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Greening Up — Women and Girls Are Woke

With so many female voices currently in the spotlight, I believe that they will ultimately force the conversation about climate change into long awaited action.

“For everything there is a season, and  a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” – Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3

Elizabeth McCord, the fictional U.S. Secretary of State on the hit CBS drama Madam Secretary, is practising a speech at the opening of Season 5’s Episode 18.

“Climate change is no longer an abstraction. It’s an accelerating emergency with devastating consequences for our planet….we must act now or the dire consequences of our collective neglect can never be undone,” actress Téa Leoni states in a sombre tone.

McCord is trying to negotiate a treaty with other countries on the acceptance of climate refugees, a subject the previous two episodes of the series has also touched on.

It has taken until Season 5, but McCord – who openly declares in Episode 18 that she will run for President of the United States – is speaking out forcefully about climate change.

Finally, art imitates life instead of the other way around.

Women have been speaking out about climate chaos for many years but their voices – and especially those of young women – appear to be reaching a zenith point.

With so many female voices currently in the spotlight, I believe that they will ultimately force the conversation about climate change into long awaited action.

These women and girls are questioning the dominant paradigm surrounding climate change and demanding something better. Like those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, they are activists who were woke and they are asking us to stay woke.

Think about who in the Kootenays are working to educate us about global warming – Laura Sacks and Judy O’Leary, who lead the Nelson-West Kootenay chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby; Laura, Anni Holtby and Tanya Coad who conceived  the syndicated show Climate of Change which has won three National Campus and Community Radio Association awards for Kootenay Co-op Radio; Daniela Sirois Ennis, 16, and Alyssa Taburiaux, 19, who helped organize the first local school strike for climate.

Think about who in Canada are leading the charge for action on climate change – 11-year-old Sophia Mathurfrom Sudbury, Elizabeth May, Naomi Klein, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Margaret Atwood, and Kirsten Zickfeld, who represented Canada at the recent COP24 in Katowice, Poland.

On the world stage, think about who are raising their voices to call for action to quell climate chaos – 16-year-old Greta Thunbergfrom Sweden, 16-year-old Isha Clarke from Oakland, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Christiana Figueres, Mary Robinson, Katharine Hayhoe, Sunita Narain, and Joyashree Roy.

The Wikipedia page Women in Climate Change lists more than 70 women climate researchers and 11 prominent women climate change policy makers and activists.

“Women are socialized to work together. This is a super power that the culture instills and rewards in us. In practice, this means that women get things done. We build coalitions, we listen, we address needs, we refine, and we integrate.” – Sarah Myhre

While researching this article, I even learned the “father of climate change” is a woman.

Eunice Newton Foote was an American scientist and women's rights campaigner who on the morning of August 23, 1856 submitted a paper entitled Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays to the Eighth Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The paper details her experiment showing that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but the credit for this has usually gone to John Tyndallwho in 1859 published his findings about how greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The AAAS organization was all-male until 1850 and Eunice Foote was not even allowed to read her own paper in 1856. Instead her work was presented by Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution who added this preface: “Science was of no country and of no sex. The sphere of woman embraces not only the beautiful and the useful, but the true.”

So for 163 years we have had the knowledge about climate change, all the while sticking our heads in the sand.  It is no wonder that women and girls are standing up and speaking out to end decades of thumb twiddling.

It was definitely not an April Fool’s joke when on April 1 scientists announced that Canada was experiencing warming at twice the rateof the rest of the world.

The news was worse for Northern Canada which is warming at more than three times the global average. A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications found our Arctic is the warmest it has been in 10,000 years.

This intelligence is contained in the report Canada’s Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action, a national assessment commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada of how and why Canada’s climate is changing, the impacts of these changes on our communities, environment, and economy, and how we are adapting.

“Climate change is something that disproportionately impacts my generation. We’re feeling the burden of it, so it makes sense that I would care the most. But I think it’s really difficult to get politicians and legislators to take our voices seriously, especially because they believe that we do not have any voting power.” – Lily Gardner, age 15

The day after that dire report Canada’s Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand verified that Canada is not doing enough to combat climate change.

“For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate,” she said in a statement. “This must change.”

All this information confirms that women and girls are aware of the changes global warming will bring, changes that are coming fast and will inevitably alter the way humans live their lives.

“Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe,” warn the authors of the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report.

The top three challenges listed in the report are extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires, failure to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate, and major natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

We know these things are happening somewhere in the world but we are immune to the conditions that are unprecedented in our own experience.

It is “seeing denial” rather than “blind denial”. We interpret future calamities through the eyes of what is familiar. What is unprecedented is hard to envision.

Three-quarters of the carbon dioxide humans have contributed to the atmosphere has accumulated since World War II ended, and the number of people on Earth has nearly tripled since then. So far, humans have dramatically altered the planet’s biogeochemical systems without consciously managing them.

Human impacts have killed half of the world’s vertebrate wildlife in the past forty years. Not since the dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago have extinction rates been so high, and if they persist a similarly severe mass extinction of life is inevitable within just a few human lifetimes – maybe sooner.  

“Climate change is happening, and people will die. It's not going to get easier; the reports will only become more damning and the need for action more urgent." – Rhiana Gunn-Wright

Climate change is pushing Central American migrants to the U.S., endangering half of Canada’s Chinook salmon, leading to declines of northern shrimp and snow crab off Nova Scotia, and is likely to have a severe impact on beer production, bees, chocolate, and coffee.

In his 2015 study Planetary Boundaries Must not be Crossed for the Survival of Humanity, Haradhan Mohajandiscussed the importance of nine planetary boundaries that if changed by humans will render Earth’s systems unsafe for humanity.

Mohajan found, and it was confirmed by 18 other scientists, that four of the boundaries – climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered biogeochemical cycles – have already been passed due to human activities.

The scientists estimate that within a very short time the world will face the difficulties of shortage of freshwater, change in land use, ocean acidification and interference with the global phosphorous cycle.

Big, society-shifting reforms are not achieved principally through insider bargains. No amount of bargaining will make Andrew Scheer or Doug Ford agree with Justin Trudeau’s carbon pricing plan. Similarly, Jason Kenney will never see eye-to-eye with Rachel Notley.

The reforms will depend on the inspiration and extra oomph that comes from widely diverse organizations and broad democratic mobilization.

Women and young people are building that broad popular movement to tackle climate change and counter the right wing populist climate deniers. They are using policy ideas like the Green New Deal and the Leap Manifesto to try to draw masses of ordinary citizens into the transition to a green economy.

Therein lies hope because as Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

“If you think about it, everyone is born with an equal physical ability to resist non-violently.” – Erica Chenoweth

A civil resistance campaign can be successful because it requires the active participation of just 3.5 percent of the population. That finding is reported in a study by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, co-authors of the book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.

Listen to Chenoweth’s inspiring September 2013 TED talk as she explains her conversion from thinking violence was the only way to effect change.

In Chenoweth’s study, she writes: “Although nonviolent campaigns often begin with a committed and experienced core, successful ones enlarge the diversity of participants . . . and expand the types of nonviolent actions they use.”  She found enlarged diversity of participants made many civil resistance campaigns succeed with mobilization well below 3.5 percent.

Chenoweth spent two years collecting data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government or territorial liberation between 1900 and 2006. Her results blew her away – nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies.

In addition, she found that civil resistance has become increasingly frequent and successful in the past 50 years while violent insurgencies have become increasingly rare and unsuccessful.

Her study also found that every campaign that surpassed the 3.5 percent threshold was a nonviolent one.

“In fact, campaigns that relied solely on nonviolent methods were on average four times larger than the average violent campaign,” she says in the TED talk. “And they were often much more representative in terms of gender, age, race, political party, class, and urban-rural distinctions.”

Chenoweth states that nonviolent campaigns can solicit more diverse and active participation from ambivalent people.

“And once those people get involved, it’s almost guaranteed that the movement will then have some links to security forces, the state media, business or educational elites, religious authorities, and civilian bureaucrats who start to question theirallegiances,” she said.

“To fail to be alarmed is to fail to think about the problem, and to fail to think about the problem is to relinquish all hope of its solution.” – David Wallace-Wells

The overwhelming evidence from Chenoweth’s work is that people have power.

“Now that we know what we know about the power of nonviolent conflict, I see it as our shared responsibility to spread the word so that future generations don’t fall for the myth that violence is their only way out,” she says at the conclusion of her talk.

 In Canada, 3.5 percent of the population is 1,295,000. Imagine the power that number of people could wield if they all came out on one day to non-violently protest a pipeline, to support a First Nation cause, to insist on more social justice and equality, or to demand more action from governments on climate change.

Imagine yourself standing together in solidarity with a multitude of others to hold our government accountable to the commitments that they make as a nation.

“This is literally my future and you doing nothing is a death sentence to my generation.” – Rose Strauss, age 19

Many of today’s young people participating in the school strike for climate movement(the next national strike in Canada happens on May 3) won’t even be 30 by the time the temperature of the Earth exceeds 1.5C.

Babies being born today are wondering what kind of world they are coming into.

What kind of pollution are we willing to put up into their air and their water? As every day passes, we are getting closer to having to make a choice. We are headed for a reckoning.

Women and young people are asking us to consider what kind of world are they going to live in when they are grown up and we are old and gray?

The time has come to give them our answer.

"We work to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about, reinforcing itself in a virtuous spiral. Applied hope is not about some vague, far-off future but is expressed and created moment by moment through our choices." – Amory Lovins

For more information about the changes our planet is undergoing, I highly recommend two films – Our Planet now available for viewing on Netflix and Living in the Future’s Past with Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges.

This is the third and final in a series of columns detailing the growing determination of women and young people to influence climate change policy around the world. The first was Dare to Rebel and the second was The Past is Not Prologue.

Michael Jessen is an ecowriter living at Longbeach near Nelson, BC. The former journalist, Nelson city councillor, recycling coordinator, and restaurant owner can be reached at zerowaste@shaw.ca

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