Written by guest contributor Sydney Scout, originally published on Sex, Politics, and Social Justice.
“Tell us what we need to do, and we’ll go do it.”
– Senator Doug Whitsett to Pacificorp lobbyist Scott Bolton, September 29th, 2015.
Last summer, one of the most beautiful places in the world, my home state of Alaska, lost an unprecedented billions of acres of land, trees, and homes to forest fires. In the past 50 years, Alaska has warmed by 3 degrees fahrenheit, much more than our counterparts in the “lower 48” states. Because of this, the state has been losing 75 billion metric tons of ice from our glaciers every year, and the permafrost underlying 80 percent of Alaska’s land, supporting its buildings, roads, and infrastructure, is melting quickly.
Have you ever had to sit and watch as the land where you were born, raised, and identify with on a deep, spiritual level is engulfed in flames due to a changing climate we created? I don’t recommend it. It will make you furious. Your soul will be on fire, too.
What will make you even more furious will be going to a three hour legislative committee hearing discussing the Clean Power Plan (CPP), like I recently did. I care about climate change, about the future of our planet and the people, animals, and plants that depend on it, and, because of this, I felt like, and was, a minority in the room.
Let me repeat that for you: in a room full of people discussing national policy that’s supposed to combat climate change, I felt nearly alone for giving a shit.
I felt nearly alone for another reason, too: my gender. Were I a person of color, of low socioeconomic status, transgender, or any other quality deviating from straight-white-maleness, I would have felt even more like an outcast. And with this, I definitely wouldn’t have had any part of my perspective represented or voiced.
At the CPP hearing, there were three panels of people allowed to speak to the legislators. Two of these panels were populated solely by men, and all but one of these men were white. The other panel had a couple of women, and, unsurprisingly, this panel was made up of nonprofit climate change organizations trying desperately to have their voices heard by barely-listening legislators. Also unsurprisingly, I can testify to the fact that at least 75 percent of the time all three panels were given to speak was dominated by the two all-male panels: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the lobbyists for utilities companies from across the region/state.
To begin the CPP hearing, the EPA guys explained the Clean Power Plan, and showed how it will require virtually no change from Oregon in order for the state to be in compliance with its standards. Indeed, the original form of the Clean Power Plan has, through legislative processes, been severely watered down. So severely watered down that it does not even begin to have any real authoritative power until 2030. By that time, I will be 37 years old. By that time, it will be way too fucking late.
The Clean Power Plan meeting I attended was not an isolated instance in terms of demographics. Almost every government anything I’ve been to has been dominated by cishet able bodied white men. In meetings such as these, where there are limits on time and on who gets to speak, every one of these male voices take up an opportunity that any other type of person could have been heard. And I am sick of it.
I am sick of having to sit politely through meetings where white dudes in business suits casually discuss how they can avoid any accountability for the violence they, and their businesses, bring to the planet in exchange for personal gain and wealth. I am sick of searching, often fruitlessly, for women’s voices in hopes that maybe some of my priorities and concerns will be expressed. I am sick of feeling like my reaction to these settings will be written off as dramatic or angry. I am sick of having to convince myself that they are not. I am sick of feeling powerless and futile in my attempts to speak with legislators about why taking real action on climate change is important to me. I am sick of feeling like I am in the minority because I am someone who truly cares.
I am sick of sitting through three hour meetings, internally combusting, only to be reminded time and time again that the only opinions that seem to matter are the ones with social privilege and money.
During their lengthy panel session, utilities companies’ hired lobbyists worked to persuade legislators to avoid as much of the CPP’s regulations as possible in order to “protect consumers,” but, really, protect their boss’ money. In response to this, Senator Doug Whitsett told Pacificorp lobbyist Scott Bolton: “tell us what we need to do, and we’ll go do it.”
“Tell us what we need to do, and we’ll go do it.” I am still in shock at these words.
These words, in this moment, were when I truly realized that enough is enough. Hardly any of these people, not the legislators, not the lobbyists, not the EPA, are promoting any kind of progress. In fact, while existing in the straight-white-male paradigm, their power is derived from making sure change does not happen. And until we can move from having all of our policies decided by this small fraction of people, it sure as hell isn’t going to.
It is hard, even impossible, to separate the injustices incurred against the Earth from the injustices incurred in the lives of people inhabiting it. With the same group in power over both these domains, it makes sense that this is the case. With the same group in power over almost all domains, it is clear what we must do. So thank you, Senator Doug Whitsett, for inspiring me to write this piece. And thank you, even more, for reminding me that I, too, should have the power to not only tell you what to do, but for you to consider going and doing it. But because you and your peers won’t listen, it seems I will have to create the change I want, myself. And with people like you still in office, I know I will continue to be inspired to do so.
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