I recently started reading An Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells. I assume it’s a fantastic book and the first chapter was extremely well written. But I couldn’t get past that first chapter.
Why? Because the subject is confronting and I suppose I hadn’t, whether out of ignorance or intention I am not sure, realised how dire our current situation is.
By dire, I’m talking about the state of our planet; about how far in the wrong direction we’ve gone in just a few decades and how if we continue on this current trajectory we are basically signing the death warrant of our (and many other) species.
Wallace doesn’t mince words in saying that we are heading for catastrophe; that our actions are causing our planet to change irrevocably and that this will mean an increase in inequality, food shortages, resource shortages and human displacement. Essentially, many people are likely to die as the planet coughs and splutters along as a result of our innate need to increase our coffers; sea levels will rise, temperatures will increase, bacteria’s and diseases previously eradicated will re-emerge and new ones will surface. The increase in inequality won’t just be evidenced in energy prices, access to health care and education; it will also be evidenced in allocation of food and water, in medicines and in basic living standards.
My immediate thought when I read Wallace’s first chapter is that this inequality will impact women, LGBTQI+ communities, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups the most. History has shown us that this will happen, so there is no reason to believe that it won’t happen again.
I am proud to see where the feminist movement is at today. I am proud of the intersectionality of it and proud of the work that millions of allies have done and what we have achieved. But I am somewhat cynical at the moment, mostly from lack of hope given the current world political status, in regards to what this will mean when we are beyond the point of return, when the climate emergency is irreversible, and it is literally a fight for our survival.
History has shown that humans are brilliant and unrivalled in their ability to form communities and operate under a shared ideology, be it, for example, religion or capitalism or even fascism. But history has also shown us that humans are unique in their capacity to sacrifice morality and ethics for power, influence and money.
My concern is that we are perpetuating this by not speaking out about the gravity of the climate emergency with enough urgency. Put bluntly, we can address this only if we make serious sacrifices to our way of life now. It’s great to say we’re reducing plastic waste, cycling to work or composting our food scraps, but ultimately we need to change our habits more fundamentally than that. We need to accept that we simply cannot continue to consume as we are today; we cannot continue to operate under a capitalist system that relies on continued economic growth and production at the expense of all else.
There is irrefutable evidence that the climate emergency will have, and is already having, a serious impacts on human health; ‘the effects will be disproportionately borne by vulnerable populations, in terms of geography (i.e. certain countries and regions within countries); society (i.e. the poor, children, the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses); and occupation (e.g. agricultural and other outdoor workers)’ (Kjellstrom, Holmer & Lemke, 2009; WHO 2013).
We can’t hide from this as a feminist issue any longer and this should be front and centre of all of our minds. I don’t mean that other feminist issues should be put on the back burner, but that this is the most urgent feminist issue of all and we have very little time to address it.
I am also determined to finish Wallace’s book and I encourage you all to read it to. While it’s made me angry and initially deflated, it has also made me determined to do much, much more.