Day 67 – It’s International Woman’s Day! It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Today, I wanted to celebrate women that have played a significant role in protecting and preserving our planet. Many of us have heard of Dian Fossey and her work to protect the Western Lowland Gorillas of Rwanda. Or Jane Goodall and her tireless battle to protect, not only the chimpanzees she has studied for decades, but for all wildlife. More recently, the young Greta Thunberg has sounded the alarm on global warming and the need to make the drastic changes required to save the planet. All these women have made it their life’s work to protect the planet. I wanted to share a list of women you might not be familiar with that have spoken up and have made sure people were listening. This is by no means a complete list of the amazing women that have made a positive impact on this world, it’s merely a minute fraction.
Wangari Maathai (1940- 2011) – “The Green Belt Movement began as a project of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK), of which she was a member. Women had been coming to the NCWK complaining of deteriorating environmental conditions in their rural regions. With streams drying up, and poor harvests, women had to walk further and further afield in search of firewood. Through the Green Belt Movement, she mobilized thousands of women and men to plant tens of millions of trees throughout Kenya. Prof. Wangari Maathai’s approach was practical, holistic, and deeply ecological: the tree roots bound the soil, halting erosion and retained groundwater following rains. This in turn replenished streams, and the trees provide food, fodder, and fuel — maintaining the livelihoods of communities. These activities brought Prof. Wangari Maathai into direct conflict with the Kenyan government. She was harassed, threatened, beaten, and jailed. Nevertheless, Prof. Wangari Maathai and GBM persevered, earning national and global recognition for her transformative work. Working tirelessly as a member of parliament and an assistant minister for the environment, she fought for women’s rights, democratic space, multipartyism, against corruption, land grabbing, and misogyny.” – Wangari Maathai Foundation
Nemonte Nenquimo (1985 – ) – “Despite its relatively small area, Ecuador is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth. It contains pristine Amazon rainforests with rich wildlife, complex ecosystems, and significant populations of indigenous communities. Long protectors of this territory, the Waorani people are traditional hunter-gatherers organized into small clan settlements. Since the 1960s, oil exploration, logging, and road building have had a disastrous impact on Ecuador’s primary rainforests, which now cover less than 15% of the country’s land mass. Extractive industries have increasingly driven deforestation, human rights abuses, public health crises (including spikes in rates of cancer, birth defects, and miscarriages), and negative impacts on indigenous peoples’ territories and cultures. For decades, oil companies have dumped waste into local rivers and contaminated land, while displacing indigenous people from their land. Nemonte Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction. ” – The Goldman Environmental Prize
Autumn Peltier (2004 – ) – “Autumn Peltier is a world-renowned water-rights advocate and a leading global youth environmental activist. In April 2019, Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has spoken about the issue of contaminated water on Indigenous reserves in Canada at the United Nations. For her activism, Peltier was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019.” – The Canadian Encyclopedia
Paula Kahumbu (1966 – ) – “Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of Kenyan Conservation NGO WildlifeDirect and since 2014 has spearheaded the hard hitting Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign. Hands Off Our Elephants is a campaign to restore Kenyan leadership in elephant conservation through behavior change at all levels of society, from rural communities, to business leaders and political decision makers. She is an award winning Kenyan conservationist with a PhD from Princeton University where she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and conducted her field research on elephants in Kenya.” – PaulaKahumbu.org
Vandana Shiva (1952 – ) – “Besides being a physicist, ecologist, activist, editor, and author of numerous books, Vandana Shiva is a tireless defender of the environment. She is the founder of Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights. She is also the founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. Shiva fights for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food: “I don’t want to live in a world where five giant companies control our health and our food.” – Center for Humans and Nature
Berta Cáceres ( 1971 – 2016) – “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres, rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. Berta grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people. Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods. Three years after successfully stopping the building of a dam that would have jeopardized her people’s drinking water, she was killed by gunmen in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras.” – The Goldman Environmental Prize
Nguy Thi Khanh (1976 – ) – “Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam. Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future. In 2011, Nguy Thi founded the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) in order to promote sustainable energy development in Vietnam, as well as good water and air governance and green development. She also established the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance, a network of 11 Vietnamese and international environmental and social organizations that collaborate on regional energy issues. Nguy Thi’s research and collaboration on a more environmentally sustainable national energy plan supported the Vietnamese government’s March 2016 announcement of its revised Power Development Plan. The revised plan significantly reduced the number of coal plants in the pipeline and incorporated Nguy Thi’s recommendation to increase renewable energy—such as wind, solar, and biomass—to 21% of the total energy plan by 2030.” – The Goldman Environmental Prize
Isatou Ceesay (1972 – ) – “Isatou Ceesay, dubbed “Queen of Recycling,” is a Gambian activist who started the recycling movement called One Plastic Bag in the Gambia. Ceesay works to educate citizens about recycling and reducing the amount of waste that is created. She founded a project that creates plastic yarn and forms bags out of the upcycled waste. Not only has her project dramatically reduced the amount of waste in her village, but it is also employing hundreds of West African women and providing them with monthly revenue.” – Greenpop.org
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 – 1998) – “She worked first as a society reporter, then as an editorial page columnist, and later established herself as a writer of note. Here she took on the fight for feminism, racial justice, and conservation long before these causes became popular. In the 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rose to the top of her list of enemies. In a major construction program, a complex system of canals, levees, dams, and pump stations was built to provide protection from seasonal flooding to former marsh land—now being used for agriculture and real estate development. Long before scientists became alarmed about the effects on the natural ecosystems of south Florida, Mrs. Douglas was railing at officials for destroying wetlands, eliminating sheetflow of water, and upsetting the natural cycles upon which the entire system depends. In 1970 she formed the Friends of the Everglades, and was active as the head of the organization.” – National Park Service
Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964) – “She is remembered more today as the woman who challenged the notion that humans could obtain mastery over nature by chemicals, bombs and space travel than for her studies of ocean life. Her sensational book Silent Spring (1962) warned of the dangers to all natural systems from the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT, and questioned the scope and direction of modern science, initiated the contemporary environmental movement. Evidence of the widespread misuse of organic chemical pesticides government and industry after World War II prompted Carson to reluctantly speak out not just about the immediate threat to humans and non-human nature from unwitting chemical exposure, but also to question government and private science’s assumption that human domination of nature was the correct course for the future. Rachel Carson became a social revolutionary, and Silent Spring became the handbook for the future of all life on Earth.” – RachelCarson.org
Margaret Thomas Murie (1902 – 2003) – “She was an American naturalist, conservationist, and writer who was a central contributor in efforts to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which earned her the popular title “grandmother of the conservation movement.” She and her husband (Olaus) wrote articles and letters, delivered talks, and advocated for legislation to protect America’s remaining wilderness. In 1956 the couple conducted an expedition to Alaska, journeying along the upper Sheenjek River in the Brooks Range. The purpose of the trip was to gather information about the area’s wildlife in order to determine its merit for federal protection. Accompanying them on the expedition was German American zoologist George Schaller, who later became a leading figure in wildlife conservation. Their careful study and persistence in promoting legislation led to the establishment in 1960 of the Arctic National Wildlife Range.” – Britannica.com
Sylvia Earle, Ph. D ( 1935 – ) – “Sylvia is an oceanographer, scuba diver, and research scientist. She founded Mission Blue, an organization dedicated to protecting the ocean from threats such as climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, and the dramatic decrease in ocean fish stocks. Sylvia has dived in all five of the world’s oceans, and plays a leading role in establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) as “hope spots” around the world. MPAs are intended to “protect and restore the blue heart of the planet,” Sylvia says.” – National Geographic
We are so fortunate to have so many women making impactful changes in the world and inspiring others to want to do better to protect the planet.
Are you inspired?
Tomorrow, calculating your carbon footprint.