Three Women Environmentalists and What We Can Learn From Them

I had a different post planned for today but then learned it’s International Women’s Day! Is there an International Man’s Day? Is there a Man’s History Month? What if every day and every month involved honoring women’s work alongside their male colleagues? Are women different that they need a special day? In some ways, maybe. But that’s a different conversation….In the meantime, in honor of this special day, I chose to highlight three women environmentalists and lessons we can learn from their work. Please comment and add to the list. It is endless. – Rachel

Rachel Carson – As a child, I have specific memories about researching Carson in the encyclopedia and learning about her work. (Like any nine year old would do, I chose Carson from a list because we share the same first name.) The New Yorker also published a recent article about her legacy and there is much that can still be learned from her famous book Silent Spring. I learned that the title comes from the fact that we are slowly destroying our environment and eco-systems by playing an unnecessary role in their rhythms. Think pesticides, weed-killers and other chemicals that work to make our experience of nature more palatable to humans, yet cause immense harm in their wake. Carson noticed these changes and that every spring was becoming eerily quieter and more “silent,” as species die away due to our use of toxic chemicals. Jill Lepore writes, “Silent Spring,” a landlubber, is no slouch of a book: it launched the environmental movement; provoked the passage of the Clean Air Act (1963), the Wilderness Act (1964), the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act (both 1972); and led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1970. The number of books that have done as much good in the world can be counted on the arms of a starfish.” While there are a lot of take-aways, I think now is an especially opportune time to learn from her research. The winter is starting to thaw and we are looking towards yard work, gardening etc. What can we do differently this year? Maybe skip the round-up, leave the dandelions and use gentler, more natural pesticides on your plants. Our actions have consequences and we must be mindful of any action we take on our environment.

Greta Thunberg, The politics of climate action are as entrenched and complex as the phenomenon itself, and Thunberg has no magic solution. But she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not. She has persuaded leaders, from mayors to Presidents, to make commitments where they had previously fumbled: after she spoke to Parliament and demonstrated with the British environmental group Extinction Rebellion, the U.K. passed a law requiring that the country eliminate its carbon footprint. She has focused the world’s attention on environmental injustices that young indigenous activists have been protesting for years. The take-away? One is never too young to act or to care. Work with your children and the younger people in your life, show them better ways and create more sustainable habits. Get them involved in grassroots efforts and political causes. Teach them well.

Photo borrowed from Vogue Magazine

Deb Haaland, first Native American Secretary of the Interior. To be honest, I never knew much about this position until fairly recently, when Ryan Zinke intended to destroy it. I’ve since learned that this role oversees 500 million acres of public lands and the United States’ relationship with indigenous people. Similar to Carson, Haaland talks about respecting the Earth and not interfering in its rhythms. Her detractors have zeroed in on her activism, especially her forthright denunciations of any and all oil and gas exploration on public land and her fierce opposition to the natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The take-away? We must work in tandem with Native American tribes, learn from their cultures and respect their lands. We cannot continue imposing our preferences (for example, placing pipelines through sacred ground) and must rather find alternative methods. I’m looking forward to seeing what Haaland accomplishes. Despite the economic hardships that their exits will cause, oil and coal are no longer sustainable and we will find a better way.

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