FemEnvironmentalist: Why Every Feminist is an Environmentalist

Breaking: climate change is not a hoax, humans most certainly are the culprits, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

The alternative facts spewed by our current political cabinet are quickly regurgitated by Fox News and devoured by viewers like birds in a nest dependent on that daily worm, no matter how much dirt and shit it’s covered in. It’s difficult to say whether or not climate change deniers are simply motivated by big oil billions or if they’re legitimately stupid. The former falls in line with recent talk of big money and corruption in politics, while the latter reaffirms the universal controversy of democracy when it fails to work in our favor: that anyone can be president, even a volatile manchild unaccepting of scientific fact.

Undoubtedly exacerbated by global warming, natural disasters are causing more intense hurricanes and tsunamis, severe drought, flooding, and extreme weather patterns (1). Hurricane Katrina, and the shameful lack of support that followed, left 80% of New Orlean’s women and their children homeless despite making up just half the city’s population. Reports of rape and assault increased by the hundreds (3). Poverty also plays a major role in the disproportionate effects natural disasters and climate change have on women, even more so on women of color. Even before the hurricane, over a quarter of women living in New Orleans lived below the poverty line, many of them single mothers (2). Katrina only made it harder to break that cycle of poverty.

Years after the media declared New Orleans on the road to recovery, women continued to be burdened by the effects of the storm. The absence of childcare, lack of permanent housing, and inadequate public transportation lead to an increase in the wage gap, a decrease in wages for women of color, and an overall decline in the number of women in the workforce (4). And while the nation’s post-Katrina conversation revolved around race and poverty, there was little to no mention of gender. Without acknowledging these differences, disaster preparation and recovery will continue to fail women, almost as if their problems do not exist. Almost as if women do not exist.

Often brushed under the rug by corporations, the recent effects of redlining have forced the world of academia to conjure up a new term: environmental racism. Corporation are actively choosing to establish facilities with high rates of pollution in poor communities of color because these communities lack the resources to fight back (5). In New York, the Mohawk people relied on the St. Lawrence River for generations before nearby General Motors factories began disposing chemical waste into the water. Contaminants found in the river started showing up in the women’s breast milk, forcing a complete change in traditional diet. Not only did this increase the rate of diabetes within the tribe, it required challenging shifts both economically and culturally (6).

We are currently witnessing, and hopefully fighting, a paralleled injustice in North Dakota. Engineered by the oil industry, the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens to contaminate the Missouri River, a main food and water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe (6). The Native women of North Dakota are at the forefront of NoDAPL, despite the media’s sole focus on celebrity involvement in the resistance. Intersectional feminism plays such an important role in addressing environmental issues because more often than not women of color are the ones affected. In the case of North Dakota, white women like Shailene Woodley are praised as activists while indigenous women are left voiceless.

In addition to turning a blind eye to American minorities, we’ve boxed the third world into a far off abstraction and tucked it away with the other skeletons in our closet. Nonetheless, developing countries are being forced to carry the weight of the first world’s emissions. Rising global temperatures have caused extreme and erratic weather patterns in communities unable to respond. Moving after a flood or planting an alternative crop during a drought is simply not an option. Women in developing areas traditionally take on housekeeping roles, and daily tasks like food preparation and obtaining clean water have become more difficult, at times even impossible. Future generations will be burdened with these responsibilities, without the option to attend school or pursue a life independent of men (7).

Above all else, environmentalism must be seen as a people’s issue. Modern society views itself as separate from the natural world, and in doing so has become apathetic to environmental destruction. If the conversation is limited to natural ecosystems alone, efforts will continue to fail the millions of people suffering from the effects of climate change--a vast majority of them women. By recognizing the significance of race, class, and culture, we can work towards constructive, inclusive solutions to an inescapable threat.