Study Questions: Chapter 21
1. What are the two ways of interpreting workplace illness and injury?
Answer: The first interpretation is the social ecology view, which sees workplace illness and injury as essentially social in their origin and in the way that they are dealt with. Working conditions are set in place by a company and monitored in varying degrees by the political authorities in an area. The workers are not in a position to oppose the company’s unsafe environmental practices. This is essentially a class conflict.
The other way of interpreting workplace illness is to keep it individual and personal, reflecting the individual choices and physical constitution of the person afflicted. Far from being symptomatic of broader social processes, a worker’s disease is viewed as a result of personal choices taken by the individual worker: smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, and poor lifestyle choices in general. Injuries happen at the job site because workers are careless (a viewpoint that was reflected in early commercials promoting workplace safety as an individual responsibility). (p. 585)
2. Who was Dr John O'Connor and what did he do?
Answer: In 2001, Dr John O'Connor started working with the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan downriver from the oil sands at Fort McMurray, Alberta. When examining his patients, Dr O'Connor began to notice evidence of health problems he hadn't seen in Fort McMurray. Specifically, he observed new cases of cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer often showed up in the bile ducts of fish swimming in oil-infested water. He also found a high incidence of liver cancers. When Dr O'Connor began publicly articulating his concerns, Health Canada approached the community for its medical files and the government declared did a quick analysis and gave the community a clean bill of health. In 2009, Health Canada accused Dr O'Connor of blocking access to files, billing irregularities, engendering a sense of mistrust in government in Fort Chip, and causing undue alarm in the community. The first three charges were dismissed relatively quickly, and after assessments by the Alberta Cancer Board, the charge against O'Connor of "causing undue alarm" was dropped. (pp. 588–589)
3. What is social ecology?
Answer: Social ecology, a school of thought that was founded by American thinker and ecologist Murray Bookchin (1921–2006). He explained social ecology as follows:
“What literally defines social ecology as ‘social’ is its recognition of the often overlooked fact that nearly all our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems. Conversely, present ecological problems cannot be clearly understood, much less resolved, without resolutely dealing with problems within society. To make this point more concrete: economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today. . . .” (Bookchin 1996) (p. 585)
4. What are the differences between hunter-gatherer approaches to the environment and industrial approaches?
Answer: Traditional hunter-and-gatherer (or forager) communities survived by fishing, hunting, and harvesting wild crops. They were typically nomadic, moving from place to place according to the migration patterns of their prey and the availability of seasonal crops. Like all societies, they altered their environment—by cutting down trees and killing some animals but not others—but they did so relatively minimally, aware that too much change could destroy their livelihood. In Canada, some Aboriginal hunter-and-gatherer societies would stop hunting, trapping, or fishing over an area so that the species they were pursuing would have a chance to return to a viable population size. These indigenous societies regarded certain plants and animals with a spiritual reverence they expressed in religious terms, reflecting their recognition of how dependent they were on these species. This does not mean that they were natural “conservationists”—they simply understood (and many of their descendants still understand) that conservation of species meant survival.
In industrial cultures, farmland has been swallowed up by cities, and traditional farming practices have given way to large-scale manufacturing that causes pollution and draws heavily on natural resources. The factory farm, where poultry, pigs, and cattle are closely confined indoors and reared under strictly controlled conditions highly conducive to the development of new diseases (think H1N1), is what has evolved from traditional farming in the industrial age. The mining/extraction, processing, and consumption of non-renewable resources such as oil, gas, and coal are all characteristic of our industrial culture. The garbage we produce, both the by-product of commercial processes and the everyday waste of individuals, has become a subject of ongoing concern. Industrial culture is all about total human control of nature. (pp. 579, 581–583)
5. What is ecofeminism? What are the three strands of ecofeminism, as identified by Diamond and Orenstein?
Answer: Ecofeminism is a social, political, and spiritual movement that aims to bring about a post-industrial culture. The term was coined in 1974 by French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne (1920–2005) to refer to the linking of environmental concerns with feminism. Ecofeminists argue that there is a strong parallel between the subordination of women and the degradation of nature through male domination and control. Ecofeminists also explore the intersections between sexism, the domination of nature, racism, animal rights, and other forms of social inequality. Contemporary ecofeminists argue that the capitalist and patriarchal systems that predominate throughout the world create a triple domination of women, nature, and the developing world.
Ecofeminism argues that the connection between women and nature is based on their shared history of oppression in patriarchal societies. Culturally, there is a common symbolism in the idea of “man” being pitted against nature, wherein nature is feminized and women are assumed to have a profound affinity with the natural world. There are linguistic links between the oppression of women and the oppression of land in such phrases as “raping the land” and “claiming virgin territory.”
Irene Diamond and Gloria Orenstein (1990) identify three strands in ecofeminism. One strand emphasizes that social justice has to be achieved in concert with the well-being of the environment, since all human life is dependent on the earth. Another emphasizes the need to maintain a balance between using the earth as a resource and respecting the earth’s needs. The third strand is spiritual and emphasizes the idea that the planet is sacred unto itself. (pp. 592–593)