E: Aside from the US elections, the current issue I have been following most closely is the Zika epidemic. I find Zika interesting because the factors contributing to the current explosion of case numbers in South America are multidimensional – environmental, political, economic, medical and population health factors are all intersecting to cause this current crisis. My main reading of the issue has been mostly directed towards Zika and maternal health. Microcephaly, a possible outcome of Zika has positioned this virus within the bodies of sexually active women, and there a whole range of articles which have looked at the embodied politics surrounding the Zika crisis. The other dimension which is just now starting to surface are the socio-economic conditions which are obstructing the control of the Aedes mosquito. Although mosquitos have no preference between the rich and poor, poor neighbourhoods face challenges in protecting themselves against mosquitos, and the eradication of mosquito breeding grounds also relies on highly efficient and vigilant public health frameworks having access to all sections of society.
S: Epidemics like Zika, and Ebola before it, definitely highlight how poverty can mean some people are disproportionately impacted by disease, or illness of any kind. I was thinking about this preparing for the talk we hosted recently around the theme of mental and physical illness, and addiction. Discussing psychological hardship and how we deal with it can in and of itself feel like a luxury sometimes; it’s a relatively small number that can afford to seek professional treatment and support. Even free services can be hard to access if you can’t afford transport, or babysitters and the like. But back to Zika – a warming climate means vector-borne diseases are likely to present more often, and a logical progression from that is that poorer, and other typically more vulnerable groups – women, children, the elderly, those who don’t identify as hetero – are likely to be hit the hardest. What are your thoughts on the relationship between marginalisation, income levels and the health impacts of climate change?
E: That’s a huge question Sarah! The relationships between gender, income levels, health and climate could be cut and sliced in so many different ways. I’ve written before about how I see climate change as a lens to look at a broad spectrum of inequalities, and gender can serve this function as well. I have actually been thinking about these interdependencies recently because I have friends affected by Cyclone Winston in Fiji. So maybe we can put Zika aside for a minute and focus instead on women and climate change in the Pacific. When thinking about how women’s labour in developing countries is changing as result of climate change I always come back to the same scenario. If a woman’s job is to tend a subsistence garden to feed the extended family and provide supplementary income, and climate change events occur that result in droughts or cyclones, this labour is negatively disrupted and food security is threatened. The short and long term health and income effects of food insecurity are uneven and poor women and children are the most vulnerable. This is a really basic example, and of course the relationship is much more complex, but I think the example demonstrates the interdependencies of gender, income levels, health and climate change.
I feel like it’s my turn to ask a tricky question. What are you thoughts on Donald Trump?
S: I’ve only just started to have them seriously! I kept hoping the idea of a Trump presidency was too bizarre to consider a real option, but I guess that’s naiive. Someone tweeted recently that it’s like America is a drama series in its final season and the writers have pulled out all the stops. Just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder… That’s making light of it, but as we discussed on Skype, the scary thing is that – even if Donald Trump, or Drumpf as I’ll now be calling him, doesn’t become President of the United States, we can’t ignore the now clear fact that THERE WAS A CHANCE HE COULD. That in itself is terrifying. He’s repeatedly proven himself to be racist, sexist and inconsistent in his hyperbole – and as John Oliver illustrated so diligently, Drumpf’s (self-)characterisation as a successful businessman is dubious. He may just be milking his persona to tap into what is proving to be a not so niche target group of voters, but it’s working for him.
I moved to NYC just prior to the 2008 elections, which saw Obama sworn in the first time, and the energy on Election Night was insane. I imagine New York’s one of the few places in the US to be so strongly pro-Democrat, and it was pretty cool to be a left-leaner in the city that night. Of course, it didn’t take long for public sentiment to shift, but to go from Obama – figure of hope – to Donald Trump as a potential presidential candidate is a pretty solid twist. If, in an odd way, kind of consistent. One pop figure to another. America is full of contradictions, and stupidity is so often rewarded simply because it’s entertaining. Unfortunately US politics tend to have a big impact on global politics, which is why we get to comment. Are the primaries a ripe topic in Germany right now? I guess Germany’s presidency is getting a lot of attention too.
E: At the moment I am have having conversations about the US presidential campaign almost daily, but mostly among my expatriate friends living in Germany. I’m less concerned about Donald Trump the person than I am about what his popularity represents. The fact that large numbers of people are voting for the ideals of extreme wealth, dominating power and protection of a ‘white America’ at any cost is what worries me. My concern is broader than Donald Trump and the USA, because citizens across the world have elected politicians with similar extreme right political ideologies. There are few worrying similarities between Donald Trump and New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key for example.
I don’t think Donald Trump will be President – he will fade, but the frustrations and extreme opinions of the population he represents will not. I believe understanding what societal forces are producing these political positions is worthy of more analysis and reporting. Which brings me back to your question about Germany and the German Chancellor. People in Germany are frustrated with Angela Merkel, because society is changing. Society in Germany, and indeed Europe isn’t changing because of decisions made solely by this leader, but by many leaders in the EU, and wider global international relations. But the frustrations of the people here with how society is changing are directed towards the German government, and some people believe that the solution lies in severe far right nationalist political ideologies. I read this great article, which uses demography to highlight how Donald Trump’s campaign will actually mobilise more voters from opposing political positions in the US elections, and I think that the same is happening in Europe, because a range of political perspectives are being more strongly vocalised. If becoming more vocal translates into activism and political participation then the potential is that all rhetoric from the far right can be flipped on its head and actually work against it. Which is why it’s important to have an opinion, and voice it.
Read Evelyn and Sarah’s previous Weblog: Migration & Living in Berlin Right Now.
Evelyn Marsters has a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Auckland and is currently based in Berlin. Her focus is global health and migration, and she is Deputy Editor at Impolitikal. Read more by Evelyn.
Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.