Carolyn Raffensperger, an environmental lawyer, coined the phrase "ecological medicine" to describe the large role that the natural world plays in health and healing. She is executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network and a founder of the 2014 Women's Congress to be held in Minneapolis November 6-9. Here she offers ideas about the role women play in ensuring a safe and healthy world for future generations.
What is the purpose of the 2014 Women's Congress, and why are you holding it at this particular time?
Carolyn Raffensperger: Women's voices are relatively absent in the political realms of climate change, sustainability and agriculture. Many women are doing wonderful work yet they have not been the major spokespeople. But today women are rising up to take leadership. Women bring life into the world, and we have a responsibility to make sure the environment is healthy and whole.
The Congress is a place for women to talk about that responsibility and to articulate new places for women's voices in politics. We invite men to participate too, and we invite them to share the unique responsibilities of this work.
In thinking about the kind of world we want to live in, we are summoning our wild and woolly imaginations about governance in our society. This is a place to be happy, full of grief and pissed off as we choose wise ways forward.
One of the unique characteristics of our age is that we are suffering Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome-- we know what's coming. We are witnessing the destruction of the environment for our grandchildren. Some of us wake up at 3 in the morning and wonder what will become of this world. If we are all alone in our fear and our anxiety, we are in deep trouble.
There's a real need for people to come together and choose the future we want for ourselves and future generations. There are solutions we can reach toward: social shifts, cultural shifts, working together. But the message we hear most places is that it's all up to us individually-- go change the lightbulbs you are using.
How does the Congress fit in with work of the climate justice movement, the feminist movement and the commons movement?
Carolyn Raffensperger: The political realm is often so different from how people live their lives.
This can lead to a rising up of women, who often are in charge of the everyday matters in the household, to challenge the structural injustice in society-- including the absence of women's voices in political decision-making, which means we have fewer solutions available.
Look at what people are dealing with in their personal lives. The increase of autism and breast cancer, as just two examples. Women do the majority of the caregiving on these and other diseases caused by a declining environment. And that's one reason why for so long the focus the economy and jobs are seen as what matters. Conversation about everything else is pushed away.
What are your hopes for what comes out of the Women's Congress?
Carolyn Raffensperger: This is really about a new set of essential rights--including the idea that future generations have rights. Today the rights of private property largely define our laws and our culture. We need to change this picture from the rights of individuals to the rights of a group of people-- the rights of a community. A new goal would be to develop basic rights around sharing. This would mean the purpose of government is to protect common wealth and common health for present and future generations.
So what do we do? We'd like to see all 50 states to enact constitutional amendments to their constitutions that recognize the rights of future generations. That's the kind of ideas that will come out of the Women's Congress. I think we'll all be surprised by the great ideas that have not been thought of until now.