Pink and Green II

I didn't plan for my last post on environmentalism and queer or feminist movements to have a sequel, but I've surprised myself by having a heck of a lot to say on the subject, so here's a second helping! In my last post, I focused quite a bit on what was wrong, in queer or feminist terms, with the mainstream Western environmental movement. This month I want to talk more about why environmental issues matter to queer and feminist activism.

Let me qualify this post by saying that I come to environmental activism from the point of view of a natural areas user, a conservation volunteer/amateur naturalist, and someone with a professional interest in sustainability. I haven't read up on ecofeminism and deep ecology, and I'm certain that some of the ideas I've cleverly come up with have been formulated and explored much better elsewhere. But this is kind of a unique forum, too, and so I hope that I can bring something new and useful to the table.

For me, the big connection between the environment and queer/feminist issues is bodily autonomy. I believe that all people have a right to decide what enters their body. Pollution contravenes that right. As silverscreened pointed out earlier this month, hormonal birth control is potent stuff – something that definitely warrants informed consent. But our waterways – and by extension our drinking water – are filling up with birth control and estrogen-like chemicals. In many countries, poor women and their children are disproportionately likely to suffer from respiratory infections and even die from the terrible indoor air quality caused by their coal and wood-fired cooking stoves. I talked a little bit about the idea of environmental justice in my last post. The fact is that the people who suffer the most from pollution, who will be the worst affected by “natural” disasters or climate change, are people who have no other choice: poor people, marginalized people, queer and trans and female-bodied people.

It should not be a privilege to be able to live in a neighbourhood where every child isn't suffering from asthma due to coal-fired power plants. There should be no question of whether your drinking water is messing with your hormones. Your gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or, well, anything else, shouldn't force you to take a job that's toxic or dangerous because you know you won't find anything else. But we all know these things happen all the time.

Environmental activism is, at its heart, about the preservation of our common goods: clean air, clean water, natural resources. And common goods are only common when we agree on our shared entitlement to them. We can argue for equal personhood or the right to self-determination of our genders and identities, but those concepts are pretty empty if some of us are excluded from having the basic building blocks to start with. Capitalism (particularly neoliberalism) would have us believe that self-determination is based on exploiting our resources (and our fellow humans). Frak that, I say. The radical first step in caring for ourselves and for each other is caring for our environment.

We can, and should, set limits on how much we use up or destroy resources that are finite, shared, sacred. We can, and should, insist on the fact that as humans we are all have the right to a basic level of decency that includes not being actively harmed by our environment. We can, and should, fight back hard against the notion that if something's important enough, the market will take care of it. We cannot continue to scrabble along in a rat race where the players are entitled to anything they can lay our hands on, and if that hurts someone else, well, they should have scrabbled harder. As queer people and as feminists we know, to mix my metaphors, that the deck in that game is stacked. If we're not fighting to change the rules of the game, we're fighting the wrong fight.

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