- Toward a Feminist Care Ethic for Climate Change
adaptation, climate care, climate ethics, feminist care ethics, indigenous knowledge
Climate change adaptation studies often highlight the specific vulnerabilities of women, particularly those living in developing countries. Among the particular burdens falling more heavily on women are poverty; residence on marginal land susceptible to subsidence, erosion, or flooding; precarious and informal employment; increasing exposure to waterborne and vector-borne disease.1 Drought requires female water collectors to walk farther with each passing year, during which journeys they can be subject to harassment and abuse and must forego school, employment, and other sorts of productive activities.2 Attention to these considerations pertaining to women's specific vulnerabilities is essential in mapping pathways to address climate change. These considerations are intensified when we consider women's disproportionate caring responsibilities for children and the elderly. Ensuring that women and girls have expansive opportunities to express their full capacities will become more difficult in a climate-destabilized world. Because of these disproportionate vulnerabilities, climate change is indisputably a feminist issue, and the tools of feminist analysis can provide valuable leverage in developing just and equitable responses to this existential challenge.
In developing responses to climate change, scholars have found it difficult to apply standard moral and ethical reasoning to guide policy responses.3 The incapacity of standard ethical methods and tools to address the complex, global, and diffuse "hyperobject"4 of climate change suggests that innovative approaches are needed. Standard approaches to ethical reasoning, which begin with first principles and extend them outward, neglect the specificity of the spatial, temporal, and geographic conditions in which climate change occurs. Furthermore, ethical theories that begin with first principles elevate the public realm, while submerging as trivial the so-called private realm organized and [End Page 152] structured predominantly by women engaged in the work of caring for others, maintaining the home, and reproducing culture via their education of children and maintenance of social ties. Yet, this is the realm in which values are shaped and norms are set. Furthermore, the "private" or community level is the site at which the most direct observations of changing environmental conditions—the effects of climate change—are made.
The claim that our ethical systems are not adapted to addressing climate change offers convenient cover for delayed action and tinkering around the edges, in ways that do not disrupt the global patriarchal, materialist, Eurocentric hegemony, rather than full-scale revolution of fossil-fuel-intensive lifeways. As Laurie Zoloth writes in this issue, we must view the challenge of climate change as "a matter of emplacement in a political economy that values the lives and work of women so substantially differently that solutions to climate change would require rethinking value systems themselves" (142). The Western inheritances of moral and ethical reasoning are deeply entangled with the patriarchal and Eurocentric norms that have led to climate change. Since the Enlightenment, dominant threads of Western science and philosophy have understood humans as objective, autonomous rational actors. This philosophical stance has led to the valuing of Eurocentric culturally "masculine" traits like independence, autonomy, hierarchy, domination, transcendence, and an orientation to short-term results over traits coded as "feminine" like interdependence, community, sharing, emotion, and care.5 Science and philosophy have elevated and fetishized the objective view: "a romantic belief in the possibility of connection-free knowledge from an outside-of-nature, perspective-free viewpoint."6
There is, however, no "view from nowhere"7 and no context-independent knowledge, as feminist philosophers of science have shown.8 Rather, relatedness is constitutive of all living beings, the "first and most basic characteristic of the human person,"9 the primary and ultimate ground of all that exists. The individual is not a singular, atomistic being but a node in a web of relation. The individual cannot exist outside of the myriad relationships and communities that mutually produce, shape, and constrain the individual. This understanding is increasingly important in the Anthropocene—or what Donna Haraway [End Page 153] calls the Chthulucene, from the Greek kainos—for a time of beginnings and newness—and the khthôn of chthonic beings, the ones of the earth and soil.10...