This narrow worldview also blocks a deeper understanding of the economic and political forces that both drive climate change and prevent effective solutions.
In her conclusion, Hartmann writes,
Climate justice, not population control, is the starting point from which we can begin to build the kind of national and international solidarity that is needed to address climate change. The world is waiting. we are way behind, and there is no time to lose.
In framing this as an issue for which the solution is solidarity, not control, Hartmann crucially addresses the point that the human made causes of global warming and climate change are, at their root because of our attempts to control our physical world using a power over paradigm which inevitably means that those and that over which power is asserted become powerless. In contrast, solidarity implies the utilization of power by connection which is a far more sustainable model for transformative change and empowerment. Hartmann’s work exemplifies the kind of matridynamic paradigm shift that is an absolutely crucial requirement for responsibly addressing the issue of climate change.
Addenda: The latest issue of Sister Song’s Collective Voices is devoted to Environmental Justice and has several excellent pieces regarding reproductive justice, gender and climate change. Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice also has a report, Looking Both Ways: Women’s Lives at the Crossroads of Reproductive Justice and Climate Justice which should be considered essential reading in understanding why the holistic linking of these issues is so crucial.
Please also see my post on Reclaiming Medusa, A Plea For The Planet.