Environmental concerns have never been more relevant, the future of life on earth, or at the very least the enduring quality of that life, depends upon how these issues are addressed at every level (Haenn et al., 2016). Ecofeminism, as a necessarily “lived”, philosophical theory, is founded in the commitment to challenge inequalities by changing the way people live in real-world communities through societal change and activism, by promoting a reciprocally supportive and non-destructive environment for all forms of life (“Ecofeminism Start to Finish « Ecofeminism,” n.d.). Grounded in a responsibility based model, with an understanding that all forms of life have equal rights to live in peace and free from subordination, utilisation, and hierarchy, ecofeminism reveals itself as a fitting foundation for contemporary discussion of environmental, health-related and nature-based issues, and the impact of these issues in real-life communities. The driving forces behind the ecofeminist movement (equality for all forms of life, harmony with nature, reciprocity, removal of hierarchy), have certainly laid positive ethical foundations for discourse and criticism around understanding humans and animals as intrinsic parts of the environment, with values which are necessarily relational in nature (Chan et al., 2016). A healthy, vibrant and connected nature positively impacts on an equally vibrant expression of human health, and vice versa. This necessarily cyclical relationship demonstrates how all life is interconnected; all relying on each other to flourish (“Branches of the Deep Ecology Tree: Ecofeminism: Reuniting the masculine and nature,” n.d.).
The current environmental crisis is considered a predictable outcome of patriarchal culture, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the unchecked commercial and industrial expansion of the scientific revolution, which cemented the exploitation of women and nature through their re-conceptualisation as disconnected machines with little intrinsic value (“Warren’s Introduction to EcoFeminism,” 2014). These exploitations have now become an embedded part of our culture; we accept the destruction of the natural environment, the exploitation of animals, and the pollution of the human spirit because “progress” is deemed more important; because money is more valuable than those things. We accept it because we still “need” to consume in this culture of normalised and continuous greed, possession, fear, division, and apparent scarce resources. Systems of hegemonic power and domination have destroyed that which they sought to control; humans, animals, and even nature herself, without the self-awareness to look objectively at the skewed priorities of a collective worldview focused on prioritising the “rights” of corporate power and economic growth over the very earth beneath its feet.
The cycle of consumption (“Story of Stuff (2007, OFFICIAL Version) – YouTube,” n.d.), mental exhaustion, unhappiness, a lack of connection to nature, constant consumption and television as the main form of entertainment all erode community connections and engagement with other people (“STORIES OF STUFF: GARAGE SALE OF THE SOUL | Madame Pickwick Art Blog,” n.d.). Humans are so disconnected from their happiness in the modern world, that “the pollution issue is almost secondary to the pollution of the human spirit” (“STORIES OF STUFF: GARAGE SALE OF THE SOUL | Madame Pickwick Art Blog,” n.d.), these things are inextricable; a human connected to nature in a society equally connected to nature would not cause pollution, because their relationship would be founded in an understanding of mutual responsibility rather than individual rights. Ecofeminism, natural medicine, and connection to nature all seek to address this disenfranchisement of human awareness.
There is very much a current need for a rebalancing of these issues and a shift to a more holistic view of healthcare, economics, the environment, and the connections between human and Earth health. The loss of connection to natural medicine has been deepening, with biomedicine now seeking to discredit many natural treatments (MacArtney and Wahlberg, 2014). An understanding of the value of natural medicine was common knowledge in 1920’s-30’s Ireland, with evidence of a widespread awareness of how to heal oneself (McGuire, n.d.). This “folk” medicine is not considered to be a serious medicine in contemporary medical culture, which seeks to undermine the validity and efficacy of non-commercial medicines (MacArtney and Wahlberg, 2014). The approach was more reciprocal, with “more dependency on each other and less dependency on the medical profession” (McGuire, n.d.). This community-based, nature-based medicine has been relegated to folklore, which reduces it to a quirk; the use of a perceived “alternative” due to a lack of access to the “real” medicine of science.
The reflection of the environmental crisis in the individual health of humans is clear, when capitalist growth is prioritised above all else (Danis and Sepinwall, 2002), human health also suffers (alongside the suffering of nature and non-human animals). Each individual human environment is as equally polluted by capitalism as the environment outside them, as all living things need health to flourish. Health is not merely the absence of disease, but a vibrancy and aliveness which shines from the very core of a being. This vitality is being dimmed by greed and power; the human cannot help but reflect the environment, as she is intrinsically connected to it. Within the current orthodox medical model, humans have become passive victims of disease instead of active participants in both health and recovery. Traditional methods of healing are all based on a affinitive framework, with an acknowledged relationship between the ‘sick’ and the healer, the medicine and the ‘sick’ and the medicine and the environment. This is a cyclical model based on the idea that illness is not an externally located occurrence based on cause and effect. Orthodox medicine is often spoken of in terms of ‘fighting’ the offending disease, as though ‘it’ were a separate, invading entity. This is a disconnect; humans are part of nature, so are their diseases, and so should be their medicine and their health care. Through a widespread acceptance of this dominant narrative in health, which encourages a giving away and outsourcing of power to perceived authority figures, people have become less human, less natural, and less aware. If this narrative, with its underlying prioritisation of profit over health can be rejected (Danis and Sepinwall, 2002), and humans reconnected with innate knowledge, then power over the self, the body, and what is needed for true health and healing can be regained. This knowledge transfers from self-awareness to planetary-awareness; when in control of the personal ecosystem (the body, mind and spirit), there arises a natural understanding of place in the world, and the impact actions have upon it. This awareness has a vital impact on human perceptions of personal power, and ability to influence the environment. Oppression has become so embedded in patriarchal society, that the almost inextricable inequalities can only be healed by systemic change. The ways in which subordination is made to appear natural within patriarchal systems must be challenged across cultures and belief-systems if there is to be a paradigm shift towards a more equal society, where individuals have real choices and control over their own health, their bodies, and their relationships with nature.