Q&A with Nergiz De Baere

We chat to Chicks for Climate and hemp underwear label 'Magi' founder Nergiz De Baere about her new book 365 Ways To Save The Planet

Following another contentious COP meeting that saw big polluters act as corporate sponsors and climate catastrophes across the global south, it's easy to understand why there's a sense of defeatism around climate activism. The U.K. government seem committed to more oil and gas despite the obviously fatal implications for the planet. Loyalty to capital above anything else is a core barrier in facing down climate change, which is why Nergiz De Baere's approach of seeing the environment through a feminist lens may be the only way forward. Chicks For Climate which she founded does just that. Her new book 365 Ways To Save The Planet offers more insight into what we can do to preserve the earth as we know it. We caught up with her to find out more.

Chicks for Climate frames environmentalism through a feminist lens. Why do feminism and environmentalism intersect in your opinion?

The simplest way for us to understand why the climate crisis and women are so heavily related is by asking ourselves the words we use to describe nature. We use descriptive words like "delicate" to describe leaves and "pretty" to describe flowers. We use the phrase "mother nature" to emphasise the life-giving aspect of nature as a whole. These terms are closely related to how we describe women. Many languages around the world personify nature as a woman. It's no surprise, then, that the way we treat nature is akin to the way we treat women - as resources and objects to be exploited and abused. This is the key - because we live in a global patriarchal society built on power and dominance, those who don't fit the patriarchal standard (women, and by extension, nature) suffer. What I've described is a core tenet of ecofeminism, and it's why we must question and soothe patriarchal sentiments if we are to have any hope of saving the planet. 

A lot of "planet-saving tips" centre around what we can do as individuals. Your book 365 to save the planet is more focused on structural issues. What would you say to individuals who feel powerless to change structural issues?

When I was approached to write this book, the publisher already had a book title in mind as part of a "365 Ways" series. I was asked to write this particular title, and I knew I needed to let the publisher know beforehand that the book wouldn't be a run-of-the-mill "you should just recycle and use reusable cotton pads" sustainable tips book. Thankfully, they agreed. You can't save the planet on your own. Even if you tried your hardest to be as green as possible, we all still live in a society. And that means participating in some very broken and exploitative systems. Take our food system, for example. Unless you're dedicated to growing all your own food, you're forced to participate in a farming system that saps biodiversity from our soils and uses harmful pesticides. But this doesn't mean you can't use the power you do have to make some sort of change to our systems. And my book argues that everyone has some sort of power. In order to get you to recognise and harness your own power, the chapters are educational, urgent, and hopeful. And they're spread out over twelve different topics so you can choose which area you'd like to make an impact in. Because power is not a pyramid, it's a constellation.

    You're also the founder of Magi (do you hate having free time!?) a hemp-based underwear label. Environmentalism (like most issues) has been moulded into a capitalist pursuit through greenwashing. What makes Magi different?

    Haha! I haven't done these projects all at the same time, it ebbs and flows. Rest is justice. ;) 
    Definitely - this is something I've struggled with since starting the business. I used to think that business stood at odds with the climate crisis, but I've since changed my mind. Business as a concept isn't exploitative but business the way it's done now is. Business is nothing more than providing a good or service that has a demand. Underwear is always going to be something people demand because everyone wears (and mostly everyone needs) it. So we'd better make sure it's as sustainable as possible. And that's not the case right now. This is where Magi comes in. Hemp underwear is a very new concept - there are only two or three other small underwear brands using hemp. It's not mainstream, but it's much, much better for the planet than cotton and polyester, which are produced in massive amounts for underwear brands. I want to provide an alternative option that I believe is superior, in terms of comfort, quality, beauty, and sustainability. If we want to go down the "all profit is bad" route, I can assure you I'm making much smaller profit margins than incumbent brands, who continue to buy polyester and cotton in droves, using unimaginable amounts of water and creating plastic waste. Magi exists to transform the clothing industry into one that sees the value of the hemp plant as a fabric, which will save tons of emissions and water. Profit is an incentive for individuals to take part in business. In my opinion, we conflate profit with exploitation because that's simply the example our society (which normalises greed and abuse) has set.

COP27 is currently underway. Does COP have any value in your opinion?

I genuinely don't pay attention, because like a lot of people, I've lost trust in our leaders to be able to affect change. What we need is a larger cultural shift, a change in beliefs and attitudes.We need to think of ourselves as part of nature. We need to stop prioritising consumerism over community. We need to inject love and empathy into everything we do. Our systems (education, justice, political, economic, urban design) weren't built with these values in mind. COP is an extension of the system. They allowed Coca-Cola, one of the world's largest plastic polluters, to sponsor the event. A hundred more fossil fuel lobbyists attended this year than last. COP is clearly not ready to let go of harmful values, so I don't really pay a lot of attention to what goes on beyond listening to the activists. Which is what we can all be doing. 

If you were in government what are 3 key policies you'd implement tomorrow?

These are literally just a start and there is so much more I would do but: Reduce inequality: Change the tax system so billionaires cease to exist. Use the money to fund climate and other justice initiatives. Change our energy system: Follow the roadmap from this study which says it's not only possible to implement 80% renewable energy in 145 countries by 2030 but it's also easier, cheaper, and benefits society. Transform transit: Invest in making cities more walkable and safely bikeable, tax petrol and diesel cars and use that to invest in more and better public transportation.

What do you want people's main takeaways from your book to be?

If a reader walks away with a sense of hope, then my book has achieved its mission. As individuals, our hope is our power. As soon as we lose hope, we lose the will to take action, transform and grow and make a change. We need to imagine and believe in a better future if we are to create it. And that doesn't just apply societally.The moment we lose hope, the polluters, the exploiters, the colonisers, triumph by default. We can generate hope by educating ourselves and actively choosing hope every day. I took care of the former with my book, and it's my hope that the reader takes care of the latter.

Article by Martyn Ewoma

Shop Magi here

Buy 365 Ways to Save the Planet: A Day-by-day Guide to Living Sustainably here

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