It’s Getting Hot Out Here
by Maura Stephens, journalist and humanitarian, coauthor of “Collateral Damage: The Iraqi People”, February 2003
There are many things the G8 should be paying attention to because they matter to the 51 percent or so of us on the Earth who are female. Tops among them, I believe, are global climate change and bringing peace to the Middle East.
I’ll address the first point in this essay. If I recall correctly, the G6 (later G7 with the addition of Canada, and then G8 with the addition of Russia) was initially formed in response to the oil crisis of 1973. But it would be 2005 before this body issued a statement on global climate change, essentially saying that it agreed with the consensus of the International Panel on Climate Change.
That’s really rather a pathetic step. These 8 countries, which control 65 percent of the world’s economy, have got to do more. And do it now, not make proclamations about what they will do in the future once some other factors fall into place. And they must pressure other nations to come along — including the most resistant “developed” countries.
Global climate change is the big bear in the closet, the one looming disaster that will almost certainly bring unplanned class equity to most of the world. Those who now live in wealthy seaside dwellings may well not have homes 10 years from now, and those who live in artificially irrigated desert oases will likely be engaged in wars of a new and different sort: water wars. And those who are already poor, living in fishing villages or huge cities situated on water, will continue to pay high prices. They already have: witness the devastation in numerous countries following the Indian Ocean earthquake that triggered the Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, and the hurricane-pummeled, poorly maintained infrastructure that flattened mostly poor areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, USA, in 2005. The beautiful islands of Iceland and Ireland (my homeland, that economically booming gem of the EU) will most likely no longer enjoy the temperate climes they have been blessed with, thanks to the changes in the warming North Atlantic currents.
Some of these changes cannot be averted by island nations. Yet many can. All countries must first take responsibility for themselves, and then recognise they have a responsibility to the other countries of their regions and the entire planet Earth.
Ireland, to use an example dear to my heart, will not only be harmed by direct environmental effects of global climate change, according to several studies. The near future brings about many possible threats to Ireland, as an EPA report points out. Yet Ireland is brazenly continuing its rate of economic expansion and has actually increased its greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent above 1990 levels, nearly twice the increase the government committed to under the Kyoto Protocol. The current head of government, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (who with his Fianna Fail party was re-elected, with a majority in the Dail, or Parliament, in May 2007), turned down requests from environmental organisations to discuss their participation in sociopolitical partnership. The G8 and indeed the EU need to tell Ireland and other would-be scofflaw countries that this cannot be tolerated.
Coastal flooding, availability of fresh water, and food supply are all important factors in a region’s adaptive capacity and resilience, so a population’s income and technological capabilities must be taken into account when forecasting its vulnerability to ill effects of climate change. In societies where women predominate, especially women raising young children—because of war or displacement—fewer strong bodies are available to mount storm buttresses, build wells and sewers and other methods for procuring drinking water and properly channeling waste streams, and to work farms for food production.
We must step up and make real change now. All of us, in rich countries especially, must change our living styles, our consumption habits, our expectations of endless more. Ireland is just one example. Unfortunately, now the people of Ireland and other “later-developed nations,” have caught up and even surpassed the biggest offender, the United States, in gross overconsumption and waste.
To paraphrase a great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, Women must be the change we want to see in the world. And there is no time to lose.
TALKIN' 'BOUT A REVOLUTION – A FEMINIST LOOK AT CLIMATE CHANGE
by Mona Bricke - G8 NGO Platform Coordinator - who works with the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development and is member of Genanet (Gender, Environment, Sustainability)
Everybody is talking about Climate Change. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is no exception with her decision to make it the number one priority at this year’s G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. Since the Stern Report has made it clear that there is a slim margin of only a few years to address a host of pressing issues such as global warming and the ensuing increasingly catastrophic weather conditions, melting of the polar caps and rising sea levels, even tabloids such as the German „Bildzeitung“, not formerly known to be the avant guard of progressive thinking, are painting alarming pictures of a world-wide climate catastrophe in their headlines.
Heads of state and of business have suddenly awoken to a threat that has been building up for decades. It is not as if climate change were a new problem: the scientific community has been making dire predictions about climate change for a long time, with only a few environmentalists heeding them. What seems to have awoken the powers that be is the threat climate change poses to the world economy. Suddenly, insurance companies are siding with environmentalists and UN-commissions in a bid to limit the global increase in temperature to two degrees Celsius through binding emmissions reductions on the part of industrialised countries.
This can, of course, be seen as a good thing. One might argue that only if the outcry about climate change reaches the highest national and international levels, will true changes happen. But as a feminist I am keeping a wary eye on these new-formed coalitions. Are they truly going to address what is needed: a crucial turning around of the political agenda instead of the adjustments we are witnessing at the moment, such as emmissions reductions and efforts towards „adaptation to climate change“, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is a sop offered to developing countries, as they and their poorest inhabitants (still overwhelmingly women and children), are the ones who will bear the brunt of climate change. I don’t want to be misunderstood here: adaptation is important, in order to keep millions of people from dying in floods and droughts during the difficult decades we are facing. But it is not enough by far!
We need to start thinking outside the box, if we really want to change the world in a way that will make it livable for all, not only for those who can buy themselves protection from the consequences of climate change. If we muddle on like we have been doing, adjusting one thing here, tweaking another there, there will be no systemic change towards a sustainable lifestyle for all. And here is where I see a feminist agenda as crucial: feminists throughout the centuries and especially since the eighties of the 20th century have fought for a sustainable lifestyle and for an economic and political system based on solidarity instead of what it is based on at the moment: the neoliberal dogma of economic growth and privatisation at whatever costs to humanity and future generations.
The political and economic system we are living in and working with now is blind: blind to injustice, blind to the welfare of the underprivileged and, most esentially, there is no place in it for taking the future into account – it cannot, because putting economic gain before all other considerations is innate in the system. The whole world, even up to the air we are breathing (emmission certificates) and the information we are sharing (intellectual property rights) is being turned into commodities. Some, like the German Ministry for the Environment, present this as a step forward, because only what has a price can be protected within a market economy (or capitalism, to use the oldfashioned term).
Why do we accept this? Why is there so little talk of a true revolution, an energy revolution and a social revolution in the best sense – a turning of the tide, another world? Because we have been suckered into believing that there is no alternative to the neoliberal dogma of the supremacy of market forces. Most nongovernmental organisations no longer dare to think outside the box. Many think that, as Communism and Socialism are dead, there is no use in thinking about alternatives as we are seemingly living in the best of all possible worlds, as imperfect as it may be.
So what to do, if we decide not to accept this? Where can we go from here? We are facing a crisis of immense dimensions and we have to begin at the beginning: What social movements, radical environmentalists and feminists all over the world are trying to do is to rethink the relationship between human beings and nature and amongst each other. How do we change our consumer patterns in order to reach a just worldwide distribution of energy, power, money and goods? Raw materials and energy have always come at a high price to the producing countries and the poor in developing countries. They have payed for the extremely energy intensive lifestyle in industrialised countries with wages that were not enough to live on, ecological devastation of their countries and now, with the consequences of climate change, they are paying double.
It may be that a radical shift away from centralised sources of energy such as oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy towards sustainable and decentralised sources such as renewables (wind, solar energy, water) will lead to the paradigmatic shift I am hoping for. Incidentally, this shift would also favour women in developing countries, as energy sources such as windmills and solar panels strengthen their participation in decision making and ownership. Our world economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so much so that wars like the one in Iraq are being fought in order to gain or maintain control of certain areas with a wealth of fossil fuels.
But even this shift away from fossil fuels may not be enough to assure the necessary structural changes. Maybe, just as I am sure that we have to decentralise energy production, we also need to decentralise our thinking: the kind of revolution I am talking about may have to be a gradual revolution, which begins at many points at once, be it a the protests against this year’s meeting of the G8 in Heiligendamm, be it with the budding women’s movements in Africa I witnessed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January of this year.
I want to close with the adage of the Mexican Zapatistas: „We learn while we are walking“. What we need, is the courage to make this true – to never stop believing that another, a just and equitable world is possible and that we have to go on striving for it, even though we may not yet know exactly when we are going to arrive there and what this new world is going to look like. After all, what have we got to lose? If we do nothing, we are truly doomed, so the only way out is forward.
For information on G8-activities and protests click here
Climate Change and Women’s Work
by WOW! Work of Women’s coordinator Sundra Flansburg and World Neighbours‘ associate vice president Natalie Elwell
Recently released reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leave little doubt to rational minded people that climate change is happening, and that there is more to come. As we read reports and responses, government statements and reactions, however, the voices of the people who will most feel the effects seem to be lost.
What would we like G8 leaders to hear and support? We agree that many of the topics being debated are important ones for the world to consider and act on. But among the calls for alternative fuels, reduced consumption, carbon sequestering programs and so on, the G8 and others need to understand the urgency of supporting good, effective development work.
For the effects of climate change will hit the people who are already the poorest and most vulnerable. As many have noted, including Benito Müller here on OpenDemocracy, the effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate the world’s already vast inequities. In some cases it will be because those communities will be most impacted by climate disasters. In other cases it will be because those communities will be least able to withstand tragedy and bounce back.
Poor women in these communities will be heavily impacted in a wide range of ways. The women in rural, marginalized villages already work more hours than men, receive fewer benefits and have less decision making power. When water becomes harder to find, it is the women and children who put in the additional hours walking to find it and carry it back to the household. It is a similar situation with fuel wood. When children or spouses fall ill from malaria or other vector-born diseases that will increase in occurrence when water quality goes downhill, it is women who will care for them. It is women who will do without or with less when food is scarce.
Not only do women suffer the brunt of scarcity, they are often blamed for it. As trees and grasses available on family farms are overtaxed and degraded, women charged with providing fuel wood for cooking and fodder for animals are forced to tap into protected sources, which further erodes the land. Many of the people living precariously on these fragile lands are unable to effectively deal with the stress of their changing environment because they are caught in a vicious cycle of marginalization and dependency.
The IPCC report from Working Group II highlights the importance in coming decades of societies’ abilities to adapt to the changes anticipated, as well as those yet to be identified. It also notes the extent to which the ability to adapt is linked to sustainable development.
We – including the G8 – have a choice about where and how we invest in prevention work and responding to climate change. Increasingly, our efforts to address global warming must be internationally focused, pressuring governments and other entities to do their part even when they are reluctant. No doubt international relief work will be increasingly taxed as the anticipated droughts and flooding increase in intensity and number—imagine a Banda Aceh or Katrina every year. But the other side of the equation – development – must continue to be at the top of our agenda.
Basic work like local water sources, improved community health, women’s literacy, a diversity of income-earning possibilities and so on are what may make the difference between a community’s devastation or its being able to pull together to survive, and eventually thrive. There is no magic key or quick solution – whatever Thomas Friedman (1) and Jeffrey Sachsmay believe. Self-sufficiency must be the ultimate outcome and that means that the way development work is carried out is vital.
Over five decades of direct partnering with poor, rural communities around the world, World Neighbors knows that women will not, and cannot, become seriously involved in community development until their workload issues are addressed. And to be effective and sustainable, community development work must be done in partnership with communities and have significant levels of participation from women. So while it may be faster and “easier” for an international development agency to introduce and implement a water project in a village, the odds are that in five years it will be in disrepair. Work must be at the grassroots, build a village’s ability to define both the problems and the solutions, and require investment of something—time, money, skills, labor—from all parties. Additionally, women need to be actively engaged in defining the problem and deciding how to address it, or the “solution” is unlikely to be a real one for the entire community.
When poor women are able to have time for something besides daily survival, it is usually then that they have the possibility of building their skills and moving their families from precarious survival to stability. Attention to women’s involvement improves the sustainability of development efforts, and also more equitably spreads the benefits of development through families and communities. Skills like basic literacy and access to resources for diversifying income earning activities will provide essential adaptation skills, and ones to which both men and women should have equal access.
Sustainable development work can reduce the vulnerability of people and their communities to the harshest consequences of climate change. It is both a moral and financial imperative that the G8 understand the urgency of increased support of sustainable development work that integrates gender equity. As we feel the effects of climate change more and more, women are likely to be both the hardest hit, but also the keys to community resilience.
Sundra Flansburg currently coordinates the Work of Women (WOW!) initiative, a membership organization of World Neighbors that mobilizes support for improving the lives of poor women and their families who live in rural communities throughout the world. She previously developed and directed gender programs at Education Development Center, Inc., in areas including information technology, education and violence prevention.
Natalie Elwell is associate vice president for action learning, communication and gender at World Neighbors. In this role she provides leadership and support to field staff around the world in integrating gender into program work. She has just completed project to synthesize the successful gender work in our diverse program areas into a coherent approach for achieving gender equity and is currently preparing field guide for dissemination.