This article is part of a series of GenderIT columns. Four columnists, 2 in English and 2 in Spanish, will open up topics and themes that we want to learn more about. Nadika Nadja from Tamil Nadu in India will explore experiences of writing and creative expression online, for herself and other trans people; Sonia Randhawa from Malaysia is writing about the links between climate change and gender justice. In Spanish, Evelin Heidel from Argentina will share her experiences in gender, technology, programming and access; and Angelica Contreras from Mexico will write about young women and their lives immersed in technology.
Image courtesy of Private/Amnesty International
The climate crisis: Why women and women's movements need to be up front
As I write this in mid-August 2016, Iranians are struggling to deal with temperatures reaching 60 degrees Celsius, while across the Middle East temperatures are reaching the point where scientists are saying climate change may severely impact the 'habitability' of this region, home to 600 million people.
We are facing a climate emergency. Over the past fourteen months, we have seen fourteen consecutive record highs for global temperatures. The war in Syria is the first major conflict that has been directly associated with climate change. This is just one of the contributing factors. But at the moment, fear is dominating the conversation. Fear of Muslims, fear of the West, fear of political correctness, fear of poverty.
In this series of articles, GenderIT is joining millions of other groups and individuals in building hope in the face of this fear. At this point, we cannot let fear paralyse us. Nor can we let institutions and individuals of power and privilege dictate the solutions. It is worrying that one of the few places in US government that climate change is taken seriously is within the National Security Department.
In this series of five articles, I will look at the intersections between gender, ICTs and climate change, from the production of technology to the disposal of waste to how we're managing and affecting the impact of climate change. First, in this article, I identify the problems; why climate change and the contributions of the ICT industry to climate change have a gender dimension, and why gender and ICT policy needs to build in climate awareness. In other words, just like gender, climate change is a cross-cutting issue that should be taken into account in all policy initiatives.
Just like gender, climate change is a cross-cutting issue that should be taken into account in all policy initiatives
I'll then track these issues across the communications supply train, from the manufacture of hardware, to the disposal of e-waste. Then look at changes that can be made on both individual and policy levels to help address the issues, to help search for solutions, and examine those changes and solutions that are already happening.
As a cross-cutting issue, climate change is having and is likely to continue to have an impact upon almost every aspect of social and economic life. There is already a disproportionate impact upon the livelihood of the poor, particularly those in subsistence economies. At the 9th Conference of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) in 2006 in Amman, Jordan, a broadcaster from Chad spoke movingly of how communities in her country were already facing climate impacts, particularly due to changing patterns of rainfall. This impacts women more than men, both in terms of access to resources and in terms of the increased labour that falls on the shoulders of women (such as collecting water for cooking and agriculture).
The focus on the gendered impact of climate change has been on how it will affect poor women in the Global South. Geraldine Terry has argued that this masks the broader questions of how to ensure that both mitigation and impact do not worsen gender inequality, and if possible can be used to help reduce these inequalities. However, because climate change does affect everything, it is sometimes hard to disentangle climate impacts from the impacts of poverty, 'natural' spread of disease or regional conflicts. To then disentangle gendered effects, requires even greater attention to how and why changes occur.
How to ensure that both mitigation and impact of climate change do not worsen gender inequality, and if possible can be used to help reduce these inequalities
Despite a growing awareness of the potential and current impact of climate change, political will to even admit to the extent of the threat just doesn't seem to exist. While the Paris Agreement at COP21 is the first universal legally binding agreement on climate change, this is still too little. It provides a limit of a rise in temperatures of 2ºC, but aims for 1.5ºC, yet it only enters into force in 2020. In 2016, we're already edging up to a global temperature rise of almost 1.4ºC, and the best estimates give us only until 2024 before we reach 1.5ºC. Already this is leading to extinctions in both tropical and polar regions. This lack of ambition in the face of disaster seems inexplicable.
It has been pointed out that these reactions are because the sheer scale of the disaster makes it hard to process, and that while irrational, this is an understandable response to the scale of the climate crisis. But it isn't just psychology that inhibits us - many proposed actions to mitigate climate change directly take on big business (in spite of efforts of the climate denial machine and fossil fuel industry's "disinformation playbook"). But big business is notoriously resistant to change, particularly if it affects profit margins (think of the fight against unleaded petrol, or the continuing struggle against big tobacco).
ICTs can be part of this problem – but they can also contribute to the solutions. When we're looking at the contribution of ICTs and the communications industry to climate change, there tends to be a focus on usage in the home or the office – on how much energy is used by a device. This erases some of the industry's biggest contributions to climate change, which are in the manufacture of the hardware, or the embodied energy i.e. the emissions that have been released before the computer, laptop or mobile device reaches the consumer. It also erases a lot of the emissions from the websites that users search and visit – according to one industry estimate, if the internet was a country it would be the sixth biggest consumer of electricity. Overall, ICTs are currently estimated to contribute around 2 percent of annual emissions – around the same amount as air travel – but this is a percentage that is increasing rapidly.
According to one industry estimate, if the internet was a country it would be the sixth biggest consumer of electricity
Nonetheless, individuals and communities are able to enact change and build resilience to the impacts of climate change. In terms of the contributions of ICTs to these movements and efforts, most research has focused on the area of ICTs for development (ICT4D). However, there are other areas where ICTs contribute, such as reducing the need for travel time either for commuting, for those who work at home, or for meetings that can be held virtually. They are used in monitoring the impacts of climate change, and in helping to build movements for social and environmental change.
Over the next few months, these are the issues that I will be exploring through a series of columns for GenderIT. The next article will look at the manufacture of hardware – most of the carbon emissions in the ICT chain are 'embodied' or released before end users unpack the hardware from its box. Further, the lower the carbon emissions on use, the higher the embodied carbon is likely to be. The links between dirty and dangerous jobs – especially in the case of emissions – and gendered work have been drawn before, and here we will be exploring these links through the lens of climate change.
The lower the carbon emissions on use, the higher the embodied carbon is likely to be