by Natalie Bennett
At the Green Party women’s day in Cambridge yesterday, we heard a very interesting talk from Ro Randall, developer of the Carbon Conversations project, on “Feminism and the politics of pro-environmental behaviour change”.
She noted that there was a huge emphasis from government now on programmes to encourage behaviour change. “This is something to be quite cautious about. It removes attention from politics to personal situations.”
And speaking as a psychotherapist, she said the theories behind the government’s actions saw people in a rather mechanical way, and had a simplistic sense of behaviour change.
Ro said the the average carbon emissions for each Briton are about 12 tonnes, while sustainability demanded 1.5-2 tonnes – the basis of the aim of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. (In the US and Australia the individual average is around 24 tonnes, in India 1 tonne, Tanzania mayb e 100kg.) Acting individually, a single Briton was unlikely to get below 6 tonnes. “The rest has to come through decarbonisation of our energy supply.”
But in terms of individual actions, the more onerous tended to fall on areas of life that women are generally responsible for, she said – particularly domestic labour. That ranged from chopping vegetables smaller so they cooked quicker, to abandoning the use of driers in favour of hanging the clothes outside, to using less environmentally damaging cleaning products.
Actions for which men tend to take responsibility were, by contrast, Ro said, one-offs: draft strip the doors, get a new boiler, insulation in the loft.
Because “women’s issues” were continuing activities, they could feed in to stereotypes about women “nagging”, and be a source of domestic conflict. Also, women, feeling responsible for the family’s health and enjoyment of meals, might find that a new stress on seasonal foods seemed difficult.
We had a wide-ranging discussion that focused particularly on the power of advertising, in women’s magazines, on television and in public spaces to provoke unhappiness, the desire to consume, and the feeling that you “had to” keep up with others – particularly for women, to have a perfect “capsule” wardrobe, to go to the “right” places for weekend breaks. This consumption is portrayed as contributing to success in both professional and personal lives.