Ecofeminism: An Incomplete Analysis of Climate Change

Image courtesy of Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

While philosophies about the relationship between gender and the environment have been around long before the emergence of the term “ecofeminism,” the term was coined by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne in her 1974 book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” (“Feminism or Death” in English), which introduced it as a distinct field of feminist inquiry.

Ecofeminist philosophy relies on the lens of patriarchy, which draws a parallel between women’s and nature’s subjection to male conquest. The male desire to control the female body throughout history is compared to the drive to conquer, colonize, and develop land. Ecofeminism clarifies that this masculine drive toward conquest and domination instigates the oppression of both women and the environment and acknowledges a common denominator between violence and assault on both women and the environment.

This way of looking at environmental issues — a lens that considers the underlying sociological factors which have lead to the molestation of our environment — is referred to as “deep ecology”. This framework lies in contrast to the idea of “shallow ecology”, which looks solely at human overconsumption and pollution as explanations of climate change. The concept of deep ecology is often utilized in critiques of an anthropocentric mode of thought, or a philosophy that centers humans. This contributes to climate change as the needs of humans are placed above the needs of the environment, and global warming is on evaluated to the extent to which is affects humans. Ecofeminism goes a step further to assert that it is not anthropocentric thinking that has contributed to climate change, but rather andropocentric thinking, which prioritizes the needs and wants of human males. Essentially, ecofeminism points out the danger in man vs. woman and man vs. nature binaries, as they facilitate relationships of domination and conquest rather than an acknowledgment of unity between humans and nature.

Further evidence of the parallel between the subjection of both women and the environment is the language frequently used to describe women. Women are often represented as animals: chick, fox, cow, pussy, queen bee, etc. The language used to describe nature is also generally put in feminine terms: mother nature, fertile soil, barren land, etc. This linguistic association between women and nature essentially works to group the feminine and the natural world into something “other” and inherently different than masculinity. It therefore contributes to the dangerous dualism that puts both women and the environment in a place of vulnerability to male violence. Ecofeminism seeks to confront this by providing the language to popularize this connection between patriarchy and climate change.

Pragmatically speaking, the unequal effects of climate change on women are clear. Women across the globe are generally the primary caretakers in their families, which means they are more impacted by natural disasters. Women have to make scarce resources stretch far to ensure their families’ health during times of crisis. Women are also more likely to fall below the poverty line than men and to live in rural areas due to systematic economic equality. This makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters such as droughts or floods, as they don’t have the economic means to recover. The UN estimates that 80 percent of people displaced by natural disasters are women.

While there is some truth behind the philosophy of ecofeminism, as there are statistics that indicate women are more affected globally than men by climate issues, the entire “ecofeminist” debate seems contrived. The reality is that the people experiencing the effects of climate change are disproportionately people of color in the Global South who are often disregarded in current discussions of global climate change initiatives.

The racism present in climate change policies and discussions was brought to light in 2009, when the U.S. and much of Europe decided at a climate conference in Copenhagen that global warming of 2o Celsius is the benchmark for a dangerous level of climate change. Representatives from several African countries objected to this, bringing attention to the fact that while 2o Celsius might be the threshold for the U.S. and Europe to begin feeling the effects of climate change, this level of warming would be far past the point of severe drought in Africa and would cost millions of lives. This discrepancy raised the question of whose lives are being considered in discussions of climate change. The answer appears to be that the health and safety of Euro-Americans are prioritized over that of people in the Global South.

While powerful, capitalist countries focus on curbing pollution, these countries exhibit extreme negligence towards countries actively being severely affected by climate change. An example of this tension between the Global North and South is how the effects of climate change are essentially annihilating island countries and the calls for climate action from Pacific Islanders in global climate change discussions are disregarded by Europe and the U.S. This negligence of the U.S. in regards to environmental issues in the Global South is widespread: the U.S. continues to dump electronic waste to be burned in Ghana. While people in the Global South fear for their homes and lives as the pressure of global warming intensifies, the U.S. maintains its position as the number one carbon polluter in history.

Climate change doesn’t simply affect people of color globally, but within the U.S. as well. One only needs to look at the countless reports of racial inequality in the demographics of those affected by hurricane Katrina. Or, take the disregard for indigenous people in the drilling of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Additionally, waste transfer and disposal centers are disproportionately located in communities of color, further highlighting the prevalence of environmental racism in the U.S.

Ecofeminism is a form of white feminism, which relies too heavily on a single axis of patriarchy and fails to view environmental issues through an intersectional lens. It is vital that the disproportionate effects of climate change on communities of color is recognized. This lens of intersectionality may be a step towards mitigating the effects of climate change, as it creates a sense of unity and solidarity. Viewing climate change through an intersectional lens allows different groups to acknowledge a common goal and then work together towards that goal. For example, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and various environmental organizations came together in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, demonstrating how groups may find solidarity in intersectionality.  Understanding the impacts of climate change on people globally can pave the way towards a more green world as various NGO’s, PAC’s, and grassroots organizations may unify to fight for environmental protection.

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