5 Women Environmentalists Everyone Should Know About
Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month by highlighting some of the most influential Women Environmentalists who have supported the protection of our planet and the people in it – including you! In this episode, I will highlight 5 of my favorite influential women environmentalists to inspire you and ignite the spark that you can create real change, no matter your background. I will briefly talk about the work of these environmentalists and how it has impacted the world, along with a quote from each of them.
Rachel Carson is one of the most influential American environmental activists. Her work was said to start the modern environmental movement – earning her the title the mother of modern environmentalism.
She was a writer, biologist, and activist from the east coast. She usually wrote about the resiliency of nature. But when she found out about the use of an insecticide called DDT she wrote the book Silent Spring – published in June 1962. DDT was overused and haphazardly harming the environment – killing birds, many insects, and poisoning aquatic animals, which was affecting the food natural chain. It was also about something deeper. Silent Spring revolutionized the way people thought about the human and nature relationship, raising awareness of humankind’s impact on our future through chemical pollution.
Rachel died at the age of 56 in 1964 not knowing the huge strides her work would make in the environmental space. Silent Spring lit a spark in Americans, and advocates continued to fight for clean soils, water, air, and other natural resources. Archives from the EPA state that the “EPA today may be said without exaggeration to be the extended shadow of Rachel Carson.” DDT was banned in 1972, and every one of the toxic chemicals named in the book was either banned or severely restricted in the United States by 1975.
The issues Rachel Carson brought to light still are reflected in today’s society. 50 years later her book is still being referenced when it comes to the use of chemicals on our food and water sources, as well as our use of neonicotinoids – insecticides still used on farms that are killing our bee and pollinator populations.
A quote from Rachel Carson’s book Sense of Wonder – published posthumously – reads:
One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?
Get involved: http://www.rachelcarson.org/SilentSpring.aspx
Wangari Muta Maathai
Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940, earned her doctorate, and became the first female professor in Kenya. She is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. She was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, recognized for her work creating the Green Belt Movement.
The movement started as a community-based tree planting idea that she introduced while serving in the National Council of Women in 1976, and came to fruition just the next year in 1977. But the Green Belt Movement, which is still in full action today, wasn’t just about planting trees. It was about using trees as an opportunity to replenish the environment and empower women to work together to improve their quality of life.
Greenbeltmovement.org says that rural Kenyan women were reporting that their streams were drying up, they were experiencing food insecurity, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. The Green Belt Movement was about creating a community effort to “grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive a small monetary token for their work.”
Through this work, Wangari helped people in the community to understand that it was their government that should be protecting against environmental degradation that was leading to a lower quality of life for the poor. Seminars to help educate people on the power they held as voters grew, and the movement branched out into being democratic leaders for change locally and internationally.
Wangari Maathai passed in 2011, but her legacy continued through the Green Belt Movement. Today, over 51 million trees have been planted in Kenya, and the group continues to advocate for climate policy and education on gender livelihood and advocacy.
There were two quotes that I loved from Wangari:
Get involved: http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/get-involved
Now Jane Goodall was one of the first environmentalists I came across as a child. I remember watching her on television and knowing she was changing the world with her work with chimpanzees, helping our understanding of them and bringing their potential extinction to light. Jane is an English primatologist, humanitarian, and conservationist who blazed the trail for other women researchers in the scientific world.
She went into the Gombe National Park to study Chimpanzees in 1960 and made a revolutionary scientific observation – that humans are not the only ones that can create and use tools, hug and kiss, and experience war and politics. Until then we believed we were the only ones.
Jane founded the Jane Goodall institute in 1977 – with the mission of educating people across the globe to protect animals and the environment. The Jane Goodall Institutes research in Gombe is the longest-running wild chimpanzee study in the world, and the institute has been able to help conserve 3.4 million acres of habitat. She also founded Roots & Shoots in 1991, a global program that helps to educate and empower tens of thousands of youth to create the change they want to see in the world.
But her work doesn’t just extend to chimpanzees. She redefined conservation to include local communities and the environment. Through the Jane Goodall Institute, she provides opportunities for people to improve their economic livelihoods, their health, and the environment through building sustainable practices for themselves and wildlife. Things like sustainable farming, microcredits, beekeeping trades, and more. All of these efforts also work to fight climate change by preventing deforestation and forest degradation.
She is a UN Messenger of Peace, who speaks throughout the year on climate change and using one of our most powerful resources to help our environmental crisis – hope.
There is a quote from Jane Goodall that I feel speaks to the idea behind Hometown: Earth and incorporating small everyday changes that can impact the world, and it is:
Get involved: https://www.janegoodall.org/about/
Dr. Vanada Shiva is a world-renowned scholar, physicist, ecologist, and food rights activist. I could talk about her all day! While earning her Ph.D., Vandana became a volunteer for the Chipko Movement. A women’s movement occurred in the Indian Himalayas to protect their forests from further deforestation. This movement encouraged Vanadana to continue her fight to protect the biodiversity of the Earth and indigenous rights.
Vandana Shiva made the valuable connection between climate change and the disastrous soil practices of our industrial agriculture. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy to develop sustainable farming methods. By 1984 she founded Navadanya, an organization focused on preserving biological and cultural diversity as well as teaching organic farming methods. Navadanya worked to set up 150 community seed banks in 22 states of India so that farmers can share traditional seeds and indigenous knowledge. Together, they have saved over 3000 seed varieties.
Vandana sees that food sovereignty begins with seeds. Through her organization, she has fought and won against food giants like Monsanto for biopiracy – or the patenting of life and living organisms that shouldn’t be held to one person or company.
She even coined the term Earth Democracy – or the democracy of all life. It is the idea that there is no separation between humans and the rest of nature. Vandana emphasizes that food is life and that life is the currency of everything in nature. By eating local, sustainably grown food we are caring for our health and the health of the planet.
One quote from Vandana Shiva that should instill hope in you says:
I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness, no matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, just that itself creates new potential.
Get involved: https://www.navdanya.org/site/index.php
Sylvia Earle is an American oceanographer, scientist, and explorer. Sylvia is not new to firsts.
After being rejected from the first Tektite mission because she was a woman, Sylvia persevered and became the team leader of the first all-female saturation dive team – the Tektike II. In 1979, she broke records and became the first human to walk the depth of the seafloor at 1,250ft, and she did it for two hours. Syliva was a pioneer in the use of SCUBA gear and helped to develop the field of deep-sea submersibles with her company Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER).
In 1990 she became the first woman to be appointed as the chief scientist at the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She was the first person to be named Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine.
She has logged over 7,000 hours underwater in connection with her research and has discovered a wide variety of new marine species and underwater landscapes. After all that time in the ocean, she has seen the beauty earth’s oceans have to offer but also noticed the effects humans have had on it – with a loss of biodiversity, an increase in overfishing and pollution, and climate change.
She realized that without the ocean, human life will cease to exist. This sparked Mission Blue, an organization created by Sylvia to raise awareness, access, and support for marine protected areas globally- deemed Hope Spots, or areas that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean’ according to Mission-Blue.org.
Today, Sylvia has authored over 150 publications and counting, continuing to advance marine biology research, and broaden our awareness of our impact on the earth’s oceans.
She still is diving today.
Get involved: https://mission-blue.org/about/
Something to Grow onDon’t you feel better knowing the world has had and continues to have women at the forefront of sustainable action? Climate and conservation warriors like the Greta Thurnburg’s, AOC’s, and Emily Penn’s of the world – there is hope! And that hope feels good. But that hope doesn’t end with the work others are doing. I have hope in you! Hope that you will share your knowledge or research with others. Hope that you will take those small everyday actions for change. Hope that you will continue on your sustainable journey to help our planet. So this week for our segment Something to Grow On – I want you to take one small action to further your knowledge on environmental issues. Whether that’s reading an article by one of the environmentalists I’ve mentioned today or following one of the links provided here to each of the organizations connected to these environmentalists so you can get involved on a deeper level. Or it might be searching for an environmentalist who is active in their work today and following them on social media. Whatever you choose for your action, just know that your effort makes a difference, and I’m so appreciative to have someone like you as my neighbor!
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