Some Thoughts on Development

A Nice Scenic Image

When I began this course I had a basic understanding of ecofeminism and a grasp on bodily connection to land.  I had previously done ethnographic work on energy development in Bradford County and saw first-hand the way that life was being commoditified and exploited.  I spent hours listening to farmers speak about their “special places” (places of familial or personal significance) and how they felt that these were threatened by natural gas development.  It changed my perspective to hear individuals in this region speak of themselves as “expendable”.  When presenting this work last year, it was easy to place these individual stories into an academic framework.  Andrea Smith’s book Conquest speaks of the connections between development and disenfranchisement from land.  In the chapter “Rape of the Land” Smith continually speaks of men as mechanizers and women as stewards of the earth.  This gendered dichotomy was evident in Bradford County as more often women were vocal in their concerns for their environment and resources.  More often than the men they were vocal about implications for the next generation (exemplifying the ecofeminist sentiment of sustainability without even knowing it!) and acted as community organizers, sharing knowledge and ideas.  Men, in this region were more apt to agree to lease their land and reap the benefits.  The money gained from leases in this region more positively affected men, as in most cases studied, they were the heads of households and were more often employed by this industry.  Increased numbers of sexual assault and violence were reported after the natural gas industry began to move into the area.  In addition, women disproportionately bore the emotional and physical impacts of drilling.  Women would become sick from methane migration and this posed a threat to their reproductive capacity.  In addition, many men from the area became employed by the natural gas industry.  In most cases these men became part of a transient labor force that rarely returned home for any length of time.

Got Something to Say? Wear it on Your Shirt!

When I came into this class, I had the memories of those bearing the pain of energy development on my mind.  I came from a place of privilege, reaping the benefits of energy development without being burdened by the externalities of this industry.  The next semester I spent studying international development and learning the theories behind development.  When confronted with this in our class I identified most readily with Shiva’s classification of development as either allopoetic or autopoietic, with the latter serving a greater good.  I sat and reflected for a while about development in Bradford County.  Was it really either?  Was it both?  Is this possible?

It was allopoetic in the sense that leases were defined by others, but autopoietic in that most individuals agreed to these leases.  They had the power to negotiate leases (though coercion played a part in this) and thus exerted some power on this industry.  Though development in Bradford County could never really be entirely autopoietic because of the industrial pressure placed on this region, there is an amount of compliance that comes with most people agreeing to industry.  Unlike areas in the Global South, this land was not simply taken (except in a few circumstances) and some even welcomed this industry.  Yes, this is an insanely oversimplified recounting of this case of development.  But ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that in this case it is not completely allopoetic.

I hate this about the land.  The land defines and sustains us, but it also has the power to make us kill, exploit, and denigrate one another.  It is literally the most powerful thing I can think of.  Without the land and the resources it holds, Western society would not exist in its current state.  I hate that so much emphasis is placed on the land to be something it is not.  The earth in its natural state is not developed, yet we fight wars over ways to shape the earth to meet the needs of hegemonic groups or individuals.  I hate that the land has the power to sustain stratification and inequity.

Coming to this conclusion has made me think of all of the processes in which I am complicit.  I enjoy the earth in a very granola, crunchy way.  I buy petroleum-based products to do so.  My nalgene bottle, which is marketed as sustainable is a derivative of fossil fuels.  I wear hiking boots made predominately of plastic and I wear clothing made with polymers to protect myself in the wilderness.  This contradiction is almost laughable.  In my pursuit to enjoy the earth I am using almost exclusively non-sustainable materials.  The things I value: scenery, wildlife, and open expanses are all being put at risk because of humans’ over consumptive patterns.  I am not only participating in this process, but doing it with vigor in the pursuit of the outdoors.

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