Archive for October 2015 | Monthly archive page

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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

As a DC EcoWoman, I am a member of a community of women that inspire and encourage each other to do the work necessary to create a healthy and equitable society. Like many of you, I wear several hats inside and outside of the DC EcoWomen community – analyst, policy wonk, jargon translator, and general problem solver. Each of us brings our experience, understanding, and perspective into the spaces we inhabit, the spheres we influence, and which actions we elect not to take.

This blog post concerns a grey area; between our thoughts and actions, where the frameworks, lenses or viewpoints we apply to difficult questions determine the trajectory of our involvement in creating solutions. This precious mental space is where the greatest challenges to any community lay.

I consider how these structures interact, and discuss their impact on the ways we show up as members of coalitions involved in environmental work.

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality1The concept of intersectionality was introduced to the collective consciousness some thirty years ago in a thunderous paper by Kimberlé Crenshaw. She advanced a cohesive theory that articulated the energy and effect of legal and political invisibility for women of color. She gave a name to the angst of not being seen and made it a cognizable body of work on identity and its connection to power structures.

Of Crenshaw’s articulations, the two definitions I find most helpful for understanding intersectionality are:

  1. it is a process of recognizing what was formerly perceived as isolated and individual as social and systemic, and
  2. it is a way to register the fact that there are multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.

Crenshaw looks at intersectionality as it applies to systems that interact with women’s bodies, define their political rights and cultural roles. I warn you, Crenshaw’s paper is heavy stuff, and it hurts to read because it breaks down some of the most personal parts of public life and the ways we are socialized to avoid complication for the sake of expediency.

As a shorthand, I like to think of intersectionality as an act of intention, a purposeful application of the whole self to dynamic problems. If we endeavor to employ it, we have the chance to dismantle silos of class, race, education, belief, sex, gender, culture, and age in favor of a more realistic accounting of our investment in resolving harms and identifying problems.

Why apply an intersectional lens?

To avoid silos.

As EcoWomen we combine our talents, interests and perspectives to address large scale problems that include climate change, environmental justice and equity, conservation of natural resources, oceans, sustainable agriculture, ecology and the built environment, among others. We do this in our personal and professional lives, and in order to be successful we should avoid intellectual and emotional silos that limit our ability to use the power of combination to develop multifaceted approaches.

As proponents of change, we work against staid systems in order to develop sustainable answers to the questions of our time. We do this in a context of social transformation, and increasing knowledge of our destructive and redemptive power and ability.

An intersectional lens welcomes the breadth of our present working identities as women, and more, and avoids direct or indirect exclusion. It is an aide to conscious development of considerate problem analysis and solutions that increase our capacity as a body, enhancing our total range, representation and reflective power, which in turn enhances the quality of actions that result.

What does intersectionality look like?

Intersectionality2Intersectionality looks like full expression, critical thinking applied to challenges. It looks like the recognition that systems of benefits, resources, privilege, and oppression overlap and that multiple public identities yield to situational arrangement. It looks like dynamic feminism followed up by consistent action towards those ends.

In green spaces, intersectionality looks like environmental campaigns, policy, and programs rooted in inclusion rather than marginalization. It looks like associations based on the premises that the standard is an enhanced alliance of individuals, groups, and cohorts working within intercultural and intracultural spaces as peers and partners. It avoids the implication that there is an inherent value or supremacy in the knowledge, assets or position of one group over another.

Intersectional frameworks aim to develop the capacity of all voices to address real time issues of resource allocation, the distribution of burdens, benefits and responsibilities for externalities. We all have a stake in the outcome and as such we must all have a voice.

Practically speaking, intersectionality looks like women who are free to show up as their full selves (as a member of a particular culture, gender, race, class or ethnicity etc.) without fear of owning up to the overlapping nature of their identity. It looks like a coalition of women who function as members of several systems operating simultaneously.

For me, intersectionality means showing up as a New Yorker, an African American, a woman with a specific legal, environmental and political education, of a certain age, and urban sensibility with the understanding that it’s all good because it’s all here, present and accounted for.

What actions should we take to avoid silos?

  • Develop policies that reflect our intention to fully function even when that means we come to it from differing places and perspectives with opposing means and ends.
  • Intentionally seek out alignment across program areas and silos into shared power structures for richer political engagement.
  • View our feminism as a multi-dimensional practice and ask questions as often as we seek to provide answers with a mindfulness of our multiple identities.

Why should you care about intersectionality?

Intersectionality3Because we are a community of EcoWomen who come from other communities. And as such we are in the business of fashioning sustainable solutions to big problems.

Greater intersectionality makes sense for our work since it precedes more responsive policies, timely organizational priorities, and more effective strategies; because it presents problems to be solved with more accuracy, sets the stage for access to more view points, and widens the scope of the challenge.

If we are going to try and change the world, we should do it as ourselves. We should stop playing nice, greens and start getting real.

For more resources on this topic check out this backgrounder as a primer.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, travelling, and yoga. 

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By Robin Garcia

If you are anything like me, the concept of changing career paths feels truly daunting. Where do you even begin? How can you compete with other job applicants that have more traditional backgrounds?

The good news is that in the current career atmosphere, where few people remain in one position or company for long, it is more common for job applicants to own colorful resumes. It can even be viewed as an advantage by employers. The trick is to market yourself for your target position, instead of focusing on the position you used to or currently have.

In my case, I am academically trained as a marine science researcher. I have my Master’s in marine biology and multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals. I greatly enjoyed research, but soon after moving back home to DC, my interest started to fade. I still greatly value the role of research, yet I became more concerned about the communication of research to two important groups – the general public and policy makers.

Never being one to remain satisfied sitting on the sidelines, I decided to start looking for a new position in science communication. However, working in aquatic animal care wasn’t directly helping me achieve that goal. The idea of a career change was scary, but I got through the process.

Here is what I learned:

Comb Your Resume with Your Future Career in Mind

resume stock photoWhen I looked at my resume with “communicator” in my head instead of “researcher,” I realized that I already had plenty of experience. I may not have a degree in communications, but I had my publications. I also have multiple years of teaching experience in both traditional and non-traditional settings and volunteer positions that require me to use social media. Not only was I already a communicator, but I was a well-rounded one!

My resume reflection also made me realize that every position I’ve had, no matter how irrelevant I thought it was, had a place in my future. My animal care position had nothing to do with science communication, but I did win an award for excellent customer service. I had documented proof of my ability to work well in a team and deliver results, which is a benefit for any profession.

Use Your Diversity as Your Asset

While my new resume focused more on my communication experience, it’s hard to hide the fact that I spent years conducting research. Instead of ignoring my past, I marketed it as a benefit. Since I am academically trained in marine biology, I understand scientific writing and I know how to tailor it to a lay audience.

Volunteer for More Experience

While I had a solid amount of experience under my belt, I wanted current experience that was relevant to the environmental field and that would expose me to people that could help me find my dream job. This is where DC EcoWomen comes into play for me.

In January, I joined the board as the social media and blog manager. I have met wonderful women that have helped me with my job search, providing everything from words of encouragement to informational interviews. I am now the Vice President of Communication, allowing me to further develop my management skills.

In addition to DC EcoWomen, I am also a facilitator for Women in their Twenties, a social discussion group for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.

Tell People!

networking stock photoIf you don’t tell anyone that you’re changing paths, people will likely assume that you’re just fine with the path that you’re on. The more that I vocalized what I wanted, the more that others looked out for me and thought of me when opportunities came up.

This applies to friends old and new (because of course you’re networking!). I’ve even been helped by a contact that had to send me a denial email for a position in her office.

So how does this story end for me? A friend sent me a job posting for a communication position at NOAA. The contractor company liked that I have both communication and research experience, specifically at a NOAA laboratory. Five months later, I am thriving in my new career.

I am constantly learning and looking for new opportunities and I know that should I decide on a new career down the road, I’ll be ready to make the leap.

Robin is a Communication Specialist at NOAA and a DC EcoWomen board member. A DC native, she enjoys exploring her hometown, developing her yoga skills, and getting out on the water as much as possible. She also welcomes the season of pumpkin-flavored everything. 

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By Sodavy Ou

“Planning for climate change and smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many additional benefits—saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment,” former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel

Similar to wealth, global warming’s detrimental impacts are not distributed equally across the globe.

Developed nations, such as the United States and Western European countries, have the resources to lessen the magnitude of global warming in their nations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for less developed nations where economic development needs outweigh environmental needs. However, since the world is inter-connected, environmental issues in other countries significantly influence the U.S. economy and national security.

Additionally, even though the U.S. can mitigate many environmental impacts, and even though most Americans feel relatively isolated from global warming, major changes in the national economy affect our daily life. Changes that we may have failed to notice.

Agriculture: A multi-billion dollar industry threatened by global warming

Exposed riverbed in the Columbia river after months without rain (Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Exposed riverbed in the Columbia river after months without rain

In addition to feeding Americans, agriculture is an important sector of the U.S. economy. Contributing at least $200 billion to the economy each year, it also provides almost 17 million jobs for farmers, textile mill employees, and distributors, among others.

Changes in precipitation patterns—consequences of climate change—are already significantly affecting the economy. For instance, the severe drought in California, the top agricultural producing state, costs the state approximately 21,000 jobs and $900 million in revenue related to crop losses.

Stakeholders and consumers pay a high price

In 2011, a drought in Texas increased the price of feeding cattle. Three years later, the drought still influences the industry despite the recent rains in the Southern Plain. In its 2015 – 2016 Food Price Outlook, the USDA predicts that beef and veal prices will increase by 5.5 to 6.5 percent in 2015 and 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2016.

The same increase cannot be said for all fruit and vegetable prices, mainly because the cost of growing produce is much lower than the retail price. However, some fruits and vegetable prices have experienced a sharp increase. For instance, the USDA also predicts that lettuce and avocado prices will increase by 34 and 28 percent, respectively.

Changes in global temperatures and precipitation patterns affect national security

California: Guard soldiers gear up for fire season

California: Guard soldiers gear up for fire season

Tasked with ensuring American security, the Department of Defense plans for a wide range of contingencies. According to the DOD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaption Roadmap, this includes strategy to address global warming impacts that range from intensifying infectious diseases to terrorism to natural disasters.

One study demonstrated that changes in rainfall are associated with large- and small-scale political and social conflicts. It showed that as the global temperature increases, dry regions become drier and wet regions experience more severe floods, resulting in decreased food production. As food and water become scarce, social conflicts can intensify.

Global warming is not simply an environmental issue, but also an economic and national security issue, and various industries and players must continue to work collaboratively to address the threats properly.

Sodavy Ou was born in Cambodia and grew up in Long Beach, California. She received her Bachelors in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at University of California, Santa Barbara. Outside of the academic field, she enjoys hiking, camping, running, and any other activities that take her to the great outdoors.