How are communities responding to climate crisis, and what can we learn from them?

Prof.dr. Wendy Harcourt is Professor of Gender, Diversity and Sustainable Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). As a Principle Investigator of WEGO-ITN, she looks at community-economies and community strategies, and what can be learned from them in facing for instance the climate crisis. Moreover, “in order to create a more equal world, we have to bring together gender issues with sustainability issues,” Harcourt stated in an earlier interview.

What is the link between your research projects and SDG12?
“We accompany research in 15 different PhD projects in Europe and the global South. We are looking at how communities are responding to climate crisis in order to understand how to link this to a global understanding of resilience. And we want to provide empirical information that shows how communities are changing their production and consumption patterns, in ways that can help us to understand practically how we can work together to counter the climate crisis.”

What do you mean by ‘communities’?
“We are looking at people working at a local or neighbourhood level. We are exploring how are people working to change or to reduce food waste, for example, in their own neighbourhoods. How are people in a neighbourhood context trying to find a balance between human needs and the limit of our planetary resources? As we do our research together with community groups in India, Italy, UK, Nepal, Indonesia and Australia, we are learning how small groups do conserve and care for their environment, in order to tackle climate crisis, instead of waiting for the government to intercede. Another pillar of WEGO is ‘degrowth’. This is more than: not growing. It is really about another way of living, with respect for nature.”

WEGO is a ‘network of feminist political ecologists’. In what way are community-economies or degrowth linked to gender?
“We are always looking at the gender perspective. For instance, the way men and women are socialised to work differently in most cultures. A lot of things we assume to be typically female are unpaid jobs: like taking care of children. Nursing and teaching – jobs done mostly by women – are low paid jobs. What if we stop valuing competition and growth, but start to value caretaking? How will this change our production and consumption patterns?
A major question is: why is it impossible to question economic growth as the driving force of our economies and lives? We can see what is happening in Australia at the moment, with the wildfires, and with a Prime Minister that is still agreeing to foreign companies coming in and mining coal in Adani Mine in Queensland on the Country of Wangan and Jagalingou peoples. The Mine will bring about huge cultural and environmental destruction and will add 4.6 billion tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. I think we are at a tipping point. And we need to move towards a society in which we put environment and nature first, instead of putting economic growth first.”

"I think we are at a tipping point. And we need to move towards a society in which we put environment and nature first, instead of putting economic growth first”

What makes you think this is possible?
“Teaching students who are of a generation that realise that we have to avoid that tipping point if their future lives are to be not just sustainable but liveable. They are driven by a deep concern about how to transform our life-worlds, so we can collectively live better.”

How will the WEGO-ITN research help to tackle the big challenges?
“Next to doing case studies and empirical studies, we look at ways to implement our research in policy and politics. In August 2021 WEGO and ISS will host the International Conference on ‘Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity’ in The Hague where over 1000 scholars and activists will attend. At several policy roundtables in the Netherlands, but also in Spain, Germany and Italy we will discuss our findings. And we will translate research into direct recommendations for Brussel. My point is: some of the solutions are already out there, and small communities all over the world are living and acting on transforming their economies based on care for all beings in their environment.”

More information

Prof.dr. Wendy Harcourt is coordinator of the EU Well-being, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity – Innovation Training Network (WEGO-ITN), an EU Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovation Training Network Grant project, that runs until early 2022.

WEGO-ITN at its core it is about building a network of feminist political ecologists  that aims to unpack the relation between patriarchal systems, the gendered roles of the reproductive labour of caring for and sustaining the commons (the reproductive commons), and the capitalist discourse about nature as separate from the social domain to be used as resource for exploitation or conservation for human benefit. We are learning from what people are doing on the ground, including resistance to environmental injustice and what can be learned from these groups about creating and sustaining alternatives. Our project looks at these struggles by analysing how ecologies, power relations, and the search for alternatives shape the relations among nature, women, men, land, resources, and ecological systems.”

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