Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Climate Change Solution No One Wants to Talk About

A lot of ink is being spilled about the effects of climate change, the causes, and the myriad solutions to stop the inevitable destruction of the planet and consequently all of us with it. I realize I am going to ruffle more than a few feathers for pointing this out, but one thing I have never come across yet is the observation that the modern gender-equality ideal, which idolizes the consumption machine that is the corporate mobile workforce, has been a major contributing factor to the climate problem we are now facing.

How can that be? Well, apart from the big changes that liberals are now frantically pressing politicians to endorse-- like conversion to solar power and subsidizing the electric car industry, here are the simple habits which scientists have been telling us to adopt for decades in order to reduce our waste and stop carbon emissions from destroying the planet: 

Walk, ride bikes, or use transit for daily travel. Hang dry laundry. Wash and reuse containers instead of wasting plastic and paper. Use cloth instead of disposable nappies, wipes, menstrual pads, and paper towels. Cook our own food and use washable containers for lunches instead of buying take-away and processed junk and throwing out the wrappings. Build greenhouses and grow our own organic vegetables and fruits as much as possible. Make and use our own natural toiletries and household cleaners and store them in reusable containers. Preserve fruits and veggies (preferably local or from our own gardens) and bake our own breads etc to reduce packaging and production waste. Store and use our grey water for our home gardens and compost our food waste. Mend clothes and buy consignment where possible to avoid needless fabric waste. Better yet-- sew our own clothing from second hand fabrics--I hear drapes make terrific play clothes. The list goes on.

Can you guess why it is that these simple habits aren't the norm in every household even after decades of environmentalists telling us how important they were? The answer is time and skill. All these little changes and habits require someone to spend time at home and a few basic domestic skills that have been long neglected by society, which has characterized them as menial. Formerly known as "women's work" these skills have largely disappeared in city schools and are rarely taught even at home because who wants to do the menial, unpaid, unglamorous, unappreciated work in the home? And more importantly --who has time for it when both spouses not only want to leave home to work (because that's liberation! that's equality! that's success!), but increasingly need to leave home to work because one income isn't enough to support a household?

Now, instead of at least one adult staying home and cultivating the eco-friendly lifestyle that most of our grandparents took for granted, both parents leave home--usually in separate gas guzzling vehicles-- and drop their kids in large inefficiently powered schools and daycares so they can go to work in enormous, power hungry buildings miles from home. They don't have time to cook or prepare lunches so they buy cheap, over-packaged "snacks" for their kids (which is all daycares have time for anyway) and disposable wipes and nappies (also required at daycare).  They grab coffee and take-away for themselves as they go, throwing out trash carelessly on the way to and from their various destinations. They work all day and repeat the trash consumption on the way home and to soccer and swimming etc. They throw something half-prepped and prepackaged together for dinner. They let their various machines do as much of the clean-up as possible because they have to teach their kids all the stuff they were supposed to learn at school but apparently didn't in a classroom of 30 kids so now they have homework. And they repeat the whole process 5 days a week, telling themselves that if they put some things in the recycling they are doing their bit. Weekends are not enough to catch up on all the domestic work that's been neglected all week of course, and anyway it's taken up with shopping for more stuff and driving to lessons and sports practices. Unsurprisingly, the well-to-do fly the heck away from it all on fuel-chugging airplanes as often as possible, while the rest of us try to find some nature to remind us what life is actually supposed to be for occasionally. 

No one has time to walk or take transit or ride a bike--plus most people live way too far from work now. No one has time to wash nappies and towels and wait for it all to hang dry. No one has time to cook from scratch or grow their own food or make their own toiletries and cleaning products. No one has time for canning or fermenting or caring for small livestock-- heck most of us don't have the skill, let alone the inclination--or space. We don't have time to mend our clothes or shop consignment and most of us don't want to because we like being stylish and don't want our kids to be bullied for looking skint either. Sewing: no time, no skills. We just don't have it anymore and the truth is we don't really want it because busy-ness is next to godliness. 

Now, modern feminism didn't invent the consumer machine that's driving the environment to ruin, but it certainly has speeded it up in a mad way and that's because our definition of equality has gone from respect for women and appreciation of the work they have traditionally taken responsibility for to women abandoning that work as menial, low-class, uneducated drudgery in order to join the men who were driving the corporate mass consumerism we are now realizing is so destructive to the planet. As a result of fighting for our "liberation" from the home, we have unwittingly helped to push our planet to the brink of destruction. Who knew "women's work" was so important? And yet I rarely come across a so-called "strong" female character in film whose "strength" isn't qualified by a complete ineptness at domestic arts. Eowyn of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings can take down the Witch King that "no man can kill," but Peter Jackson can't help adding a scene to the movie in which she proves her strength by offering around a revolting stew to the troops--badass girls should not be able to cook apparently.

Now I'm not advocating that women go home and tend the house and garden. Nor am I trying to suggest that men shouldn't be responsible to learn and use all these basic skills too. Traditionally they didn't learn all of them, but then traditionally they did a lot of other domestic things around the home more suited to their usually greater upper body strength. They made stuff and repaired stuff. They hunted and gardened and fished and did all sorts of things in and around the home which nowadays only "hippies" and environmentalists tend to make a habit of. And they weren't hopeless at cooking and cleaning and mending clothes either, contrary to popular belief. Now, more often than not, men drive to the city to work their butts off for hours in the corporate machine. If they are among the more privileged they make lots of money, look important, and have more time and cash for those fuel-guzzling flights to hot countries with pretty beaches. If they aren't (and usually they aren't), they work really, really hard for long hours to grow someone else's profits and still struggle to feed and house their own families. And we wonder why we have trouble with obesity and depression in pandemic proportions. To say nothing of divorce. Of course sometimes men and women have more meaningful work and we are taught from early childhood to chase that rainbow --that anyone can get rich or famous or do something really important and meaningful that they love for a living wage, but that's not really true. What is true is that domestic work actually is meaningful and apparently crucially important to the future. And of course either sex can do it, but it certainly doesn't pay a living wage and hardly anything else does either now. But in spite of that, I'm not even advocating that "living wages" be high enough for households to manage on one income--although that would be nice (throw a pony in while we're at it). 

What I am advocating is that people change their definition of gender equality from women abandoning the home to both sexes sharing domestic work and paid work at whatever ratio seems to benefit them and their families--and society honouring both kinds of work as important to civilization. More importantly I am advocating that we change our perspective on the workplace itself and work towards a system which supports working from home as often as possible, working near home when necessary, and including children in the workplace where ever it is safe to do so. It's the digital revolution--we ought to be taking advantage of that so that people can work from home as often as possible. The only barrier I see to that way of thinking is that society still disparages home life as less valuable to society than work life and we are still stuck in the sexist, corporate trap of imagining that we are no one if we are not in public being someone. Great for profits? Maybe. Studies have shown otherwise. But definitely bad for people and planet. Because this waste-free, carbon-free utopia that climate change activists are pushing for isn't going to happen if there isn't anyone home to make it happen. We can lobby the government and corporations all we want for solar power and a halt on oil production; we can buy electric cars and organic cotton, and local food; we can use eco-friendly appliances and cleaning products, and install LED lightbulbs; but if we can't be home, if we can't do things for ourselves and include our children in our work lives so that they learn the habits that will later make them good stewards of the planet and valuable contributors to society, we will never ever get off this consumption train and it's due to crash any time now. 

Climate change does not have a government-endorsed, corporately funded solution that will enable us all to carry on more or less as we have been except with solar powered cars and organic food. We can't buy this problem off or legislate it away. We need to change the way we think about what kinds of work are actually valuable to society and stop feeding the consumer engine with our drive for self-fulfilment and misplaced ideals of gender equality. We need to think small, think humble, think gentle, think quiet-- because that small, humble, gentle work that no one talks about-- that's what's going to make the big change we need. 

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