In the mainstream, feminism is often defined as equal rights for women. Here at Ma’yan we like to take an expanded view. My co-worker Pippi Kessler says, “At its core, feminism is about yearning for a world where every person gets to be a full human being.” To me, that means that as feminists we must actively fight to ensure that people of all backgrounds not only get to survive, but actually thrive. And the truth is that we can’t thrive without a healthy planet. And that is why, in honor of Earth Day, we are talking about climate justice as a feminist issue.
In most countries, climate change is no longer a debate. Scientists understand that we have been playing fast and loose with fossil fuels and we are already starting to pay the price. If we go much longer, we’ll pay an even bigger price. And because of systems of oppression, people of color and the poor and working class pay the greatest price. Those who own fossil fuel companies along with the wealthy elite (whose money is invested in fossil fuels) are not currently feeling the devastation at all. (For more information, I highly recommend the movie, Disruption, a concise and well-made documentary released in preparation for last year’s national climate march in NYC.)
For those of us not affected by the immediate impacts, climate change is hard to regularly pay attention to. Our minds are pulled into emails, bills, advertisements, work, friends and day-to-day realities. That’s one of the reasons why attending last year’s climate march was so powerful for me. I watched all kinds of people walk, chant, sing, and display beautiful creations of art. I was reminded that we all want to survive and we all want to thrive. I was reminded that humans are totally brilliant. I believe that we will figure out elegant, creative solutions to climate change. We just have to put our minds there.
So what’s a Jewish feminist to do?
Draw from traditional practices:
Interesting that the climate action occurred during the Shmita year, the Jewish traditional seventh year in which we are commanded to release all debts owed to us and to let the land rest. I’m guessing the Shmita year would probably not be a good time to, for example, dig up new earth, lay in more pipelines, blast through more mountains, or drill deeper into the ground. It’s probably not the year to scrounge up every last bit of fossil fuel just to keep feeding our oil addiction. And if we are letting go of debt, then it’s for sure not the best time to find new enemies and start new wars. On the other hand, harnessing the power of the wind and sun seems like an excellent Shmita year activity, as does taking time off to rest and plan exciting visions for the “post-carbon economy” (as Naomi Klein calls it).
The Shmita year is also about the concept of “letting go.” So what can we let go of to end climate change?
- Addiction to fossil fuels: including oil, plastics, and more
- Investments in non-renewable energy
- Greed: In this Shmita year I want to examine the places where I feel greedy. Is it with time? Food? Clothes? Travel? I don’t know what the next step is exactly, except to reflect on what my actual human needs are and how best to fulfill them
- Isolation: the more I seclude myself from others, the less I see what is really happening in the world
- Numbness: I want to combat numbness and face reality by doing things like going to marches and protests, sharing my feelings with friends, reading about climate change, and writing and making art about justice
Make personal changes:
I am aware that the biggest polluters and wasters are not individuals, but big corporations and industries. These are the places we need to target to effect change. But I’m still opting to make personal changes as well, and here’s why: I’m training to minimize the voice in my head that says: “You don’t matter.” Every time I reuse gray water or recycle, that voice rages loudly saying, “You’re insignificant! It won’t make a difference what you do!” But I am learning to persist. Because the quieter that voice gets, the more my thoughts and actions will be able to align, which will increase my capacity to think and do on a bigger scale. Here are just a few personal changes I’ve tried that you could consider as well:
- Keep a bucket to collect water while the shower heats up and use the water to then clean out the tub and flush the toilet
- Host a screening of Disruption for friends
- Sign up for Green Mountain Energy so that your electricity comes from renewable resources (and it only costs an average of $2-$5 more per month)
- Donate to organizations doing awesome work, such as 350.org and Jewish Youth for Community Action
- Freeze your compost and take weekly family trips to drop it off at a local farmer’s market
- Vacuum your fridge coils to increase energy efficiency
Ultimately we know the path is about organizing to fight the institutions that perpetuate our systemic greed and over-consumption. The above lists the little steps that help prepare me for this work.
So feminists unite! We still have about five more months of the Shmita year. What can you commit to doing towards climate justice?