“They Aren’t Really Poor”: Ecofeminism, Global Justice, and “Culturally-Perceived Poverty”
University of Calgary, Canada
A revised and slightly longer version of this paper is being published, under the title “Rural Poverty and Impoverished Theory: Cultural Populism, Ecofeminism, and Global Justice,” in Journal of Peasant Studies, January 2007 (Volume 34, No. 1). A related paper, “‘Capitalism is Boring’,” has been submitted to the journal Globalizations.
1. Introduction: The Populist Response to Neoliberalism, North and South
At the Toronto Social Forum in March 2003, a group calling itself Toronto Women for a Just and Healthy Planet organized a workshop that was billed as promising to “tackl[e] the patriarchal and colonial as well as capitalist relations at the heart of our current system” (Program 2003: 15).1 Setting out some basic principles, a first speaker informed those in attendance that there are two types of poverty – “real poverty” and “culturally-perceived poverty.” Given the tendency to interpret subsistence economies as “backward and deprived,” “culturally-perceived poverty” is seen as “real poverty,” she continued, and this has given rise to a “whole development industry.” Attempting to put this argument in a Canadian context, a later speaker referred to the situation in Newfoundland, a largely rural island off Canada’s east coast that, together with mainland Labrador, is Canada’s newest and poorest province (and, incidentally, my own home province). People in the small outports (or fishing villages) in Newfoundland don’t have anything, observed this career academic. But they aren’t really poor. It was those from outside who came in and labeled them as “poor.” This is “culturally-perceived poverty.” In a world of corporate globalization characterized by increasing enclosures and privatization of the commons – including the world’s oceans – the alternative this group endorsed was thus “honouring a lot of what has kept communities going” throughout the ages – “gift-giving” practices, especially women’s mothering.2
In light of their collective history and present reality, however, just how valid is it to label those – such as outport Newfoundlanders – who live “traditional” lifestyles and who “don’t have anything” as “not really poor”? The ancestors of today’s Newfoundlanders were mostly Irish emigrants who had been forced off their land by their British colonial masters and English fisher folk who settled there illegally during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in spite of attempts by the British fishing admiralty to preserve Newfoundland as a great ship moored off the fish-rich Grand Banks for their own exclusive use. In the newfound colony, both groups eked out a living, in conditions characterized by frequent malnutrition, widespread illiteracy, and nearly constant indebtedness, under the economic domination of a small fish merchant elite (Overton 2000: 9-10, 20-22, 43-44) and the social control of conservative religious authorities, particularly a powerful Irish Catholic Church. After confederation with Canada in 1949, Quebec and then the federal government raked off the lion’s share of revenues from the province’s hydro-electric and more recent offshore oil and gas developments (Crosbie 2005). The corporate-globalization-fuelled failure of the cod fishery and the resulting cod moratorium in 1992 put around 35,000 fishers and fish plant workers – from a population of just over 500,000 – out of work (Overton 2000: 5-6).3 While out-migration in search of employment has been happening for generations, the fisheries crisis is now accelerating this phenomenon. According to a recent article, entitled “Mexicans with Sweaters,” in a local newsletter, Newfoundlanders are becoming “modern day fruit pickers, the latest migration of foreign labour in the global economy” (Locke 2006: 4).4 With “official” unemployment hovering around 20% and a literacy rate of about 66%, Newfoundland is seen by mainstream Canadian society “(along with our great land north of 60) [a]s probably the most vast and scenic welfare ghetto in the world” (Wente 2005). Various native communities in Labrador, which lack a basic livelihood and amenities and which have been plagued by alcohol and drug abuse as well as youth suicides, are faring considerably worse. To refer to all of this as poverty is not to demean the people living this reality. Rather it is to point to the colonialism and exploitation that have dispossessed many of their livelihoods and the fruits of their labours, and that have deprived them of necessities, like education, that could potentially help them to challenge oppressive economic relations and social traditions.
Notes on the Ecological Dimension
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party U.S.A.
Radical environmentalists point to the devastation the earth is facing, but even in this day and age too many leftists examine only the finger.
The argument I’ll be making is marxist, but it is also very critical of many who call themselves marxists:
A specter is haunting the planet — the specter of biological devastation and ecological catastrophe. The ecosystems sustaining life are being ravaged. Many familiar organisms — butterflies, frogs, bees, whole species — are in sudden danger of being wiped out. At the same time, mechanisms for propagation — even seeds! — are coming under the private ownership and control of a few very large agro-chemical corporations. These corporations seek to alter living organisms’ genetic complement and reproductive capacities in order to further their control over land and monopolize the world’s food supply.
All the good things that human beings have achieved, and all the beauty of the world around us are being grabbed, privatized and pillaged by corporate, technological and political powers. This new colonization is legitimized by new laws similar to the Enclosure Acts centuries ago, a legal framework validating the shameless orgy of material profit.
In the last 40 years, fully one-half of the world’s forests have been chopped down. Forests prevent floods, maintain soil health, defuse hurricanes, detoxify drinking water and serve as habitats for millions of species. Under Clinton and Gore more trees were clearcut in the U.S. than under any other administration in recent history. The destruction of the forests is a main contributor to global warming. (Think about THAT, Al Gore!) Read More...
Demystifying the Water Crisis to Make Women’s Participation More Visible
Sonia Dávila Poblete
translation by Silvana Garetz
1. WATCH OUT for THE WATER CRISIS
The supply of water is running out! This is the most commonly heard comment of our times, the same as images that illustrate dry grounds or a faucet where the flow of water decreases to become just a few drops that dry up, images that generally depict women, children and the elderly in a developing country, either in Africa, Asia or Latin America. These images besides depicting problems of quality and quantity, illustrate how both problems are contributors to the scarcity of the resource and consequently to poverty. They also show that in places where there is enough water, the growth of the cities and the consequent increase in usage of this resource is affecting nature, predicting this way that the main problem in this century will be the water crisis.
However, are we really facing a water crisis? How is it possible to experience a water crisis if the earth is mostly covered with water? The well known answer is: “because from that total supply of water, only 2.5% is for fit for consumption and 97.5% is salty water, what seems to explain why this resource is in shortage, but: How much water does this 2% represent? Is this percentage a constant, after the annual completion of the hidrological cycle?
After reviewing different sources we found that the official estimates shown on the UNESCO’s Monograph indicate that there are 577,000 Km 3/ year, of which 44,800 Km 3/ year is soft water for consumption and they estimate that from this amount of water, in 1995 3,788 Km 3 (approximately 8.5%) were extracted. Of those 3,788 Km 3 extracted, 2,074 Km 3 and 1,714 Km 3 returned directly to nature to restart a new hydrological cycle. These data show that evidently there is more water than that which is extracted, but it should also be noted that every year approximately 360 Km (17%) of the total extracted water is lost, some of which can be replaced in the next hydrological cycle, only if/when the discharges by industry, such as the cities and the agro-chemicals (the main polluters) happen in controllable volumes, as they were up to decades ago.
Now, we know that the amount of water available is not the same in all parts of the world because natural topographic characteristics create unequal conditions, there are geographic areas where water is scarce, such as North Africa, central Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal and others) to mention a few. Also there are other regions which suffer constant floods, as an example, East Asia and Central America, there are also countries that experience the effects of lack of water and floods at the same time, such as Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and others, therefore to generalize the “water crisis” can be incoherent depending on the place where one lives, because for some it is a problem of abundance while for others is one of scarcity.
Social and Climate Justice: Fraternal Twins of the 21st Century
By Gregory Diamant
The suffocating ideology and practice of the so called free market system has to be identified as the most important culprit in the continuing degradation of our social and physical environment. The constant drive for profit accumulation is at the base of our problems; not just those relating to climate change but also to most of our social problems as well….
There are real solutions to the climate crisis. They include stopping fossil fuels, building sustainable, community-based energy systems, steep reductions in carbon emissions, focusing on expanded public transit, transforming our food systems, and stopping deforestation. They are all contingent on creating and introducing democratic practices that go well beyond the electoral arena. Read more here.
Sounds of Silence: What’s Left out of the Debate
by Cliff DuRand, Gregory Diamant, and Bob Stone
On January 9, 2013 the Center for Global Justice took a look at some of the important issues that were all but ignored by the candidates in the November election in the US. Cliff DuRand, Bob Stone and Gregory Diamant gave voice to some of those issues and reflected on why they were unspoken by our leaders.
Click here for a link to the video: https://vimeo.com/57641278
1. Remarks by Cliff DuRand
As one reflects on the campaign “debates” over the last year in the US, one is struck by how little was actually debated. And many really important issues weren’t even discussed. I want to briefly talk about two of the neglected issues of great moment for us: trade policy and the US role in the world. The silence on these speaks volumes. Read More...
Naomi Klein's book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: CAPITALISM vs THE CLIMATE
The big community read this winter is Naomi Klein’s best selling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. A noted Canadian journalist, Klein tackels the most profound threat humanity has ever had to face: the war our economic model is waging against life on earth. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not just about carbon –it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth, Klein says, is that we can seize this existential threat to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.
It is clear we need to get off fossil fuels. To do that requires breaking every rule in the “free market” playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies. A tall order, to be sure. But around the world, many people are taking up the challenge in inspiring ways.
Up a River without Water
by Sallie Latch and Cliff DuRand
Local San Miguel officials and civic leaders returned from the week-long World Water Forum held in Mexico City to report on what they learned there and inform sanmiguelensians about our water issues here. The March 25 forum was attended by about 35 residents who were presented with reassuring information about the quality of water in the city, warnings of problems in the campo, and homey advice such as to drink and cook with purified water and “when you brush your teeth, don’t swallow so as to avoid taking in the fluorides that might be present.”
But there was no attention to the larger, long-term problem of a vanishing aquifer amidst burgeoning development and wasteful agricultural irrigation. Although Mexico has an Integrated Water Resource Management Plan on the national level, it has not been implemented and “it is difficult to scale it to local needs and is complicated because of our particular watershed and regional objectives,” said Mark Hill of Ecosystems Sciences Foundation. “We are in this by ourselves. There is NO grand fund for San Miguel de Allende. Therefore it is very important that we share what resources we do have and work together,” Hill concluded.
Much of the discussion focused on regional cooperative efforts using such existing resources. This came in the form of a report of a water testing study that had been carried out by Ecosystem Sciences Foundation(ESF) with the cooperation of the city government, SAPASMA, and the University of San Luis Potosi . Conducted over a five month period that tested water from wells, ponds and other sources throughout the San Miguel Municipality, the study found no dangerous levels of arsenic in our water supply (although unsafe high levels were found in eight communities in mountainous areas). Also, it found no coliform in SMA water, although it is present in some other communities. Nor was any e-Coli detected. Read More...
Environmental Ethics and the Poor
Introduction: The vision for an Environmental Ethics applied to the Third World is discussed in this article. The problems concerning the Third World, including poverty are different than the ones in the developed countries such as the U.S. Deep Ecology, a part of American Environmentalism and it is hard to address it as a solution to the Third World Environmental Crisis. Deep Ecology addresses some of the problems for the American Environment, but not all of them such as over consumption and growing militarism. Deep Ecology maintains an emphasis on preserving biotic diversity to the detriment of human needs, maintains that a biocentric environmental ethics versus an anthropocentric is part of the solution, but each culture and each community must solve their problems in their own way , wilderness conservation as we understand it nowadays has worked for the rich and not for the poor, environmental revolution is a movement started in rich nations, or by people who have solved their basic needs.1
A proposal for an Environmental Ethics sustained in this article is a more holistic rather than biocentric or anthropocentric, which takes into account the cultural, sociological and historical problems as well, an environmental ethics which takes into consideration not only Nature, but humans as a part of nature. Every culture would find their own unique form of solving their local problems. To support this point of view I am using the critique that Ramahandra Guha has made to Deep Ecology and giving as examples the case of India and of the state of Chiapas, Mexico.
There Will Be Dead: The Real Cost of Gold
By Nicolo Famiglietti
"Even if the snows of the Andes turned to gold, still they would not be satisfied."
The above statement is as true today as when it was uttered nearly 500 years ago by Manco Inca, one of the last leaders of Incan resistance against the Spanish, before he was captured and executed.
The easy pickings long gone, today’s multinational gold mining companies in South America and elsewhere move mountains, then leach the crushed rock with sodium cyanide, poisoning water, air and soil. Waste pits, where mine tailings are stored, await the next flood or earthquake to spill their poisonous contents across the landscape as has happened nearly one-hundred times since record keeping began in the 1960s. So much elemental mercury, a by-product of the sodium cyanide leaching process, is produced that it cannot all be rerouted into the medical industry as in the past. Increasingly, it must be dealt with as hazardous waste requiring long term storage.
Multinational large-scale gold mining threatens the environment, health and cultural integrity of indigenous communities. Can such damage be justified?
Nicolo Famiglietti, an eyewitness to the devastation being wrought in the Andes of Peru and the reaction of the local population. On October 20, 2014 he gave an illustrated talk on why what’s happening in the open pit gold mines of Peru’s northern highlands is an issue that concerns us all. Famiglietti is an essayist and travel/social documentary photographer specializing in Mexico and South America after a career in higher education.
Read his report on resistance to gold mining in Peru.
Global Warming: “We Fiddle While the Planet Burns”
a talk by Ross Gelbspan, March 2006
As the signals from the planet become progressively more urgent, the Bush administration turns its back on the challenge, the American press remains in denial, and the environmental establishment seems to have gone into hibernation. We are, as the British paper The Independent, put it, “sleepwalking into an Apocalypse.”
There are some reasons for this negligence.
We are obsessed by our fear of terrorism.
We have been, for some inexplicable reason, blindsided by the aftermath of the Iraq war.
Our trick-or-treat economy is as unnerving to investors as it is cruel to workers.
And the U.S. country seems more politically polarized than at any time in memory.
So I think it’s very important to understand that climate change is not just another issue in this complicated world of proliferating issues.
It is the issue which, unchecked, will swamp all other issues.
Conversely, I deeply believe that the real solution to the climate crisis may well contain the seeds for solutions to some of the most threatening problems facing humanity today. A real solution to climate change has the potential to begin to mend a profoundly fractured world.
Take, for example, our newfound vulnerability to terrorism.
The most obvious connection is that the solution to the climate crisis – a rapid worldwide transition to clean energy – would dramatically reduce the significance of oil – and with it our exposure to the political volatility in the Middle East .
That volatility will only become more explosive, given the approaching exhaustion of the region’s oil reserves.
Much more relevant, I think, is the fact that the U.S. generates a quarter of the world’s emissions with five percent of its population. And since poor countries are much more immediately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – our continuing indifference to climate change will almost guarantee more anti-U.S. attacks. This warning was echoed last year by the head of the IPCC.
The real truth about terrorism is that, aside from hardening airports and nuclear plants, there is no way to protect any complex, highly organized society from guerrilla attacks. In the long run, what is really needed is a major change in our posture to developing countries.
Economists tell us that every dollar invested in energy in poor countries creates far more wealth and far more jobs than the same dollar invested in any other sector. Were the U.S. to spearhead a wholesale transfer of clean energy to developing countries, that would do more than anything else in the long term to address the economic desperation that underlies anti-U.S. sentiment.
On the economic front, it seems clear the entire global economy is susceptible to periods of stagnation. While tax cuts and interest rate reductions can provide short-term fixes, I think any recipe for stable long-term economic health must include a component of public works programs – in this case, a public works program to rewire the globe with clean energy.
Without question, that would be the most productive investment we could make in our future. Within a decade, it generate a major and continuing worldwide economic lift-off.
Finally, of course, there is the climate itself:
Unintentionally, we have set in motion massive systems of the planet with huge amounts of inertia that have kept it relatively hospitable to civilization for the last 10,000 years. We have heated the deep oceans. We have reversed the carbon cycle by more than 650,000 years. We have loosed a wave of violent weather. We have altered the timing of the seasons. We are living on an increasingly narrow margin of stability.
ENVIRONMENTALISM AND POSTCOLONIAL FEMINISM: Examples of Third World Women’s Resistance
University of Idaho, U.S.A.
Western feminism generally has become increasingly interested in, what has often come to be called, postcolonial feminism. This emphasis in feminism works generally to extend the analysis of the intersection of sexism with ethnicity, class and heterosexism, to include the still existing negative effects of Western colonialism (Schutte 1998, 65). The “post,” in postcolonialism, does not indicate that colonialism is over but, rather, that colonial legacies continue to exist. More recent phenomena, the capitalist global economy, development projects in the Southern Hemisphere and events such as environmental racism in the United States, are viewed, in the postcolonial discourse, as neocolonial. They can be seen as “…a continuation of the European expansion begun in 1492″ (Harding 1998,154; LaDuke 1993).
In the United States, academic concern with postcolonialism can be seen in the occurrence of several special issues of feminist journals featuring this emphasis (e.g., Hypatia: Special Issue: A Border Crossing: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to Philosophy (Part I and II) , Spring 1998 and Summer 1998; Signs: Special Issue: A Postcolonial, Emergent, and Indigenous Feminisms, @ Summer 1995, Signs: Special Issue: Globalization and Gender, Summer 2001 and Women’ s Studies Quarterly: Special Issue: A Earthwork: Women and Environments. 2001 ). Further examples of postcolonial feminism can be seen in events such as the recent formation, by an international group of women = s studies journal editors, of a > Feminist Knowledge Network = to facilitate communication, including the printing of articles from one another = s journals (Hall 2003). Also, numerous feminist conferences in the U.S. have recently organized around some aspect of the theme: international feminism. A case in point is the 2005 National Women’s Studies Conference titled “Women and the Environment: Globalizing and Mobilizing,” which featured the well-known ecofeminist and anti-globalism spokeswoman, Vandana Shiva as the keynote speaker.
On a global scale, postcolonial feminist issues have gained some visible political prominence. The United Nations Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995, for example, adopted a platform of action important to postcolonial feminism that was adopted by the 165 participating nations and the multitude of NGOs represented. One of the postcolonial actions was specific to environmental concerns. It reads “environmental justice: for women by promoting sustainable development and addressing the disproportionate impact of environmental problems on women and poor communities.”
Postcolonial feminism works across both geographical and intellectual borders. Intellectually, it unsettles familiar and often comfortable frameworks (Narayan and Harding 1998a,1). Paralleling the postmodern critique of universal knowledge claims, it criticizes the Western scientific paradigm for its assertions of universality, arguing that its knowledge claims are simply knowledges that have been developed by one group of people at one historical time (Harding 1998). The capitalist global economy and its impacts are of crucial importance to postcolonial feminists. These feminist alert us to the fact that in the so-called developing world, women and their children, in particular, are severely affected by insufficient food, the rising cost of living, declining services, and eroding economic and environmental conditions.
The US Federal Goverment's Response to Climate Change
By Burt Jaffe
Militarism and Global Warming
Originally published in Synthesis/Regeneration 42, Winter 2007.
US militarism has to be considered under three headings. First, the US military is the largest single consumer of fossil fuel in the world. Second, the US economy, the largest national consumer of fossil fuel in the world, has shown that its primary mode of maintaining a supply of fossil fuel for itself is through military action (assault, intervention, occupation of other oil producing nations). Third, the US military operates in the interest of a corporate economy, of which it (the military) is the foremost sector in the US.
US military control of the global economy has shifted political definitions to the point where, at both the national and international levels, the corporations have become the primary citizenry, relegating humans to a second-class citizenship where their existence as humans has been reduced toward a structural and political irrelevance. Ultimately, as the largest user of fossil fuel in the world, the US military must increase both itself and its petroleum use in order to guarantee that it will have increased access to fossil fuel for itself and the corporations in whose interests its own are interwoven. Read More...
Nuclear Power: A Threat to Public Safety
by Cecile Pineda
Every day we see new reports about the radiation escaping from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Two and a half years after an earthquake and tsunami set off explosions in March of 2011, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Japan’s largest utility, is finally admitting that from the very inception of the accident, at least 30 trillion units of radioactivity have been allowed to flow into the Pacific. Efforts to contain it have been to no avail. Sea life showing signs of radiation disease is washing up on the shores of Vancouver, Oregon, and Los Angeles. Never before has there been an industrial accident of such magnitude with three core meltdowns, and a site so hot in places workers can only work for two minutes if they are to avoid contamination. Noted writer Cecile Pineda discussed this in a talk sponsored by the Center for Global Justice on October 17, 2013. Her book, Devil’s Tango, How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step published on Fukushima’s first anniversary by Wings Press, foresaw much of what we are beginning to learn now.
Cecile Pineda is the author of several novels, including Face, Fishlight: A Dream of Childhood, and Love Queen of the Amazon. She is the recipient of the Gold Metal of the Commonwealth Club of California, the Sue Kaufman Prize, and a National Book Award nomination. She lives in Berkeley, California.
You can view the first 37 minutes of her talk here
Gender and natural resources: Maya women and the Agrarian Land Reform in Mexico
Maria Consuelo Sánchez González
Centro de Investigaciones Históricas y Sociales
Universidad Autónoma de Campeche
Financiado por INMUJERES-CONACyT y UAC.
Translation revision by Holly Yasui
Anthropology, like other disciplines, has contributed to reflect on social groups, cultures, products, ideas and transformations in the context of the globalization (Good, 2000). In general terms, globalization shows a world interconnected in multiple dimensions, ambivalent, discontinuous and heterogeneous, that not only encompasses the interests of capitalism, but also extends to the political, demographic, ideological and cultural realms, which generate multiple meanings and give rise to new social forms, to transformation, reinvention and reconstruction of already existing processes. The present work analyzes the change of Mexican agrarian legislation from the perspective of gender in the context of collective rights of the land-use in a Mayan community in Campeche , pointing out that the work of the Mayan farmer is based on collaboration, with well-defined roles based on respect, reciprocity and the work group.
Reducing CO2 Emissions: Toward a Quantitative Utopian Model
In the 19th century Marx eschewed “utopia socialist” visions of an ideal society, arguing essentially that we could not know what it will look like until after the revolution which would make it possible. But, in the 21st century, due to the ecological crisis, we face a unique situation in which we do not have the luxury of waiting until history unfolds to find solutions. Indeed, without knowing and finding the solutions, we will have an end to history.
The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration, drafted by leading radical ecologists, eloquently encapsulates a general vision for an ecologically sustainable society. To put flesh on that vision, it is vital to be as quantitative and specific as possible. First, it is difficult to mobilize people for a vision that is not clear to them in practical, every-day terms. Second, such a quantitative approach is also vital for an effective critique of plans now in the public domain which purport to solve the problem.
My goal in this essay is to stimulate discussion of how to construct such a quantitative model. What would worldwide standards of living that can stave off the most grievous forms of global warming look like, concretely? As well, I would like to hear ideas about workable political strategies to move the various key governments to make the necessary changes before it is too late.
By way of background, for 40 years I have worked as an oil and energy economist, specializing in consulting to Third World governments. But in recent years I have become increasingly concerned with the implications of oil and energy usage on the environment, particularly as regards climate change. In 1989, Dr. James Hansen, the “father” of global warming, first identified the problem and its clear relation to carbon emissions into the atmosphere from human activity, particularly those related to burning of fossil fuels.
In 1992 the UN sponsored a major international conference on environment and development, (UNCED), which took place in Rio de Janeiro. I had the opportunity to attend this historic conference, as a correspondent for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) and Monthly Review magazine. What I concluded from that experience is summed up in two articles I wrote then. What I described in 1992 is eerily similar to the present situation in the run-up to the December Copenhagen conference.
Environmental Education and Citizen Participation as Tools for Community Action for Local and Global Change
by Jorge Tadeo Vargas
During the last decades, citizen participation has moved away from neoliberal discourse and absurd governmental policy to real action and community resistance. No longer depending upon the legitimizing initiatives of governments, community action, in some cases, accomplishes changes in regional public policies. read article