Similarities Between Feminism and Environmentalism

Emma Watson

Emma Watson and UN Women launch HeForShe campaign

As I watch Emma Watson in the news discussing her HeForShe campaign to encourage men across the world to show their support of equal rights and opportunities for everyone as a part of feminist movement, I can’t help but notice the similarities between feminism and environmentalism. The feminist movement is and has always been about combating oppression.

The feminist movement started with what is called the “first wave” of feminism with a call for voting rights in order to make men and women politically equal. Since then the important issues have progressed (from voting rights to financial inequalities to reproductive rights, etc.), but the driving force behind the movement has not changed: the push towards equality. Throughout history, feminism has also encompassed and encouraged the drive for equality for other oppressed groups including the civil rights movement and LGBT rights.

So how does the environment fit in? It doesn’t really seem to be in any of the categories I mentioned previously because it is not made up of a group of people, but it is similar in the way that it is indeed oppressed and unfairly treated by humans as a whole. And although it is made up of living creatures and plant species and we do not give them the same moral status as people, the natural environment and everything it contains is vital to human life on this planet.

Unfortunately for us, the oppression and abuse of the environment and all of the resources it contains that allow us to live the lives that we do will eventually end up greatly affecting us as humans. The intensive monocropping and fertilizing practices of modern day farmers is destroying the very land we depend on for food. Both overfishing and ocean acidification are destroying marine biodiversity and already affecting coastal businesses. Extreme deforestation contributes to climate change, as the decimated trees are no longer able to absorb greenhouse gases or keep the soil healthy and moist, since the sun dries it out in a clear cut area. These are just a few examples of the devastating oppressive nature of our current global relationship to the environment, and since plant and animal species cannot advocate for themselves, humans must be the drivers of change towards a more healthy and sustainable relationship with the natural environment.

In desperation

Let’s keep this beautiful (Photo Credit: Henrik Johansson)

Focal Points of the Modern American Lifestyle

Fireplace

Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini

If we look into the living rooms of most Americans the centerpiece is usually a television. All furniture in the room points to it and all attention is directed towards it. Often, this is where meals take place in the form of handheld fast food or microwaveable dinners. This did not always used to be the case.

Before the widespread use of central heating, a fireplace used to be the focal point of the living space. It was similar to the television only in the fact that it was the center of the room and different in the fact that it did not command all of the attention. Instead, it was a gathering place – a space to commune with family at the end of a day and interact with each other, talk, laugh, and share stories. Where a television isolates individuals in their viewership, a fireplace would bring them together.

Another focal point of the house used to be the kitchen. It was where most meals were handmade with real food ingredients and had more than just a microwave or toaster oven to heat up quick meals. Actual cooking took place. Now, many large kitchens sit unused and food choices are made on the way home from work in the form of a convenient drive-thru.

The main focus of many adult Americans now is their work. There is the pervasive idea that we need to work more to earn more to buy more stuff, or to pay off the stuff we already have. Employees in the United States are working increasingly longer hours, the average now being over the 40-hour workweek standard.

Many of these things are not bad as isolated instances. It is not terrible if you have a favorite TV show that you like to watch, or if you indulge in a convenient meal now and then, or if you put in a few more hours at work this week.The problem arises when changing focal points in American lives work together to drive us to live unhealthy lives.

When the big game or a new show is about to start, it’s easier to order a pizza than to cook a meal. When you’re exhausted at the end of a 10+ hour work day, it’s nice to just pick up something ready-made on the way home. When our time is constantly taken up by working, watching TV, checking Facebook or using any other isolating electronic device we lose out on building and maintaining our relationships with our families and communities. To continue on this path is dangerously unhealthy and will lead to increasingly unfulfilling lives.

What do you think is the most unhealthy habit that Americans have? Do you think that everything mentioned in this post can be fixed with the well known saying: “everything in moderation”, or do you think that actually makes it worse? I’d love to hear your comments and opinions!

This post was inspired by a chapter from the book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life by Albert Borgmann called “Focal Things and Practices”.

How Language Shapes Our Relationship to the Environment

Photo Credit: Yoel Gonzalez

Photo Credit: Yoel Gonzalez

How often do you think about the way you speak and use language every day? Since it is something we do all of the time and is such a habit, you might not actually think about the act of speaking or consider how language affects your life very often. It is important to take a look at it once in a while, however, especially when it comes to important issues like our relationship to the environment.

Think for a moment how we describe many things that come from the natural world around us such as rocks, metals, water, or soil. The term ‘natural resources’ is often used. This implies that the environment and all of the different, special types of substances that make up the natural world are just waiting to be used by humans. It’s almost as if the earth were a large warehouse, where you go to grab more materials as you need them.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger describes this phenomenon as viewing the world as a “standing reserve”—where natural resources are calculable quantities that can be isolated from each other and from the earth for our own purposes. Clearly, we depend on the earth’s resources for shelter, sustenance, and advances in human development, but is it dangerous to solely view the environment as a pile of resources?

Even as I am writing this, it is difficult to get away from the nomenclature of ‘resources’ to describe the earth, which is problematic if we want to think about it in a different way, or in several different ways. Imagine if we were to recognize the natural environment around us as a living system that we should interact with rather than just take materials from. If we were to discuss our interactions with the environment as a relationship, we could nurture and care for that relationship as we do human to human relationships, and it could be mutually beneficial to both humans and the environment.

The destructive environmental problems that we face today—climate change, deforestation, endangered species, etc.—could be slowed or even reversed if we started to use language about the environment in a way that acknowledges our mutually dependent relationship with the world around us. Of course, it is easier said than done to change the language of a society, but from history we know it can be done. New words are infused into our language each decade while others fall into obsolescence. It can be done, but it takes a self-awareness of your own language, and a commitment to actively change.

How realistic do you think this is as a way to change our relationship to the environment? I would love to hear what you think and discuss it further.

Start Now: 50 actions that will help you live more sustainably

I came across this website the other day and wanted to share it because it is a list of simple things that you can do right now to start having a better impact (or less of an impact) on the environment. None of the suggestions are difficult to do, and you don’t have to significantly change your life in order to add them into your routine. After a few weeks, once the habit is formed, these actions will become second-nature to you, but they will have an invaluable positive effect on the environment. Read and share everyone!

50 Ways to Help

Do people have a right to garden in their front yard?

Garden001

Photo Credit: Jon Roberts

Think about the acres upon acres that the American lawn covers across the country. Some homeowners are revolutionizing their lawns and turning them into gardens in order to provide their own food, freshly produced and pesticide free. It isn’t easy for these forward-thinkers (and doers) though, like the courageous farmers in the article below have experienced. They face opposition with their neighborhoods and city hall over codes that enforce homeowner’s to have ground cover (lawns) maintained.

The complaints about the garden in the front yard are that it looks untidy and it lowers surrounding property value. With the ever growing, unsustainable consumer culture running rampant across America, shouldn’t we be giving home gardeners awards for contributing to sustainable living, rather than giving them citations?

Unfortunately, the powerful thing about consumer culture is that it is self affirming. It relies on underlying values that ultimately say that money and possessions can give you happiness. There is no room for values of eco-friendly, sustainable living, which is why a front yard garden is seen as a threat rather than an accomplishment. Because there is the possibility that it will lower the property values in the area, consumer driven property owners are worried that it will impact them negatively (less worth = less money = less happiness).

What can we do to change the wealth driven values in our culture today in order to have a livable world in the generations to come?

Article: The Battlefront in the Front Yard (Steven Kurutz, New York Times)

Let me introduce myself…

I am an engineer turned philosopher: a little bit of both perhaps, but not solely in either category.

It was the last thing I expected from attending an engineering university. I thought I would get a degree and a career in biomedical engineering  and enter the exciting world of medical technology. Only half of that became true. I have the degree, but along the way my world was completely turned around. I took an engineering ethics course with a professor who profoundly changed my life, with whom I am still in contact with to this day.

That experience put my career, and indeed my life, on a completely different trajectory. Once I had a small taste of the understanding and frustration, the excitement and despair, and the utterly paradoxical field that is philosophy, I knew I needed more. I crave the insightful glimpses into humanity and the way the world works that only philosophy can provide. The beauty, and honestly much of the agony of the field is that there is never an end to a philosophical discussion.

I am especially interested in looking at human relationships to the environment, and how we can create a better future using sustainable methods in agriculture, architecture, and business.

Philosophical reflection and discussion can change the world, and it can be done regardless of the field you are in. It can lead us to be more responsible in our interactions with each other and with the world around us.

I am a writer who wants to be a part of this change and I want to share my insights, information, discussions, and questions with you.

Emily Helminen