Climate change poses great and undeniable threats to all of humankind, but as many other issues do, it disproportionately impacts women and girls. Whether collecting water, growing food, or managing energy use for the home, women are often the first to experience localized impacts of global warming. Even during natural disasters, women have higher mortality rates than men.
I know what you’re thinking. Even climate change has gendered impacts, and that sucks. What very much doesn’t suck though is seeing women and girls as agents of change and key leaders in the fight against climate change all over the world. Women play a critical role as managers of resources, as consumers, as entrepreneurs, as policymakers, and leaders in the transition towards clean technology.
For this women’s history month we’ve put together a list of incredible women leading the way towards the future and working on solutions to the climate crisis. There are hundreds of women who should be on this list, but here are some of the few I admire most, and think you should know about.
Solar Mamas at Barefoot College
Solar energy provides electricity and reduces carbon emissions, but it can also be a catalyst to create employment, boost income, and provide self-reliant solutions for village communities. Women from all over the world are brought together by Barefoot College to learn how to build and operate simple solar systems and then bring the technology back home. What is incredible about this program is how far reaching it can be in its impact. A woman who is equipped with the knowledge of how to build and operate solar systems can go back home and be an incredible resource for her community. Barefoot college has trained solar engineers from over 83 countries, and provided 18,047 households with solar systems.
I met Ellie (pictured above) a couple years ago at Barefoot college in Rajasthan. What she told me about her work there has stayed with me until this day: “I can’t read or write, but now I can make this, I can bring energy to where there was none. It’s not easy, but you have to suffer before you can learn, it will be worth it in the end because I will be able to go back and teach others there [her village in Liberia].” This kind of program and the women who participate in it are an incredible example of how women, from all corners of the world, are a crucial component of our transition to clean energy and leading the way in climate solutions, both at a large and at a small scale.
Zero Waste Movement Pioneer Lauren Singer
At just 26, Lauren Singer is an entrepreneur, social media icon, speaker, and powerful advocate for waste reduction. She runs two companies, a blog and instagram account that reach hundreds of thousands of people, and is a pioneer in the now-popularized zero waste movement. Singer is best known for her zero-waste lifestyle, and her mason jar, where she keeps all the trash she has produced in the past 4 years.
She now leads the way for others who want to reduce their waste and carbon footprints through her businesses and her tips and guides on her blog, Trash is for Tossers. Singer saw a need in the market for low-waste alternatives to common products, which is when she started selling laundry detergent through The Simply Co. Her latest coventure with no-waste fashion designer Daniel Silverstein — the Package Free Shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. — provides even more options for people hoping to minimize their contribution to the waste stream.
Leader in Sustainable Fashion, Stella McCartney
The fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries globally today. From the sourcing of fabric, to dyes, factories, and the increasing use of plastic fibers in clothing, there is much that could be improved to make the industry more sustainable and less polluting. Stella McCartney has taken this task to heart and become a vocal leader in the industry about these challenges.
In response to the Paris Agreement, McCartney was a founding signatory of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, which aims to reduce members’ aggregate greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. She has also been a pioneer in low-waste design, sustainable materials sourcing, rejection of leather products, and embracing the second-hand market for clothing.
She told Vogue, “the starting point is always design […] So one of the things you have to do, and the most sustainable thing you can do as a designer, is to create pieces that people want and won’t want to throw away.”
Stateswoman & Climate Feminist, Mary Robinson
29 years ago, Mary Robinson was elected as the first woman President of Ireland, she went on to serve as UN Commissioner for Human Rights, and has now embraced climate change and climate action. She founded Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice with a mission to “secure global justice for those people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change”.
She also has a new book, Climate Justice, in which she explores the gendered impacts of climate change and the women working on solutions at the local level. About it, she says “I do think we need to make this a human story. Because of the science and the jargon, people can feel distanced. But when you read about other human beings, you can learn from that. Because we’re all moving in that direction. We’re all going to be affected.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, Robinson launched a new podcast last year, in partnership with comedian Maeve Higgins, called Mothers of Invention (which I highly recommend you add to your listening list asap). “Climate change is a manmade problem that requires a feminist solution,” she said ahead of the launch. “What we are hoping to do is create a movement. Climate change is not gender-neutral – it affects women far more. So this is not about climate change, it is about climate justice.”
Bringing Equity to Resilience, Dr. Atyia Martin
Not only is Dr. Martin mother to five children, but she’s worked in federal and local government within intelligence, homeland security, emergency management, public health preparedness, and resilience. She was appointed as Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Boston under the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative. In that position, Dr. Martin made racial equity a central principle to her work, a unique approach to resilience in a City affected by historic and persistent divisions of race and class.
Most recently, she started her own business consulting firm All Aces, with a mission to “activate the power of consciousness and critical thinking to manage the ways our unconscious mind can interfere with personal and organizational resilience.”
Her work on fostering equity and furthering conversations around race and justice in the context of climate change and resilience building is incredibly inspiring. I had a chance to sit down with her to chat about all this for an upcoming podcast episode. If you’d like to be notified of when it airs, sign up here.
Vien Truong (CEO, Dream Corps)
“Change agent, policy expert, movement builder, and community leader” are how Forbes Magazine described her. Vien Truong is the youngest of 11 children born to a Vietnamese refugee family. She has made it her life mission to work towards social and environmental equity in fighting pollution and poverty in parallel.
She is the CEO of Dream Corps, a social justice organization, and is Director of its environmental arm, Green for All. She has led programs in local, state and federal policymaking to rid communities from toxic chemicals and harmful emissions. She received the White House Champion of Change award in 2016 for her work on climate equity and was and was also recognized as a “Power Shifter” on the Grist 50 that same year.
“Before we can fight for opening up opportunities for others, we must first give ourselves the opportunities to explore the full range of possibilities of who we might become.” – Vien Truong
Before turning 24, Daisy was already Founder and CEO of Ocean Generation, an NGO dedicated to using the power of culture through music, gaming, and technology to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change in the world’s oceans. Daisy is a passionate and inspiring speaker, having spoken in panels all over the world, last year speaking at Facebook and leading to the company giving every employee reusable water bottles!
She has partnered with the UN Office of Project Services to lead grassroots programs in small island developing states which use technology and innovation to improve resilience to extreme weather events. Daisy was also named one of the 50 most influential women in Britain by the Daily Mail. We sat down with her last year for a podcast episode about the oceans and her work, check it out here.