The Intersection of Women’s Rights and Climate Activism
“If we really want to address climate change, we need to make gender equity a reality,” says writer and climate crisis activist Katharine K. Wilkinson. “Drawing down emissions depends on rising up.”
Equity for women has a positive impact on climate in multiple ways, including in the reduction of consumption of goods. Also, empowered women have historically made and continue to make a positive difference politically. Just as Representative Jeannette Rankin, the first U.S. Congresswoman, brought her own constituents’ reluctance to go to war to the vote on whether to join World War I — she wanted first and foremost to preserve the lives of “our sons” — empowered women often bring different leadership and perspective to issues regarding the future.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, long-time climate activist, and now the co-host of the climate-oriented podcast “Mother of Invention,” believes women play a crucial role in averting climate catastrophe. She argues that the climate crisis is man-made and the solution is feminist. By that, she means that “man-made” is generic — it’s humanity made, but a humanity led for centuries by men — and that the solution involves equity, which is by definition feminist: leave no one behind. When it comes to solidarity and equality, she posits, women get it.
“When we think about the nexus of climate and gender, there are three big points of intersection,” Wilkinson has said.
- Climate change hits women and girls first and worst, particularly in the developing world and in poor communities.
- Gender equality itself is a climate solution, with women’s education and equity leading to smaller family sizes and, research shows, better land management practices.
- Women bring “transformational leadership that is grounded in intersectional feminism and what we might consider more feminine approaches to leading.”
NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz has shone the spotlight on a few young women leaders in the fight against climate crisis denialism and inaction who, despite being less well-known than Greta Thunberg, have significant achievements. Kamenetz’s 2020 report focused on teen girls from the U.S. and Australia:
- Milou Albrecht, Castlemain, Australia, who co-founded School Strike for Climate Australia as massive bushfires engulfed the nation. Her group has pressured the German corporation Siemens to withdraw from an Australian coal mining project.
- Xiye Bastida, who led New York City’s first big student climate strike and travels to do public speaking.
- Jayden Foytlin, one of 21 young people who sued the federal government for violating their rights to a livable planet. Foytlin is from southern Louisiana, where she has witnessed the catastrophic results of extreme storms. (Unfortunately, the lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, was recently thrown out by a federal appeals court, but Foytlin and the other plaintiffs continue to work in activism.)
- Scout Pronto Breslin, of Rhinebeck, New York, is the founder of a group called Hudson Valley Wild.
These girls, Kamenetz reports, are all champions at balancing schoolwork and activism, not to mention dealing with the heavy emotional toll of fighting for their own future.
As inspirational as it is to witness the incredible motivation and strength of young people in the climate crisis movement, it’s important to remember that it should not be the generations most at risk who must do the work.
Mary Robinson has stated, “We live in an incredible moment. We’re the first generation to understand how urgent climate action is, and the last generation to be able to do anything about it.” Children, no matter how influential, will not be the policy makers to effect change — at least, not soon enough to help us avoid the worst of the climate catastrophe we are already living.
To learn more about women in leadership in the climate movement, as well as how to support increasing their participation, visit The 50/50Vision Campaign.
To learn how young people can find their best way to have an impact, check out A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety by Sarah Jaquette Ray. She focuses not only on how young people can find their way to making an impact, but also on how they can find joy in their experiences despite our extraordinary time.
A Poem A Day Helps Cultivate Resilience
Excerpt from something is ending, by Adrienne Maree Brown
every time I feel lost frustrated stuck angry
or overcome by despair and grief
meaning every day, every single day
of this slow and fatal endtime
I find my eyes in a mirror
and whisper: you are still alive
and to each loved one: we are still alive
our adaptations unfolding from our
undeniable need for each other
yes something is ending — but it isn’t us love!
Our Democracy in Peril
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” — Albert Camus
By now, we are all very aware of the challenges facing democracy in the United States. In December, the European think tank International IDEA downgraded the U.S. from a “stable democracy” to a “backsliding democracy.”
In a recent article published by NC Policy Watch, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, veteran journalist Max McCoy writes, “Globally, according to IDEA, the number of democracies has shrunk, and the pandemic has worsened government repression of dissidents and journalists. In Poland, the government ‘resorted to xenophobic, homophobic and antisemitic rhetoric,’ LGBTQ activists have faced harassment and arrests, and ‘restrictive abortion legislation has been passed despite public outcry. Sound familiar?’
McCoy goes on to address the growing movement to ban books in the U.S.
In Huffington Post, Ryan Grenoble points out, “When Dr. Seuss’ publisher stopped printing one of his older books last year because of its racial stereotypes, Fox News and Republicans cried ‘cancel culture,’” but that despite the obvious hypocrisy, conservative groups and individuals in more than 30 states are now engaged in a campaign to remove books from schools and libraries that threaten their world view “in what experts are calling a historic and concerted book-banning effort.”
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee (RNC) declared the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrectionionist riot at the Capitol “legitimate political discourse,” and voted to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only two members of Congress who have publicly condemned both the deadly riot and Donald Trump’s incitement of it, as well as his attempt to overturn the presidential election.
A growing number of Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have since criticized the RNC for the statement and the censure, which suggests that there may be further backlash, including against defenders of the insurrection and Trump. Nevertheless, the percentage of Republicans who in November 2021 continued to distrust the results of the 2020 Election remained an incredible 65 percent. And those beginning to position themselves to challenge Trump for the 2024 Presidential nomination include such far-right figures as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — hardly defenders of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, 19 states have passed 33 voting laws that will make it harder for Americans, particularly minorities, to vote, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act was stymied by Republicans in the Senate.
An interesting take on another failing by the U.S. appears in the December issue of The Atlantic. Pulitzer Prize winning historian Anne Applebaum writes, “If the 20th century was the story of a slow, uneven struggle, ending with the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies–communism, fascism, virulent nationalism–the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.” She points out that the Stanford scholar Larry Diamond calls this era one of “democratic regression.”
Applebaum blames both sides of our political divide, albeit the Democrats less harshly, for a failure of strategy and diplomacy abroad that is allowing autocrats to gain power. She identifies the obvious dereliction of Donald Trump, but also points out that the left “has abandoned the idea that ‘democracy’ belongs at the heart of U.S. foreign policy — not out of greed and cynicism but out of a loss of faith in democracy at home.”
There is truth to her contention that as Americans struggle with our own profound problems maintaining democracy at home, many no longer believe that U.S. diplomacy has much to offer those struggling globally. From our current vantage point of acknowledging the failure of our ghastly “forever wars,” ostensibly fought to help others defeat dictatorships and establish democratic systems, we must address whether sanctions imposed after the fact are at all helpful. For example, as Vox reporter Ellen Ioanes wrote in January, sanctions against the Taliban in Afghanistan are exacerbating a humanitarian crisis and forcing millions into poverty and starvation.
Applebaum not only criticizes past and present U.S. administrations, but also challenges the reader to demand greater investment in American pro-democracy influence around the world, regardless of our own current struggles, concluding that “if America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, the autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding, and ideas.” She goes a step further to identify the rise of autocrats worldwide as one of the roots of current threats to democracy at home: “If Americans, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home: indeed, they are already here.”
It seems we have come full circle, and that perhaps it is time to remember that along with moving to correct our own historical failings both at home and abroad, we must prioritize ensuring our continuing privilege to be an openly self-examining society.
The task is intimidating but essential.
Mental Health Notes
The New York Times recently published a feature entitled “Climate Change Enters the Therapy Room.” The fairly lengthy article by Ellen Barry, who was a member of a team that received the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting and covers mental health for The NYTimes, is definitely worth a read.
The piece includes the personal story of one woman, Alina Black, whose symptoms are an example of how serious the negative effects of climate crisis on the everyday lives of so many of us have become. The universality of her story is startling, as is this summary of the results of a major recent survey: “A 10-country survey of 10,000 people aged 16 to 25 published last month in The Lancet found startling rates of pessimism. Forty-five percent of respondents said worry about climate negatively affected their daily life. Three-quarters said they believed ‘the future is frightening,’ and 56 percent said ‘humanity is doomed.’”
Featured in the article is Dr. Thomas Doherty, whose advice to his patient Alina stands out enough such that I include it here:
“‘In the future, even with worst-case scenarios, there will be good days. Disasters will happen in certain places. But, around the world, there will be good days. Your children will also have good days.’”
Also intriguing is Doherty’s dedication to helping people manage guilt over consumption: “He takes a critical view of the notion of a climate footprint, a construct he says was created by corporations in order to shift the burden to individuals.”
Doherty mentions that he uses logotherapy, developed by Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl. “‘I joke, you know it’s bad when you’ve got to bring out the Viktor Frankl,’ he said. ‘But it’s true. It is exactly right. It is of that scale. It is that consolation: that ultimately I make meaning, even in a meaningless world.’”
It seems appropriate to add a Frankl quote that also applies to our time and re-orients us from paralysis and anxiety toward meaningful activity: “What man needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving for some goal worthy of him.”
Seeking a Supportive Group?
Whereas most think of Extinction Rebellion (XR) as the leader in engaging in climate activism through civil disobedience (one of their first actions included the blocking of five London bridges and the supergluing of multiple activists to the gates of Buckingham Palace), they also offer nondisruptive ways to engage in protest and climate grief circles as well as other ways to process eco-anxiety and climate grief. Find a local group here.
The Good Grief Network is a nonprofit organization that brings people together to metabolize collective grief, eco-anxiety, and other heavy emotions that arise in response to daunting planetary crises. Using a 10-Step approach inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous model, they run peer-to-peer support groups that help folks recognize, feel, and process their heavy emotions, so that these feelings may be transformed into meaningful action.
The Ten Steps:
- Accept the severity of the predicament
- Practice being with uncertainty
- Honor my mortality and the mortality of all
- Do inner work
- Develop awareness of biases and perceptions
- Practice gratitude, witness beauty, and create connections
- Take breaks and rest
- Grieve the harm I have caused
- Show up
- Reinvest in meaningful efforts
Green Notes: Developments and Setbacks
“The Great Siberian Thaw” Joshua Yaffa, The New Yorker: Jan 10, 2022. “Permafrost contains microbes, mammoths, and twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. What happens when it starts to melt?”
“Adapting to climate change is a moral, economic, and environmental imperative,” Christina Chan, director of the Climate Resilience Practice at World Resources Institute (WRI), told Global Citizen. “Investing in adaptation is not accepting defeat and failure. It’s accepting reality.”
Climate adaptation — helping communities withstand climate change — often gets overshadowed by climate mitigation, which includes all the efforts made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But now governments worldwide increasingly realize that there’s no way to delay the consequences of climate change and adaptation needs funding. On America Adapts, host Doug Parsons interviews scientists, activists, policymakers, and journalists to learn more about how communities are adapting to climate change, along with many other topics including climate reparations.
Podcasts, interviews, and more.
“Find the place where your joy and the world’s need intersects.” — Michael Dowd
The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit. — Nelson Henderson 1865–1943, International Rugby Union, represented Scotland in 1892
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and climate activist, and Maeve Higgins, comedian and climate activist; produced by Thimali Kodikara. This podcast involves humor if you’re in need of it!
(see above–Good Grief is a nonprofit organization founded to help people dealing with eco-anxiety and climate grief)
Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet (A New York Times video)
Big Ag is often ignored as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Meat Atlas, an analysis put together by Friends of the Earth and Heinrich Böll Stiftung (a European political foundation), 20 meat and dairy companies combined produce more greenhouse gas emissions than Germany, France, or Britain. Combined, the five largest companies — JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America, and Fonterra — produce more emissions than oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP. In 2016, these top 5 companies reportedly produced 578 megatonnes of emissions compared to ExxonMobil’s 577 megatonnes. The top 20 dairy and meat companies produced 932 megatonnes in total.