STEM, TEK, COP26 and other of-the-moment acronyms

By Lisa

Acronyms are great, I use them every day, however they can be confusing and exclusionary—even the acronyms designed to be inclusive.

Signs abound on homemade window signs in my neighborhood that say “BLM”—showing support for Black Lives Matter—this is great but when they first appeared it took me a minute to translate. In my day-to-day job I work on issues on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management which we always just call “BLM” too.  That is a simple example and was readily figured out, but what about others that “intend” to be inclusive? Take STEM – science, technology, engineering and math—the intent of the acronym is to say these are important fields of study that lead to good jobs and for far too long have been the exclusive domain of white men AND we should do something about that by funding and supporting women, people of color, LGBTQII to study these fields at university level and compete for jobs. Great, but the STEM acronym could make it seem like somehow if women and people of color just study more in these areas things will change. It hides the ugly truth of how women and people of color have been discouraged from pursuing these fields in the past and are still discriminated against on a daily basis in hiring, retention, publishing, at conferences etc. and this discrimination is active not passive. Women, people of color and LGBTQII are still held to a different standard and belittled if they are not at the very top of their field (“too hard for you, huh?”), are sexually harassed and insulted in the classroom and at conferences. (One odd and unexpected benefit of zoom conferences is that they are a safer space for many people than in-person conferences which force close contact and have been pressure cookers of abusive behavior, micro and macro aggressions written off as “what happens in Vegas…” just boys being boys.)

TEK, traditional ecological knowledge, is a term growing in use for a long-ignored truth—that indigenous people living in close connection with the earth know things that “western science” doesn’t about nature and how it “works”.  It is awesome that this knowledge is finally being recognized in “mainstream” culture and the scientific community. There is a lot of information on the web about this from many scientists and agencies. To hear people in their own words, discuss TEK, I recommend this series of short pieces on KCET now in its third season on line: https://www.kcet.org/shows/tending-nature  and the earlier film and follow up pieces Tending the Wild: https://www.kcet.org/shows/tending-the-wild/episodes/tending-the-wild

However, like any acronym, just saying TEK can lead to confusion. I recently had a discussion at work where a white man was talking about restoration issues and mentioned “TEK” which he said the way we usually say “tech”, not T E K as I have heard most native/indigenous presenters say it. And then when I asked what he meant, he started “mansplaining” — this interaction was both awkward and infuriating!  TEK – this shorthand acronym– is about mainstream society finally acknowledging the depth of knowledge and information native and indigenous people hold, but like any acronym it risks becoming just another “cool idea” for those with privilege and power to throw around as a “woke” credential.

COP26—Congress of the Parties 26—is an acronym that hides more than it reveals. This was the most recent “UN climate change conference” in Glasgow—the meetings have been all over the world these last 26 years with the “parties” to the convention (government representatives) on the inside and the populace advocating for action increasingly on the outside.  While the conferences get bigger and more prestigious every year, the fossil fuel industry and big money interests have ensured that little or no progress is being made. Scientists and activists have been calling for a phase out of fossil fuel use and an end to subsidies for at least the last 10 years but the outcome document, the Glasgow Climate Pact, still pushes off key deadlines for nearly a decade and is unenforceable.  The text emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance “from all sources to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing support for developing country Parties, beyond $100 billion per year” but those are just words, the wealthy counties that emitted most of the greenhouse gases that are the cause of climate change, including the US, still refuse to pay a fair share of a clean-energy transition for less-developed counties. There are “pledges” to halt deforestation and methane emissions by 2030—two destructive activities that should have ended decades ago and even if these “pledges” are fulfilled the destruction would keep going for nearly another decade. It’s not just me, even the UN General Secretary says the agreement is not enough:

“It is an important step but is not enough,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his wrap up message to the conference. “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net-zero will itself be zero.”

Whatever the acronym, the agreements coming out of COP26 are as hollow as a ping-pong ball which has just been bounced down the road to COP27, set to take place in Egypt in 2022.  

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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