'Eco-Feminists' vs. 'Toxic' Reality

“If civilization had been left in female hands,” wrote Camilla Paglia in her 1990 book Sexual Personae, “we would still be living in grass huts.”

Feminists have often retorted that patriarchal societies prevented women from exercising their artistic, scientific, and technological gifts—and that women’s true capabilities in these areas are still not fully known because of ongoing sexism. Lately, however, at least one group of feminist critics—namely the proponents of eco-feminism, who see the exploitation of women and of the environment as linked issues—not only seem to agree with Paglia, but go so far as to suggest that living in grass huts would be far preferable to controlling and dominating nature in the way that men have done. 

That’s the idea expressed in the almost-parodically titled “Boys and their toys: how overt masculinity dominates Australia’s relationship with water,” by Anna Kosovac, PhD. Published in the popular academic journal The Conversation, the article was written by a University of Melbourne academic who holds a prestigious Research Chair in Water Policy. 

Back to the future?

Writing from her air-conditioned room in an ivory tower designed, built, and maintained by men, intersectional feminist Kosovac believes that the days of exerting control over nature through dams, water pipelines, and sewer networks are largely over: the time has come, she writes almost mystically, “to reassess the old methods and explore new ways in our relationship with water.” In her view, masculine over-reliance on “technological and infrastructure ‘fixes’” is preventing Australians from “work[ing] in tandem with the environment” to address the country’s water needs.     

Although Kosovac states at the article’s outset that she spent nine years working as a civil engineer in water management, she has almost nothing good to say about the field as it currently operates, aside from the grudging admission that “there’s nothing inherently wrong with using technology to solve water issues.” But in Kosovac’s masculine-averse perspective, the male technocratic mind is far too rigid and exclusionary. It assumes that serious sustainability problems can be solved with “gadgets,” as she calls them, such as smart meters and other data-collecting technologies, and it will not give fair consideration to other (eco-feminist and Indigenous spiritual) perspectives.

Kosovac alleges that Australia is suffering both politically and ecologically from “toxic masculinity.” This is a now-standard feminist phrase striking for its bigotry and intellectual incoherence.  At times this “dominant masculinity” seems indistinguishable from men themselves; at other times it is a specific attitude toward power, the exercise of control over nature and less powerful “others,” that is manifested by particular white, heterosexual men. The author speaks with satisfaction of the recent “fury of women” at the “toxic masculine culture of Parliament House” while neglecting to mention that women comprise 31% of the House of Representatives and a whopping 53% of the Senate. Closer to home, she complains that “in the area of water supply, sewage, and drainage services, only 19.8% of the workforce comprises people who identify as women.” Here is a patriarchal plot, one presumes, to keep women out of the sewers they would otherwise have been clamoring to enter. 

Girl power, One Million Years BC.

Kosovac cautions, nonetheless, that simply creating a more “diverse” water industry workforce made up of women, the Indigenous, and LGBTQI will not necessarily change “male-dominated decision making” and false faith in technology. That is what must change, according to Kosovac, though she never tells readers precisely what non-masculine, non-technological water management would look like.

It is quite stunning to read Kosovac’s glib dismissal of the male-led efforts that have made drought-prone Australia, the driest continent in the world, not only habitable for millions of people but one of the most prosperous and self-sustaining nations on earth. Missing from her sneering screed is any acknowledgement of Australia’s enormous achievements in water management, including seawater de-salination, which plays an increasing role in supplying water to many of Australia’s largest cities, or in the use of reclaimed wastewater for agricultural irrigation and other needs. 

One of Kosovac’s primary criticisms of Australian technology is the failure to engage the community or to care about ordinary people’s views and preferences (she cites one example in which residents of Toowoomba rejected recycled wastewater for drinking in a referendum that “divided the county”—apparently feminist policies are never divisive). The Australian situation is, in fact, far more complex than Kosovac’s article suggests. The Water Reform Agenda, adopted in 1994, established the principle of public consultation and emphasized the right of communities to participate in the development of water supply policies. Robust measures to encourage rainwater harvesting, greywater use, and many other conservation efforts with wide public support have been in effect for years and are a testimony to the multi-pronged, community-based approach pioneered in Australia.

While indulging in harsh criticism of the conservation and management practices currently employed in her country, Kosovac’s article is notably thin on solutions. It is time for a new way of doing things, she tells us repeatedly. But what is it?  She is in favor, it seems, of a “humble” approach that rejects the exertion of “control,” telling readers, with familiar academic vagueness, that “a different approach would incorporate valuable knowledge in the social sciences, such as recognizing the politics and social issues at play in how we manage water.” This is theoretical gibberish, and means little more than that under the influence of eco-feminist critics like Kosovac and her cadre of utopia-envisioning colleagues, water policy will be subject to a cultural Marxist analysis to identify oppressor groups (white male engineers, mostly, and those who support them) and oppressed groups (ethnic and gender minorities); such analysis will always castigate the oppressors and call for greater involvement of the marginalized.

Water, water, not quite everywhere.

True to form, Kosovac advocates “working closely with traditional owners to incorporate Indigenous understandings of water.” As an example of this approach, Kosovac refers with evident approval to a piece of 2017 legislation passed in New Zealand “that recognized the Whanganui River catchment as a legal person. The reform formally acknowledged the special relationship local Maori have with the river.”

It may be that despite her eco-feminist ideological commitments, Kosovac is struck near-speechless by this legislation, for she concludes her article soon thereafter without enlightening readers about how a governmental act of personification will help to address water management. Her only other specific suggestion involves “moving to community decision making models or even programs to increase youth involvement in water management.” Asking teenagers for input about water use may well yield some novel suggestions, but it’s difficult to conclude they will responsibly revolutionize water policy.  

Kosovac proclaims her support for “giving up some control.” I suspect, however, that her faith in youth and community consultation, and even in Indigenous spiritual beliefs, will last only so long as potable water flows abundantly from her tap and the toilet flushes on command. The much-derided “toys” of the “boys” may well represent a masculine orientation that it is now fashionable to condemn, but that masculine way of dealing with our environment has inarguably kept the sewage and water systems functional, thus making all our lives immeasurably better. The simple fact is that exerting control over water is indistinguishable from civilization itself. When it comes to complex technological systems, I’ll take the boys with their toys over the girls clutching their pearls any day of the week.

It's Not Nice to Mow Mother Nature

Recently, a friend sent me a Globe and Mail article entitled “Is it Time to Decolonize Your Lawn?” with the comment that he guessed it was a slow news day. Before I had finished the first few paragraphs, I saw what I was in for: a censorious screed against green grass combining anti-Western, anti-capitalist animus with an oft-incoherent environmentalism. 

The article, by Sierra Bein and Christopher Katsarov, informs readers that while many people associate a green lawn with carefree childhood summers, and may even “feel a sense of pride” about their carefully tended grass, such positive associations are a delusion. Just as we now regard with mystification the Victorian practice of affixing dead birds to ladies’ hats, so we may come to reject the traditional lawn as a symbol of violence. The lawn’s troubles stem from its location “at the confluence of two hot-button issues: climate change and Indigenous rights.” 

Not everything in the essay is nonsense. It is true, for example, that green lawns require a lot of water during hot summers, and that in drought-prone areas, the need for water—and for chemical fertilizers—is a problem. But a fact-based argument about alternatives to the grassy lawn would not have allowed the authors to range over such guilt-inducing preferred topics as cultural appropriation and planetary peril. 

The essay is a hodgepodge of assertions and half-made arguments, many over-stated or self-contradictory. Readers are chided for not realizing that weeds “are as wonderful as any other plants” (“when you actually get to know them”) and then told a paragraph later that attempts to get rid of weeds “often lead to more” (though wouldn’t that be a good thing according to the article’s logic?). At one point, lawns are criticized for failing to mitigate heat, as if gardeners don’t know that’s what trees are for. Biodiversity is touted, but never with the recognition that most serious gardeners seek biodiversity.

Nonetheless, despite its tangents, the essential ideas in the article are unambiguous: 1. Lawns are expressions of colonialism and private property, and are therefore a vestige of the bad old days; and 2. Lawns indicate our western attempt to control nature, a dangerous act of hubris that must be overcome.  

A settler-invader strikes again.

The suggestion that lawns violate “Indigenous rights” is perhaps the weakest of all the article’s dubious assertions, and it is never seriously pursued. But we are told that lawns are “a lasting symbol of how settlers appropriated Indigenous land and culture.” How so? The article never manages a coherent answer. It is stressed that the idea for green lawns—to be used for picnicking and croquet playing—was brought by European immigrants to North America in the late nineteenth century, even though the conquest and colonization of the land that would become Canada and the United States had occurred centuries earlier and had nothing to do with lawn care. It’s hard to believe that relations between Native and non-Native peoples would have developed differently if European Canadians had never come to valorize a swath of green, and I doubt many contemporary Indigenous advocates lie awake at night plotting to eradicate the lawn-mower.

The greater issue here, one suspects, is the opportunity for the authors to tout the superior ecological virtues of the Indigenous way of life, and to shame non-Native people for their alleged failures. A First Nations advocate is quoted extolling the respect Natives peoples traditionally held for the land. Jayce Chiblow, a member of the Garden River First Nation and spokesperson for a group called Indigenous Climate Action, says of plants that “Our teaching is that those are our relatives and that we belong to the land. It’s an entirely different concept” (from the destructive, instrumentalist attitude of non-Natives). Chiblow adds that “for Anishinaabe people, the bush was their pharmacy and fridge. ‘It was our everything.’” That “everything” was decimated as a result of the arrival of Europeans, who caused “a decline in the biodiversity so relied on by Indigenous people” and who brought “invasive species over with them.”

This is a familiar idea sometimes referred to as the motif of the Ecological Indian, the widely-held conviction that Indigenous people have a special caretaker ethic vastly different from, and superior to, the exploitative mentality of non-Native peoples. The reality is far more complex, as anthropologist Shepard Krech demonstrates in his book The Ecological Indian: Myth and Reality. Providing an extensive exploration of the notion that Native Americans were closer to nature than Euro-Americans, he examines the mass extinctions that accompanied the arrival of Native peoples on the North American continent, Native use of fire in agriculture, and the fates of buffalo, deer, and beaver populations under Native control. 

Myth

He concludes that although Native peoples certainly did emphasize the interrelatedness of human beings and other living things, neither their actions nor their belief systems—specifically their belief in animal reincarnation—supported a concern for the balance of nature or what would now be considered environmentalist principles. No matter. The romantic idea that non-Indigenous descendants of “settlers” (sometimes called “settler invaders” for the added sting) should engage in self recrimination for their despoliation of a pristine world is a hardy doctrine of contemporary belief. 

Related to the emphasis on non-Native desecration of the land is an equally familiar attack on property ownership. The article makes the link between lawns and “the property ownership mentality,” the capitalistic (i.e. bad) idea “that we can own” things at all. Readers are informed that, once established in North America, the manicured lawn became a sign of respectability and of wealth. “Every backyard essentially became a private park” as mini-landowners vied with one another for conspicuous displays of their status. All of this is presented as if its immorality and negative consequences are self-evident, and as if giving up our lawn-mowers and allowing the weeds to sprout unhindered are necessary acts of environmental and communal contrition. 

It doesn’t seem to matter to the article’s authors that it is impossible to establish any positive correlation between state or communal ownership of land and ecological flourishing: quite the opposite. Environmental catastrophe is the signature of Communist regimes, which lack the responsibility incentives of private or commercial ownership. As Thomas DiLorenzo points out in The Problem with Socialism, to envision the greater care involved in private ownership, one need simply notice “how car owners treat their property compared to how rental cars get treated, or how homeowners treat their homes and property compared to how renters treat theirs.” But in the upside-down vision of radical environmentalists, the man who lets everything go to weed is practising greater care than the person who labors to make his home beautiful.

The impetus behind the many flabby generalizations and utopian imaginings on display here is ultimately an anti-human one, as is made clear in the authors’ respectful quoting of Dr. John Douglas Belshaw, a Canadian history professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., who asks rhetorically, “What is a lawn but a statement of control over nature?” Belshaw goes further to itemize the indignities practiced by “settler culture” against our mother nature in furtherance of the settler culture imperative. “You see that river there? We can dam that. We can organize that water, we can make that water work for us. It’s essentially the same mindset. I can reorganize this landscape, flatten it, plant lawn, find a non-indigenous species of plant, of grass, and completely extract anything that’s not homogenous, that doesn’t fit with this green pattern and control it… A backyard with a big lawn is like a classroom for colonialism and environmental hostility.” 

Reality.

Belshaw does not mention that Native peoples too sought to control nature and make it work for them, but lacked the technology to do so as effectively as their European counterparts. Is this professor of Canadian history really advocating that we stop trying to make nature work for us? The degree of success of the European adventure in North America is rendered vivid by this well-read man’s inability to imagine how gruesome and full of suffering and death our lives would be without our much-denigrated “control” of nature.

Alleging a series of historical, cultural, economic, and environmentalist accusations against lawns, this preachy article seems intended to provoke in readers a massive guilt and sense of illegitimacy. From whatever angle it is viewed, the green lawn accuses its owner of wastefulness, pride, immorality, and perhaps even complicity in genocide. 

With an article like this, we have left the realm of the rational, of cause and effect, and of individual agency far behind. The new conceptual arena we enter is one of collective shaming and technocratic governance.  As our ability to feel confidence in even the most seemingly apolitical actions and basic values is undermined, our need for reliance on “experts” including Indigenous advocates, conservation officers, radical environmentalists, and anti-humanist professors, must increase. The “decolonizing” project has almost nothing to do with lawns or biodiversity, everything to do with delegitimizing western freedoms and prosperity, and destroying our ability to understand or defend them. 

Is There Anything Global Warming Can't Do?

Global warming -- is there anything it can't do? Item No. 1:

England is in danger of experiencing droughts within 20 years unless action is taken to combat the impact of the climate crisis on water availability, the public spending watchdog says. The National Audit Office (NAO), in a report published on Wednesday, says some parts of England, especially the south-east, are at risk of running out of water owing to decreased rainfall and a need to cut the amount taken from natural waterways.

Water companies will have to reduce the quantity of water they take out of rivers, lakes and the ground by more than 1bn litres a day, creating huge shortfalls in the coming decades, the NAO warned. Parliament’s auditor predicted that 4bn litres of additional water supply would be needed each day by 2050 to counter the growing risk of drought from the climate emergency. The total supply is forecast to drop by 7% by 2045 because of the climate crisis and the need to scale back the amount of water taken out of England’s waterways and soils.

The one thing the British Isles will never run short of is water, since it falls from the sky every day in buckets, but hey...

Have you ever noticed that all such "predictions" as this one only run in one direction: utter calamity. Never mind that doomsayers have been at this since time immemorial, and that in the modern era some form of Malthusianism has interbred with the environmentalist watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) to produced the current media-fueled obsession with imminent doom if... we don't immediately enact their policy preferences. That those preferences include channeling vast amounts of public monies to the very folks making the predictions is entirely coincidental.

Funny how they never predicted the global rise in life expectancy, the improvements in farming that allows the planet to support 7.5 billion people, and surging living standards that all have occurred during our lifetimes. Why, it's almost like this is the best time ever to be alive.

Item No. 2:

After failing to grow wheat in Canada’s subarctic Yukon territory 15 years ago, farmer Steve Mackenzie-Grieve gave it another shot in 2017. Thanks to longer summers, he has reaped three straight harvests. This spring he plans to sow canola on his family’s 450-acre farm near Whitehorse, a city not much further from the North Pole than the heart of Canada’s crop belt Saskatchewan.

“If you asked me five years ago if I would be growing wheat, I’d have laughed,” said Mackenzie-Grieve, 62, who harvested some 100 acres last year.

Canada’s average temperature over land has warmed by 1.7 degrees C (3 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1948, with the north warming by 2.3 degrees C, the government said in 2019. More promising for Canada, one of the world’s top grain exporters, is that its frost-free season expanded by more than 20 days on average from 1948-2016, according to a 2018 paper by Environment Canada scientists.

So... good news, right?

Large-scale farming with quality harvests remains an elusive challenge in the far north, due to short summers and lack of infrastructure to store and transport commodities. But a warming climate makes crops possible in far-flung, isolated places. Newfoundland and Labrador, with a tiny fraction of Canada’s arable land, plan to add farm area the size of Toronto, the nation’s largest city...

“Climate change will have a very negative climatic, social and economic impact on the province but there still may be some small offset gains by producing food,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne in an interview.

For environmentalists, there's a speculative cloud surrounding every silver lining. But no matter what trivial good, like feeding people, may come from "climate change" be not afraid -- the European Union is on the case, in the best way it knows how: with more bureaucracy and a spanking-new Action Plan!

Today, the European Commission and the High Representative set out the priorities and way ahead on Human rights and Democracy, adopting a Joint Communication and the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024. Further, they put forward a joint proposal to the Council to act by qualified majority voting on issues falling under the Action Plan, reflecting the strategic importance of the Action Plan. It aims at fostering faster and more efficient decision-making on human rights and democracy.

Changing geopolitics, transition to the digital age, environmental degradation and climate change pose important challenges, but they are also opportunities to foster positive transformation towards more democratic and inclusive societies. Today's proposal sets out steps for the EU and its Member States to embrace new realities and act together in line with the EU's founding values.

Well, that ought to do it.