the green ghetto

When asked to name prominent North American environmentalists, the first names that usually spring to mind are David Suzuki or Al Gore.

When asked to name prominent North American environmentalists, the first names that usually spring to mind are David Suzuki or Al Gore.

Look at recent newscasts where spokespersons from prominent environmental groups are interviewed.

The viewer would be under the impression that the environmental movement largely employs males.

Nothing could be further from reality.

Throughout the world, including the Yukon, most environmental groups tend to consist of female employees.

True, they may not be the public face of the group, but they tend to constitute the majority of these groups workforce.

So many females, compared with males, work for environmental groups, this sector of employment can be lumped in with other traditionally female roles, such as nursing and teaching.

The term ghetto is used due to low pay in these fields compared with equivalent work in other sectors.

Due to the female predominance the colour pink is referenced.

Thus female low-paying career fields are called a pink ghetto.

Since this column is about environmental organizations, a better term is green ghetto.

And therein lies a reflection of the main issue or hurdle that present-day environmentalism is facing.

Modern society and its associated economic and political systems are male dominated, or a patriarchal order.

At the core of most environmental issues lies a rejection of this patriarchy.

This is not an endorsement of a matriarchy, or female dominated system.

No matriarchal order has been attempted in an industrialized society and it is unknown if it would better serve the environment than its current counterpart.

It must also be pointed out that environmental groups do not operate as a matriarchy.

The point is the current patriarchal system is destroying existing ecological systems, and the environmental groups that are attempting to remedy this are staffed mainly by females.

If most environmental groups are staffed by females their voices are already marginalized by the mere fact of their gender within the patriarchal order.

Then, let us chuck in the fact that the environmental message is also marginalized because of its rejection of current political and economic approaches to the environment.

The result is a movement that is somewhat excluded from mainstream economic and political activity.

Groups such as the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society have excellent environmental approaches to diverse issues.

These range from contributing an environmental perspective on the Yukon’s energy and climate change strategies to pushing for protection of the Peel River watershed.

It is telling that their take on these issues is usually the opposite of both industries and governments.

Both groups have a predominance of female employees.

Raven Recycling is a bit of an exception to this.

For example, its staff is largely male.

However, recycling is one of the least efficient things that can be done from an environmental perspective.

It is often too late for the environment when an item is recycled.

Once an item arrives at a recycling centre, the raw resources required to make that particular item means land has already been ripped up for mines, forests have been leveled and rivers have been polluted.

Recycling is also an industrial activity.

It is about churning out raw product, be it bales of paper or blocks of aluminum.

Miners and loggers reap the land, recyclers reap the waste stream.

There is a saying within the environmental community, that nothing disillusions an environmentalist quicker than working at a recycling centre.

It is important to recycle, as recycling materials means fewer virgin ecosystems have to be destroyed extract new resources.

But recycling is not going to get the Yukon government to approve a carbon tax nor protect a river ecosystem from mining developments.

For environmentalism to be effective, the patriarchal order — be it government or industry — has to embrace it.

This means the existing government and industrial decision making processes and power structures have to change into something other than they are now.

Environmentalism is not just about saving ecosystems and the atmosphere from human actions.

It is about changing how humans have structured their societies, and thus themselves.

It is a lot to ask of the underpaid workers toiling away in the Green Ghetto.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.

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