Tara Waters Lumpkin, environmental and medical anthropologist, is the president of the nonprofit Perception International and founder, editor-in-chief, and project director of the online multimedia platform Izilwane. Perception International is a nonprofit that promotes environmental, cultural, and perceptual diversity worldwide. Izilwane is one of its projects and focuses on creating awareness about the importance of changing how human beings perceive themselves in relationship with other species and the natural world.
Just as Copernicus forever altered our perception of the role of humans in the cosmos, Dr. Lumpkin’s organization believes that humankind can redefine our human place in local and global ecosystems as being a part of nature, rather as seeing ourselves as being above nature. The website asks, “How can we change our perceptions and, thus, alter our negative impact on biodiversity? Are we evolutionarily hard-wired to destroy other species? Or can we become more aware of our own ‘animal nature’ and consciously and deliberately change our behaviors?”
What is truly new about Izilwane is that we work with volunteer eco-reporters from around the globe. Reporters use writing, photos, video, and more to reflect on what is happening globally to biodiversity and how we can change human perceptions to stop the massive species die-off we are perpetuating. By being participatory in our journalistic approach, we are creating activists around the world who support our mission to stop biodiversity loss, as well as educating the general public. This is why we call ourselves a platform not an ezine.
Dr. Lumpkin is also a nonprofit consultant and journalist. Although she is a resident of Taos, New Mexico, her fieldwork has propelled her around the globe. From 1993-1994, Dr. Lumpkin worked in Namibia to conduct research for her PhD, where she studied the community use of traditional medicine. A few years later, in 1997, she traveled to Panama as a “Women in Development” fellow for USAID and the Panamanian National Commission on the Environment where she researched ecotourism possibilities in the Panama Canal Watershed. Since then she has worked for a variety of nonprofits across the world, including Tibet, where she conducted a Maternal and Child Heath Needs Assessment. Her project resulted in the building of a health clinic in Gargon village, and the training of nurse midwives and doctors.
I asked Dr. Lumpkin if she has noticed any improvements in women’s rights during her time working in the field of international development; the past few decades have witnessed an attempt to mainstream gender, social justice, and climate issues into such work. “Yes,” she stated, “I see radical improvement in women’s rights in some places that I’ve worked, such as Panama; however, these improvements tend to be legal or tend to move women into the existent culture of globalization, which is based on the concept of economic growth. At the same time we have not made enough progress in giving women access to reproductive health care. This leaves us with growing populations and growing consumption, a scary pattern that is unsustainable and that is causing the current biodiversity crisis, as well as global warming and other environmental crises. Until women break out of the old paradigm and, as bearers of children, take stock of our role in overpopulating and challenge the existent economic system of consumerism and unbridled economic growth, we are not empowered.”
Ecology is often viewed as a women’s issue through the socio-political lens of “eco-feminism,” and I asked Dr. Lumpkin’s thoughts about this trend. She told me, “I went to college in the early eighties when eco-feminism and eco-psychology were all the rage. The idea that women are somehow more connected to Mother Earth doesn’t seem valid, to my way of thinking. If that were so, women wouldn’t have kept over-consuming and having too many children, which most of my generation did, and I’m talking about women with access to birth control. For example, recent research by Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax at Oregon State University coins the term “carbon legacy,” which is the cost to the environment in carbon output of having children. Their study concludes that the average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh. This means that a person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his or her day-today activities when assessing our impact on the global environment. And we must provide access to reproductive health care to those who need it around the globe. We also have to consume less. For example, women buy into the concept of buying new clothes for reasons of fashion and seem to over-consume as much as men. Not valuing nature is a human problem, not a male problem. We’re in this together.”
So, is there anything women can do specifically to help the planet? “Have no more than one child. Consume less. These are the two most beneficial acts we can do and they take no extra time. Women are a huge part of the problem because we deny these simple realities.” Dr. Lumpkin is at work on a book about this very topic.
I have been an intern for Dr. Lumpkin this summer, writing and editing articles for Izilwane magazine. As a recent graduate from the University of Virginia in the subjects of anthropology and global sustainability, I believe that our articles touch on some of the most crucial intersections between humankind and ecology. From photo journals, to interviews, to informative, in-depth publications, our work reaches out to readers of all ages, and genders, to explore not only environmental conservation, but population growth, cognition and awareness, sustainable lifestyles, and women’s empowerment. To view our collection of excellent environmental journalism, please visit Izilwane.org.
By Altaire Cambata, writer and blog editor for Izilwane.