On September 22nd, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a noted ecologist and author from Ithaca College, presented a talk entitled “Fracking is a Feminist Issue: How the Environmental Crisis Undermines Women’s Health and What We Can Do about It” at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Dr. Steingraber discussed the realities and consequences of our current dependence on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. Her talk was the first in the Center’s 2011-2012 series of Gray/Wawro Lectures in Gender, Health, and Well-Being. Drawing upon feminist theories, Steingraber outlined how we might break the taboos surrounding climate change, thereby limiting its consequences.
Dr. Steingraber defined fracking as the process of breaking up bedrock with pressurized water and chemicals to release small pockets of fuel. Each fracking site wastes millions of gallons of water for a relatively small amount of fuel. The process also releases carcinogenic chemicals into the ground, killing the multicellular organisms that could otherwise block the oil from reaching the surface. Steingraber explained that fracking occurs too deep under the surface of the earth for there to be a cultural arena in which to discuss the serious environmental consequences of the process. She also explored how a woman’s body is really the first environment; calling upon her personal experiences as a mother, she detailed how environmental influences can dramatically alter a woman’s reproductive system, thereby altering the future of the human race.
Dr. Steingraber further acknowledged that environmental issues can be difficult to discuss, and she turned to the Act Up movement of the 1980s and 90s as an example of how to break taboos quickly and effectively. She told the audience that we cannot promote gradual climate change; in her judgment, we must stand up for the complete correction of what is ultimately a human rights issue. Closing with readings from two of her books and an intensely personal ode to the Marcellus Shale, Steingraber revealed the intricacies of the relationship between the human race and its environment, inspiring the audience not just to expect environmental security, but to demand it.
Jay Becton ’14 is an English major at Wiess College. He is an Undergraduate Fellow at the Humanities Research Center, and is working closely with Center staff on the Cultures of Energy Initiative.