Baroness Nathalie Bennet: leader of the Green party for four years and former journalist who moved out of journalism, in an attempt to try to change the news, rather than report it. (https://www.nataliebennett.org/)
Zion Lights: a British author and activist know for her environmental work and science communication. She has written for the Huffington Post, authored the evidence-based nonfiction book The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting, and is a TEDx speaker and a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion UK.
Lisa Schipper: an Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at Oxford. She studies the drivers of social vulnerability to climate change and natural hazards in developing countries, and the role that adaptation can play in reducing that vulnerability.
Women and climate
Women are most heavily touched by climate change and have less access to post-disaster resources. Climate change thus adds another layer to the existent structural inequalities between men and women. As an example, in certain countries women don’t learn how to swim and are therefore more vulnerable to flooding.
The role of women in agriculture has received growing intention. 80% of global food is produced by women. Increasing women’s land rights is sometimes seen as a solution to increase productivity and solve food crisis (although with the migration of men to cities, women may acquire a de facto leadership even if they don’t own the land). Zion Lights underlines that these issues are not only present in the developing world: there also are massive land rights issues in the UK. Baroness Nathalie Bennet mentions a debate at the House of Lords around the stake of planting more native trees: this rises lands rights problems.
Progress-seeking groups themselves can meet sexism issues, for we can’t escape from the system we’re part of: this has to be thought and acted upon, e.g. by trying to convince women to compete for leadership and elective roles within green parties and associations (which they have often been socialised against).
As a student and given the climate emergency (and the climate anxiety it can create), should one finish one’s degree or try to act here and now? Zion Lights says that none can answer the question for you, and that she knows people having done either choice. Lisa Schipper underlines that there’s a lot of things you can do without stop studying. Moreover, it’s worth keeping studying because you’ll find tools. Baroness Nathalie Bennet agrees, and underlines that by the questions one asks in seminars, or by the essays one writes, one can take part to rising awareness to climate issues. She tells how, as an history student, she had written an essay on Byzantine empresses because she was shocked that nothing was said about them during the lecture: the lecturer ended up publishing a book on Byzantine empresses!
Women tend to bear more the moral burden when it comes to climate change. Could this be because of their maternal role? Baroness Nathalie Bennet warns against stereotype: 20% of women of her generation don’t have children.
Does the population crisis call for more birth control and even birth strike? No speaker wants to call women to any specific decision: it is a personal choice to make. Lisa Schipper, however, underlines the issue of identifying if it’s fair to make the burden of this fall again on women’s shoulders. Regarding birth control, they all agree that there are very good human rights based reason to call for more birth control in the developing world, and that these reasons should be the only ones we consider; thinking otherwise could lead to eco-fascism.
Mitigation or adaptation: all the participants agree that the question can’t be an either or: mitigation of the greenhouse gas emission is absolutely necessary, but we’ve gone too far to avoid the necessity of adaptation as well.
The burden of this adaptation, however, should not be put solely on individuals’ shoulders. You can’t ask everyone to take the bus when there’s none, or to buy loose vegetables where they’re twice the price of wrapped ones. Baroness Nathalie Bennet denounces in this respect the Spire report, the second half of which focuses on calling individuals to “change their lifestyle”.
Zion Lights recalls that in India, 40% of the population won’t have access to drinkable water by 2050: this is not a climate emergency, but a climate breakdown.
This calls for a systematic thinking about the impact of the decisions that are being made, that does not affect equally all individuals.
And it also calls, Zion Lights underlines, for a systemic change, as the current economic and political systems have led to this situation. We should fight this tendency to think in silos and compartmentalize climate change. There shouldn’t be a “climate change” section in newspapers, all sections should deal with climate change.
How do you finance the change? e.g. wouldn’t big corporations leave if charged with a carbon tax? Baroness Nathalie Bennet answers that none in this room has known anything but neoliberal economics. But this is clearly a broken model, that relies on growth and even mainstream economists recognize we won’t have growth forever. We just need to create a new economic model. The current model works with “externalized costs”: the 5 pounds tee shirt in Primark actually doesn’t cost 5 pounds, it required an exploited child in Azerbaijan, polluted rivers in China… If you incorporate these externalized costs in the tee shirt price, UK enterprises will easily compete!
Among the obstacles to positive change:
centralisation: according to Baroness Nathalie Bennet, we need grassroots democracy, bottom up. She mentions an attempt of the South Oxford district council to develop a plan with strong ecological components, that was refused by the central government.
statu quo; Zion Lights underlines that we shouldn’t let progress be checked by people thinking “you’re not gonna change it, it’s always been this way”; this way has led to the crisis.
guilt: Lisa Schipper points at an issue with guilt, as none wants to think they’re responsible so the burden shifts to corporations, governments, individuals… We don’t want panic, we want empowerment.
Reasons for hope:
In the academic sphere, environmental questions have taken more and more importance (with more and more journals tackling them), and interdisciplinary approaches are increasing. Warwick, for example, has now degrees mingling Physics and Sustainable Development, and even German and Sustainable Development.
Baroness Nathalie Bennet underlines that if the current society was perfect, it would be very hard to convince people to change it to fight climate change. On the contrary, climate change is an opportunity to correct everything that’s wrong in our current society. She makes a parallel with her experience at the Green Party: when she joined it in 2006, before the financial crisis, they were hardly heard; but crises make people more ready to act.