Rebecca Macklin’s project explores literature and art to highlight the social and cultural consequences of resource extraction; reframing the issue of energy futures to centre questions of gender, race and culture
A key priority in the global environmental agenda is to reduce our use of fossil fuels. It is now beyond doubt that the extraction and burning of these materials, which helped to create and sustain our industrialised global economy, has been one of the key causes of the climate crisis we now face. Yet, while we have come to understand the environmental impact of resource extraction, the social and cultural consequences rarely make it onto the agenda. My project seeks to explore these impacts, with a focus on how the extractive industries reproduce existing forms of global inequality along lines of race and gender.
Across sites of resource extraction around the world, gendered and racialised forms of violence occur in tandem with the destruction of the environment. In Canada, the oil industry plays a direct role in the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit Persons (MMIWG2S). As the 2019 Canadian National Inquiry found, the proximity of tribal reservations to male-dominated oil drilling sites directly contributes to a rise in sexual violence towards Indigenous women. Over 9,000 miles away in South Africa, uranium ore has been mined since the 1960s to fuel nuclear projects in Western Europe and the USA. However, uranium exposure has a negative impact on the health of local communities, causing disproportionately high rates of cancer and reproductive illnesses amongst women.
If we are to bring about an energy transition that does better for our global community, it is necessary to be attuned to how the West’s dependency on extracted resources intensifies these forms of harm. Furthermore, it is vital that we look beyond the scientific disciplines for answers to these systemic social and cultural problems. By grounding my research in the study of cultural and artistic narratives – including literature, film and visual art – I will consider how Indigenous artists, writers and activists are responding to these concerns. These works offer suggestions as to how an engagement with Indigenous worldviews and experiences could help us build a better future, through offering radical alternatives to the environmental practices characterised by global capitalism. Finally, I hope to demonstrate the role that the cultural industries have to play in the environmental crisis, through exploring how the arts can help to shift the conversation.