The Snake That Eats its Own Tail, by Rey O’Malley

Climate justice means taking back our power to care for the land and each other instead of continuing this cycle of living individualistically to maintain the status quo, a lack of care for the environment which was established as a norm and even the standard in much of the world after the Industrial Revolution. The pressure of capitalism and the competitive mindsets it produces allowed those who wanted to get rich and were willing to put themselves above others in order to achieve this goal to take control of the markets, and they have been using manipulative tactics ever since to keep us dependent on this unsustainable system.

Unfortunately, capitalism thrives when we aren’t getting our needs met, because we’re driven to want more and more to fill the emptiness inside us, to relieve the pains of working for the very forces that we know are destroying us.

Care work under capitalism is barely effective because the two forces are inherently in opposition. Under capitalism, we operate under a rhetoric of a scarcity of time and resources in which we believe we must do as much as possible in order to get by and thus are always taking on more than we can handle, leaving us overwhelmed and unable to adequately care for even ourselves. If we do ever put ourselves first we are criticized for it. Thus, there is stigma around needing care, and modern care work is devalued and either underpaid or completely unpaid as a result. But care work is, by definition, vital to all social structures that have ever existed. Children do not know how to care for themselves from birth, and even if one has the ability to take care of their basic needs, humans are a social species and we do not thrive in isolation.

Capitalism is the snake that eats its own tail, promoting a false reality in which humans can become completely autonomous, where our emotions have no control over us, where we are limited by nothing, not even the health of our environment or ourselves.

Oh, you’re depressed? Can’t stop thinking about how the world is falling apart? Get over it, here’s some pills and a pamphlet teaching you to regulate your emotions, you still have to help the rest of us destroy it if you want a home and food.

But why do we have to keep working against our own interests? There is a lie, deep in the foundations of the system, that we can’t keep believing. We can’t keep believing we can do everything. Everything is too much, and this pressure to do as much as we do is causing us to make decisions that hurt us in the long run, or hate ourselves when we make decisions that put ourselves first. We have to slow down, regain our balance both environmentally and emotionally. This would allow us to care more, and more sustainably. And climate justice is about restoring this balance and reestablishing the importance of caring for the land so that this planet and all who live here can survive.

by Rey O’Malley, for the class Care Work and Climate Adaptation (Spring 2023)

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A Collaboration Between Groundwork Hudson Valley, The Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Bronx Community College, and Sarah Lawrence College