Will climate change affect women more than men? Is it really a gender issue? From the University of Western Australia, feminist geographer and IPCC contributor Petra Tschakert. Plus Swedish scientist Erik Bjorn: why a neurotoxin will pour into the seas as climate warms.
I’m Alex Smith. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.
PETRA TSCHAKERT – WOMEN AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Will climate change affect women more than men? Is it really a gender issue? To get one view, I’ve reached Professor Petra Tschakert. She’s a geographer who specializes in adaptation, marginalization, and political ecology. She’s published a slew of papers and book chapters, while working on challenging projects abroad. These days, Petra is a Professor at the School of Agriculture and Environment, at the The University of Western Australia.
From Perth Australia, we welcome Petra to Radio Ecoshock.
We hear about fieldwork in Asia and Africa – and the way Petra researches rural people. Petra is also a contributing author to several reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Later in this interview she tells us about the new one coming up: the prospects if we manage to stay around 1.5 degrees C of global mean warming.
But first, we approach how women appear in reports about climate change. Economists, governments, and the United Nations say women will experience greater impacts, but HOW do they say it? Are women “victims”?
Petra tells us there has been an unsubstantiated report that women are 14 times more likely to die in a climate driven disaster. That’s a horrifying statistic – but it hides more than it tells. Yes more women die, but that may be due to poverty or many other reasons, including caste. In just one example, girls in rural Bangladesh (which often floods) are taught to swim as are boys. But in the cities of Bangladesh religion plays against learning to swim, and so those women are more likely to drown in a flood or storm surge.
So we need the idea of “intersectionality” – the several vectors which can increase the risks for women. We discuss the role for feminism in climate change.
As a geographer Petra uses some feminist methodology to understand how knowledge of climate change impacts is constructed: what counts as knowledge, or what knowledge is left out, being thought too “difficult”. This showed up in the latest IPCC report.
Petra talks about “embodied experiences of climate change” – how people feel this in their bodies. What do floods, storms or heat waves mean to their being, to their experience, to their emotions? For example post-disaster camps may mean women can’t clean themselves. It’s a kind of knowledge not included.
Another huge challenge for women in the developing world: health. I’ve traveled abroad, including in developing countries. I was struck by the challenges millions face, having to work or starve, even while in poor health. A woman may have malaria or other diseases, but she still has to gather firewood, crops, work in a factory, and care for children.
Petra has done research and aid work in Senegal, Ghana, and the eastern Indian state of Assam, among others. She gives us some reality about those lives in our interview.
PETRA ON YOU TUBE
In this YouTube video, Petra raises many issues. For example, the tendency in government and media to portray women impacted by climate change as “victims”, furthering the stereotype of weakness in women.
But Petra points to several other groups who are at risk. She gives the example of men dying trying to be heroes in Hurricane Mitch. Or the risk of elderly single men who tend not to have social networks to check and assist them in a heat wave. Of course poverty plays a role.
PETRA AND THE IPCC
At the end of our interview, Petra tells us about her work for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She’s part of a new report requested at the Paris climate talks.
The mandate is to look at what happens in a world 1.5 degrees C. hotter than the times of the industrial revolution (around 1750). That’s the new hoped-for safe goal, although I personally think it’s way too late for that. The IPCC report will come out in 2018, which is pretty fast when we consider the work required.
ERIK BJORN – NEUROTOXINS INTO THE SEA
What if climate change washed more of a certain neurotoxin into the oceans? What would happen to ocean life? Or to us? Are you ready to explore?
Our guide is a scientist in Sweden. Dr. Erik Bjorn is a chemist and a biochemist, in the marine sciences lab at Umea University. He’s a researcher and co-author of a paper that probably won’t go far in the newspapers or TV. But it is news, it’s big news.
Dr. Erik Bjorn
The new science we discuss was published in the journal Science Advances on January 27, 2017. The title is: “Terrestrial discharges mediate trophic shifts and enhance methylmercury accumulation in estuarine biota.”
The paper is here.
We talk about a chemical called methylmercury. Find the Wiki explanation here.
Methylmercury is a combination of the naturally occurring element mercury, with an organic molecule. It is toxic to our central nervous system, and “bio-accumulates”. That means it gets stronger as it moves up the food chain. In one example, as smaller marine life who ingest methylmercury are eaten by larger fish, the toxin gets stronger. That’s why mercury in tuna is a bad idea.
Central to this new study is science saying that runoff into the world’s oceans will increase as the climate warms. That isn’t true everywhere, but in general, as warmer air holds more water vapor, the hydrological cycle changes, meaning more extreme rainfall and snowfall events. Those downpours are not evenly distributed, so some areas get drier, while others get wetter.
As a result, Erik tells us, the problem he studies is not about global oceans, but occurs in certain parts of the world: like the Baltic Sea where he lives, but also in Eastern North America and parts of Russia.
In those regions, increasing runoff will wash more methylmercury into the sea. By the way, the infamous “Minamata Disease” in Japan was caused by an industrial release of methylmercury there. It resulted in brain damage and birth defects, a horrible situation.
Bjorn is part of a lab at UMEA University in Sweden. They have large vats of sea water, with test sediment in the bottom, where they can create many different marine environments to test. That was an important part of this paper, written by a large team of scientists, and led by Sofi Jonsson of UMEA.
So here we have new science that shows how climate change may even affect the brain and births of people in some parts of the world.
FROM EXTREME WEATHER TO CLIMATE ACTIVISM (ALEX RANT)
If you watch television news, or track Google news, you can notice a new phenomenon sneaking up on all of us. Along with a war somewhere, a murder or fire, and the political chatter, there is an almost constant background of weather news.
There used to be a little weather forecast later, after the real news. Perhaps it featured a beautiful woman who was or was not a meteorologist.
More recently, that weather porn as we call it, has moved out of the background into prime news coverage. In the first week of February, for example, cites on the East coast of the United States went from 70 degree T-shirt weather to a foot of more of snow overnight. Canada’s hot-spot of Vancouver has received more snow than the big winter regions further east. Almost every area is getting strange weather, bigger storms. For the Australians, it’s still more extreme heat for their February summer.
Are we becoming “acclimatized” to climate change? Apparently we can tolerate continuing records set, and out-of-the ordinary never-before-seen weather events, as the new normal. We’re all interested in the weather, and now we have so much more of it! It’s becoming like our fascination with death – climate disruption as entertainment.
Keep in mind, we are only at the beginning of this great experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere. Due to a time lag built into the ocean system, the changes we see now reflect greenhouse gas emissions from around the year 2000. We’ve greatly increased emission since then, as the developing world flips over into fossil civilizations.
At some point the tornado, hurricane, storm surge, heat wave or extreme fire arrives near you. After the first response of helping however you can – comes perhaps an opportunity to raise awareness. Why is this happening? Are humans amping up the weather? Is this a ramp where we accelerate into a different climate?
More and more scientists I talk with think this is our only chance to avoid a complete climate catastrophe. When extreme and unexplainable weather hits each region, then somehow local organization for climate action has to develop and take power.
That’s right, I said “take power”. Currently in the United States, and in Australia, a gang of industrialist climate deniers have taken power. We need to right the ship, so that science and common experience can be the guide of government. “Climate power”. When do we need it? Well, we need it in 1975. But there is still time to retain a habitable place on this planet. We need Climate Power now.
You can begin as the climate deniers began. Start with local school boards, to ensure children are taught the scientific truth. Start with local government, to build resilience for your community. Tough as it is, we also have to bring our family, neighbors and workmates on board.
Then go for the bigger layers of government, to kick out the climate deniers.
I’m not a political person. I would much rather be gardening and enjoying life with the people I love. I want to avoid politics, but now we can’t. We can’t leave unbalanced people to steer this ship. We can’t let short-term greed rule the day. It is already so late now, we can not duck out of any opportunity, large or small, for climate action.
It is not enough just to listen to Radio Ecoshock. Please share this show, it helps. But we need to complete the chain from ears to brain to action.
How does weather activism become climate activism? Talk among yourselves.
Thanks for listening again this week. Alex