Mothers of Inventions Found Missing from the Scientist’s Bookshelf

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Not everything is shared. Our home planet, our responsibility, and our humanity may be universal, but our burdens, our understanding, and our sense of shame are not. With this collage, titled Hey Ms. Green, I set out to represent an ethical dichotomy of authority and individualism in climate change. However, during the process everything blended, and the pages leaked into each other, spawning something much more massive than I had initially planned. Art is both interdisciplinary and messy in that way, just like science and philosophy; once one connection is made, the whole world becomes intertwined in an instant. Suddenly race, sex, profession, class, history, species, violence, nature, technology, death, garbage, space, materials, and time become bound together in the same story. Whoever you listen to, whatever ethical structure influences you, whichever authority you choose to give power to, at the end of the day, and at the end of the era we now call the Anthropocene, people will believe what they want to—sometimes regardless of the scientific method, surpassing money, religion, or culture, beyond hated or loved politicians and their ineffective policies.

Dissecting the piece right to left, I began with the “Mother of Inventions,” inspired by class readings on feminist theory and visuals found from articles about overlooked women inventors and scientists. It is time to pay tribute to authors who have tirelessly investigated and helped us to understand the intersectional injustices in their communities and across the world. Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s words seem so influential that it is now quite difficult to imagine learning ethics or environmental science without her at the center. I found a small clip of her biography in a magazine next to Rachel Carson’s, and I included them both. Although not a class-inclusive voice, many know Carson from Silent Spring, which exposed facts about harmful toxins in our daily lives and by extension, the daily lives of animals around us.[1] Kimmerer is a professor at SUNY-ESF and author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.[2] Surrounding them are images of greenery, working women from around the world, and overlooked female African-American inventors of U.S. history such as Madam C.J. Walker, alongside Barbies, computers, a Western-style painting of an Indigenous mother and child, and the weight of the world itself. In a women’s work-wear catalog I found images of Black women farming that align with the articles and personal narratives of Leah Penniman and Dr. Anna Tsing, who expertly correct and expand our historical knowledge of slavery and the land.[3] That magazine may have been advertising overpriced overalls and tank tops; however, they were advertising inclusion and power, too—at least superficially.

Hey Ms. Green alludes to the imbalance of responsibility that women bear when it comes to environmental degradation and climate change. Women must carry so much already, with women of color bearing the most and enjoying gratitude and reparations the least. Some women are drawn to cleaning our Earth and sounding the alarm out of duty and moral obligation, some out of survival and concern for health, maternal instinct, or to reclaim their space, and some simply because they are experts. Mari Copeny, Vanessa Nakate, Autumn Peltier, and Greta Thunberg are prominent young women speaking up about environmental injustice. In film, women are visually telling impactful stories: the maquiladoras of Tijuana uncover the scars of electronics manufacturing in Maquilapolis, while in Blue Vinyl, Judith Helfand commits to an intense investigative journey of toxic industries.[4] Dr. Wangari Maathai, Elizabeth Kolbert, Rebecca Solnit, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier spent years as established activists and authors. In her book and life’s work, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Fight to Protect the Arctic and Save the Planet from Climate Change, Watt-Cloutier embodies these reasons and more through her personal and professional journeys.[5] It would take another set of collages to explore the absence of the paternal instinct in the midst of our crisis, the complexities of ecofeminism, and the deeper societal reasons for this trend of female sustainability and environmental leaders. Iconic scientists like Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Sylvia Earle are not alone. Old or young, living or remembered, doctorate, Nobel prize, or otherwise—these women and many others have dedicated themselves to our collective future. How do we better honor them all?

In the middle of the collage lies “The Scientists’ Bookshelf”—or the authority on the matter—crafted from bits of “clean” versus “dirty” images of garbage, compost, solar panels, greenhouses, and a diagram of the lifecycle of plastics. Clips from interviews of biologists, environmental science communicators, fact sheets, and corporate sustainability promises and campaign logos adorn the clash of images. Around the collage, there are five “instructions,” none of which quite make sense. If this were to be a how-to-guide, it would leave the reader jumbled, unsure of what terms and instructions like sustainability, “a livable climate,” “energy efficiency,” and “recycle responsibly” even mean—which is just how many people feel. What is there to be done? What is left on the bookshelves of scientists and academics that the public cannot see or use? The headline, “Podcast blends personal stories, accessible science,” made me laugh, and then sigh.

On the right rests the discipline of Science & Technology Studies itself. In honor of every class that teaches us that the “nature/culture” dichotomy is false, this section is titled, “The call of the wild, reimagined,” which ironically originated from a Subaru advertisement. As students of the natural sciences and environmental humanities, we are left to grapple with the ethical structures that exist in the world, the academic experts who teach and advise us, the corporate powers above us, the institutional rules that bind and direct us, the identities that affect us and our communities, and the political whims of our time. Did anyone leave the light on? The light to our generation’s future or the light brought to us by burnt coal or hydropower; I am not sure. Maybe we can connect on “Secular Humanist Mingle,” a line pulled from The New Yorker, as the world’s differing environmental ethics divide us even further.

This section questions and warns individuals of our need for democracy and authority for environmental progress. “Show of Patriotism” is positioned uncomfortably close to “How to Set Off a Plague of Locusts,” another how-to-guide I hope we learn to reject. A large locust hops between panels, and another appears in a pot that a woman is stirring on the right. A comic of a girl hugging a plastic Coca-Cola bottle might be interpreted as patriotic as well. We often show our love for one another and our country by practicing convenient things that kill others, but that will eventually kill us too.

Through collage—or eco-literati mood board—I wanted to explore individualism and identity in contrast to authority, which are underlying actors in discourses of environmental ethics. All art can be interpreted politically, and the environment is one of the biggest dividers today, even though it has every reason to unite us. To address the largest and most central text in the piece: we are increasingly becoming “Heated Up” in more ways than one. Our fossil “fuelture” does not look bright. Now is the time to give the Ms. Greens in our lives aid, to avoid setting off plagues of locusts, and to finally build an inclusive bookshelf.

Image credits:

Eve M. Hallock, Hey Ms. Green, 2020, collage

[1] R. Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002).

[2] “Faculty and Staff: Environmental and Forest Biology,”; R.W. Kimmerer, Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2013).

[3] L. Penniman, “Black Land Matters,” in Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018); A. Tsing, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species,” Environmental Humanities 1 (2012): 141-54.

[4] Maquilapolis: City of Factories, directed by V. Funari (San Francisco: California Newsreel, 2006); “Blue Vinyl,” directed by D.B. Gold and J. Helfand (Santa Monica, CA: Next Wave Films, 2002).

[5] S. Watt-Cloutier, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Fight to Protect the Arctic and Save the Planet from Climate Change (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018). 

  • Eve M. Hallock

    Eve M. Hallock is a 2020 graduate of Cornell University with majors in Environmental Anthropology and Biology & Society with a minor in Latin American Studies. Her academic passions include environmental justice and reshaping interactions with nature, and she would like to become a coastal ecologist someday. She hosted many collage nights with the campus cooperative living community.

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