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Climate change: the fault of the patriarchy
Climate change and the patriarchy are closely bound together, especially in Poland. Ignorance of the rights of minorities, including women, results in a toxic climate being created around them.
By Piotr Trzaskowski, 26 November 2019
The origins of the exploitation of natural resources and the climate are associated with the exploitation of minority groups, including women. Both phenomena are the result of the belief in the dominance of humanity (traditionally the white man) over nature. “Caring for the environment comes from caring for human society, and these must go hand in hand. Respect for other people is associated with respect for living entities that we do not recognise as human beings.”
In an interview with the Warsaw office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Zofia Nierodzińska*, co-creator of the banner “Climate change – the fault of the patriarchy” from a demonstration during the Camp for Climate (Obóz dla Klimatu), explains how the feminist movement is connected with climate protection.
At the demonstration during this year's Camp for Climate, you held the banner “Climate change – the fault of the patriarchy”. Where did the idea come from?
The banner was created collaboratively during the Camp for Climate, where we joined with others involved to come up with and paint slogans that we then used in a demonstration against lignite mining in Greater Poland. It seems to me that we decided on this slogan because it most succinctly sums up what is happening, expressing the political and social dimension of engagement in climate issues.
Both elements of the slogan – climate change and the patriarchy – are closely interrelated, especially in Poland. The authorities’ disregard of the rights of minorities, including women, results in a toxic climate being created around them. Since at least 1993, when abortion was banned, women's rights have not been respected. We combined the ignoring of minority rights, including those of women, with the climate, which is also being exploited. Animals and raw materials are being treated as if they had simply been provided for all time, and humanity could dispose of them at its leisure. But they are deeply connected to us, and their exploitation is resulting in the approaching political and ecological catastrophe.
How was the slogan received?
People in our circles immediately responded to it positively during the demonstration. I also noticed that the slogan began to spread in other contexts on the Internet. I saw activists from Ukraine using a similar slogan. Someone also held it up during a climate demonstration in Warsaw. I’m very happy that it’s gone viral. So far I’ve had positive responses. Perhaps because the slogan hits the mark, it articulates what we all sense but usually describe in long, complex sentences. It seems to be working.
What do you mean by “the patriarchy”? How do you think the patriarchy is contributing to climate change?
The word patria itself means fatherland, and is derived from pater, meaning father. The patriarchy means men’s power over other beings, including women.
As far as the Polish context is concerned, it is the privilege of the male part of society, and more specifically of economically privileged men, and the fitting of laws to suit their needs, as if other groups or entities and their specific needs did not exist. The impact of this kind of anthropocentric thinking, where the white male stands at the top of the hierarchy, leads to the rights of others and the laws of nature not being respected. This perspective that places humanity at the centre of the universe, above the environment, will also result in us ultimately wiping ourselves off this earth.
We think that our needs are the most important, we pay no attention to our interconnections or the fact that we are part of a larger system that is not here to serve us. We all have to function together on Earth. It seems to me that the patriarchal hierarchy is the root of all problems.
Is the women's movement involved in climate protection? If so, then why?
The women's movement ... I would call it the feminist movement. You can find historical examples of feminist involvement in ecology. The eco-feminist movement actually began in the late sixties, more or less with the sexual revolution of ’68. It belonged to the second-wave feminist movements, which mainly grew in the United States and Western Europe, but you have to remember the non-European context, with the Chipko movement in India (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipko_movement), for example. Chipko stands for “hug” in Hindi. So this is a movement, or rather a lack of movement, the refusal to leave a place, where hugging a tree is a form of protest. With this gesture, Indian women wanted to protect the forest from industrial logging in the regions where they lived, and they succeeded. That forest was indeed not felled. Wangari Maathai (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai) was also very effective – a Nobel laureate from Kenya mainly involved in planting trees and conserving natural resources. It seems to me that these people and acts are absolutely associated with feminist movements.
Ecofeminism essentialised more in the 1970s; the metaphor was used likening a woman's body to mother nature. Today, I would instead speak of the Earth as a lover who needs to be cared for so that she doesn’t leave. We expect something of a mother, but in relation to the climate crisis it is human agency that is now being emphasised. The ethics of care, which is born of the feminist movement, speaks of this care. The issue of care itself, and of going beyond the needs of the individual, matters in relation to the climate.
Changing the image of the Earth from mother to lover comes from the ecosexual movement represented by, for example, Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens (http://sexecology.org), two artists active in the United States. Ecosexuality emphasises the pleasure we derive from being in nature, walking in the woods and drinking clean water, and the rudimentary empathy that we feel for non-human beings.
I think empathy resides in all living creatures. Just like the awareness that we are all connected to one other. It is only later in the education process that we begin to get rid of this in order to fit the regimes of the systems in which we operate, the neoliberal system based on the exploitation of raw materials and the patriarchal system that privileges the white man and, in psychoanalytical terms, condemns us to cut ourselves off from our mother’s body, from nature. These systems have led to us think that we have nothing to do with nature, that we can use it at will, and that it has no influence on us whatsoever.
Does the climate movement care for women's rights?
I think that people in climate movements care about themselves and about each other. There are of course different climate movements and, unfortunately, environmentalists who hold right-wing or even nationalist views, but the movement that I am involved in and is important to me is built on feminist and queer foundations. In it, caring for the environment comes from care for human communities. They have to go hand in hand. Respect for other people is associated with respect for living entities that we do not recognise as human beings.
Do you think that art can help us save ourselves from climate disaster?
I’d like to believe so, but I don’t think anything can save us from it. I don’t think we can expect anything to save us – we're not actors in an American movie. I don’t think we can think in terms of some sort of salvation. What we can do is use the various tools available to us. Some know law, so they can use the law to sue banks, power plant owners or governments in order to support the climate movement. When it comes to artists, or makers of cultural products as I prefer to refer to them and myself, we simply use the tools of art. It is just as effective or ineffective as any other means. It’s simply what we do on a daily basis, and everyone should use what they have within their reach, what they know best. I see art as a tool, or rather as an opportunity to speak on various topics, not as a higher power that will save us.
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