November 12, 2017: Eating, Consumption, and Energy Transition
I’m still thinking about the argument made by Mercy for Animals around going veg because it is less carbon-intensive than meat eating. That argument is sound. And, there are many other good reasons to become vegetarian or vegan, not the least of which is the fact that a predominantly or entirely vegetable-based diet is it healthy. But, I cannot help but think about the ways that the climate crisis is being mobilized toward other ends. On the ChooseVeg.ca website, the rational is outline as follows: “We all want to help the planet. But how? The answer could be sitting right in front of us — three times a day. By going vegetarian, we can reduce the impact of climate change, rainforest destruction, and pollution, while saving water and other precious resources. In fact, raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined. There has never been a better time to go green by eating green.” The site goes on to detail the carbon emissions saved by eating a vegan diet, comparing it to and declaring it superior to another popular eco-consumer choice: driving a Prius. (They claim to be arguing for vegetarianism but the statistics they provide in the snapshot above rely on also cutting out dairy and eggs, as well as meat, which by definition is veganism.) But, as I explained in yesterday’s post, while going vegan or vegetarian are perfectly sound choices for any number of reasons, don’t imagine simply that changing your diet is sufficient. It is one step in a very complicated choreography for which there is no master design, yet at least. Lots of experiments and lots of efforts on an individual or collective scale will need to be made before we are able to determine which experiments are working and for who.
The argument that I’d like to make around feminist energy transition is made in a different spirit. Mercy for Animals is using climate change to convince people to become vegetarian/vegan. By contrast, I’m saying we must address the climate crisis by mobilizing in feminist ways around energy transition! The problem is this. The climate is changing. We know this. We also realize that something must be done, but it can feel overwhelming to address climate change. Climate change is what Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject both massively distributed and locally experienced, everywhere and nowhere at once. How we are supposed to grab onto that? Energy transition is a first critical step in decarbonizing the environment, and it is a problem we can address in steps and imagine incrementally. We might not all agree about where we are going or how should get there, but we can debate it, rally around it, and get started. Important to understanding energy transition is knowing that energy is not only technical, but also social. Communities organize around the energy systems that power them. Energy systems are tied closely to systems of power. Who controls it? Who has access to it? Who benefits? Why? Energy is Power. Energy systems define our relationships to one another, other species and our environment. These relationships, in large part, become formalized in our institutions. Currently, these institutions are not only fuelled by carbon-intensive energies, but are informed by racist, sexist, and classist attitudes. This is the second part of the problem, beyond the fact that the climate is changing, and I explain it like this. The exploitation of land and resources that has contributed to climate change is part of a larger world-view: an extractivist world-view deeply engrained in the Canadian psyche and tied explicitly to the project of settler-colonialism, founded on the idea that Canada is a staples economy (whether it’s the fur trade or the oil industry). The idea that Canada’s worth and raison-d’être relies on extracting value from the land and resources, informs the relationship that many Canadians have to the land and also to one another. Because the same extractivist world-view that has contributed to climate change through the exploitation of resources, likewise allows for the exploitation of gendered, classed and racialized bodies, and importantly the erasure of knowledges held by those bodies. Knowledges we need to imagine other futures. I argue that a transition in power—powershift—both literally and figuratively provides an anchor around which to mobilize feminist decolonial politics in the interest of just-futures. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, living on the front-lines of climate change; for that reason they also make-up the majority of climate justice activists, many of them Indigenous women and women of colour. But, like I said, climate change is hard to battle against, while energy transition provides one of the most important material realities on the ground around which to organize feminist action in the interest of decarbonizing the environment.
So getting back to the argument, I’m claiming that we need to organize feminist-informed actions around energy transition, in order to be able to better address climate change and organize climate justice actions, and it so doing we can also aim to achieve intersectional-anti-colonial-feminist outcomes. Addressing climate change isn’t about buying the latest technology, whether it is a hybrid/electric car or the latest ‘natural’ clothing made of bamboo. It is about rethinking how we move around and what we wear, in much more complex ways that include the life-cycle of an item and how it integrates into a new world, where we understand our relationship to the earth, to other species, and to other humans, as deeply reciprocal–not there for the exploitation.
Do these nuances matter? I do think so! We don’t want climate justice to simply become part of the latest marketing strategies, feeding into neoliberal capitalism’s ability to recuperate everything for its own ends: profit. And don’t get me wrong. There are great reasons to become vegan — although I’m not quite there yet. And buying a hybrid or electric car is one of the experiments that municipal governments are buying into and the more people buy in, the more feasible it will be to create the appropriate infrastructures. It is one option. One experiment. And, like I said, there need to be many experiments. I’m not convinced automobility is necessarily the answer. (Perhaps I’ll write about that in a future blog.) Because the etymology of automobile is self-mobility and I’m unconvinced that individual transportation is the solution. I also think that, if we take into consideration, the complex infrastructures that are maintained to allow for “auto”mobility — which is linked to a notion of independence and freedom — that this solution holds up. Road and highways are also very carbon intensive, both in their construction and the material used to make them is literally a bitumen and sand aggregate. But this is a digression. What I’m really interested in exploring today are the arguments being mobilized around climate change and energy transition. And, I’m interested in how we get there, and what it will look like when we do. Become vegan. Buy a hybrid. But don’t imagine that is all the change that will be needed.
It isn’t simply about no longer eating meat or driving more energy efficient cars. It isn’t about convincing people to merely change their habits, by any argument possible. And, I’ve not actual problem with the ad I use to frame this piece. They media strategists are simply telling them what people are willing to hear. I suppose these may be steps to getting us to where we need to be–a still indeterminate place. But, when will people be ready? And how do we push them to get ready? or be ready? We don’t want a Machievellian politics to rule: the ends to justify the means. Manipulating people to make sound environmental choices only because it saves money or adhere to some other set of core values. Instead, I think we need to rethink those values. Push those conversations. I prefer to think that the means in and of themselves can be disruptive! Maybe the conversation is the point. Maybe pushing people to think it ways they’ve never thought before is the goal. Because the “end” is uncertain, if we think the end is to address climate change without having to change anything about the way we live or relate. For that to be achieved, the key to the solution lies in addressing the root of the problem: thinking through how we’ve gotten to this place. The climate is changing. Who knows what the future holds? All we can do is imagine and labour toward more progressive futures–feminist futures, decolonized futures–even in the face of almost inevitable failure of one sort or the other. And convincing people to go vegan so they can feel better about their carbon footprint, when the real desire is to address animal cruelty (if you dig deeper into the site), might be what the experts tell us we need to do. But for how long will it be possible to play these rhetorical games? To address the causes of climate change will require much more uncomfortable conversations than we are currently having. It won’t be easy. However, the alternative is apathy and stasis. And, for me, that is unthinkable.
(Image: Photo Credit: Mercy for Animals: http://www.chooseveg.com/environment)