slaughter85_PhotoAltoMichele Constantini_earth care PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini

Reimagining Care

Today, many regard caring for the Earth and for other people as merely a means to an end. But everything changes – the economy, the environment, and ourselves – if we view care as an essential set of relationships that allow us to grow and flourish as part of a larger planetary ecosystem.

WASHINGTON, DC – The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the ongoing negotiations over US President Joe Biden’s social infrastructure bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, share an important feature. At the heart of global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change is a commitment to care for our planet. Similarly, Biden’s bill is a down payment on building an entire infrastructure of care – including paid family leave, childcare, a child tax credit, and affordable community and home-based care for anyone else who needs support – in the United States.

The reaction to both of these landmark developments tells us something important about the way many people think about care. In the context of climate change, care for the Earth translates into a set of prohibitions, restrictions, and duties: we cannot continue living the way we are now without inviting catastrophe. And many justify their support for childcare and eldercare by emphasizing that more of it would allow caregivers, still primarily women, to remain in the workforce and thus be “productive” members of society.

In both cases, therefore, care is a means to an end, rather than something to be desired and cherished in itself. Care is a duty: we must take care of our planet and our family members. Or else it is a service to be paid for: we can buy carbon credits to offset our pleasurable consumption, and hire others to feed, bathe, dress, and drive those we love.