- Hana Sakr
Female Scientists and Activists are Saving the World
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
2020 has been an extremely memorable year for women in the United States. It marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees a woman’s constitutional right to vote. It is also the first year a woman, specifically a woman of color, has become the Vice President. But specifically for women fighting against climate change, the last few years have highlighted their significant role in the movement, and how vital it is to have more women in positions of power if we are going to save our planet.
It is undeniable that women have faced discrimination from the scientific community. For centuries they have been under-represented and have had to face barriers that prevent them from receiving any success or recognition. And sadly, female scientists are still much less likely to achieve high-ranking positions in their fields. The latest report from the US National Science Foundation shows that women have only 20 percent of physics and engineering PhDs, and they occupy less than ¼ of senior faculty positions in science and engineering. Unfortunately, women of color are even more likely to be overlooked, especially indigenous women and women from the global South, because of a legacy of discrimination and lack of educational opportunities.
However, women have an overwhelming role in the fight against climate change. According to the Time article 15 Women Leading the Fight Against Climate Change, “In many parts of the world, women hold traditional roles as the primary caregivers in families and communities, and, as the main providers of food and fuel, are more vulnerable when flooding and drought occur; the U.N. estimates 80% of those who have been displaced by climate change are women.” This unfortunate reality gives women in science an opportunity to become agents of change and have their voices heard. From the front lines of the climate change battle, they will be able to “mitigate the causes of global warming and adapt to its impacts on the ground.” The Paris Agreement recognized this opportunity, and outlined a specific goal to include more women in decision-making. The United Nations agreed this plan was “imperative,” and the Population Reference Bureau called it “critical.”
Now, for the first time, women in science are not only sharing the platform with their male colleagues to be acknowledged for their work. They are actually able to lead those platforms, and in doing so, inspire other women to do the same.
Here is a list of six influential women who have dedicated their lives and careers to saving the world.
WOMEN IN CLIMATE SCIENCE
Kate Marvel is an associate research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University. In 2013, when she was a postdoctoral researcher with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, she discovered the ways in which human activity impacts rainfall, and she gave a Ted Talk in 2017 about how clouds impact global weather patterns. Recently her studies on climate models and tree rings led to her discovery of how global warming has affected drought since 1900. She continues to cut through misinformation about climate change in podcasts and writes regularly in her column of Scientific American,“Hot Planet.” In 2019 she was listed as one of 15 Women Leading The Fight Against Climate Change by Time magazine
Inez Fung is a Chinese professor of atmospheric science at the University of California, Berkeley who has been studying climate science for over 30 years. She is the co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment, a member of The National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow in the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. Fung studies interactions between climate change and biogeochemical cycles and models climate co-evolution with atmospheric CO2. She has co-authored The Third and Fourth Assessment Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some of the most influential climate reports in the field, among others.
Miranda Wang is the 25-year old CEO and co-founder of BioCollection, a company that takes the natural compounds and carbons found in commonly used, unrecyclable plastics to create biodegradable, reusable materials using chemical technology. The company works together with waste management facilities to help solve the plastic crisis. Wang says she was inspired by a High School field trip to a waste-management facility. She was so shocked about how much plastic waste there was that she decided to pursue degrees in engineering entrepreneurship and cell and molecular biology. She was named one of 15 Women Leading the Fight Against Climate Change by Time magazine and in 2018 she was honored as United Nations Young Champion of the Earth.
FEMALE CLIMATE/ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS
Wangari Maathai was considered one of the most important Kenyan social, environmental and political activists. She was the first woman in Kenya to receive a Doctor of Philosophy (she received her PhD from the University of Nairobi in Kenya.) In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, a non-governmental organization dedicated to reforesting Africa and empowering women. In 1984 she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, and was then elected a member of parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources. In 2004, she was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She died of ovarian cancer in 2011, when she was 71 years old.
Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and advocate for sustainable development. She is the Director General of India’s Centre for Science and Environment and the director of the Society for Environmental Communications. She is also the publisher of a bi-monthly magazine, Down to Earth, where she focuses on the connection between climate change and social classes. She appeared in the documentary Before the Flood, talking about the effect of a monsoon on Indian farmers. Between 2004 and 2016, she received over five awards, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
Katharine Wilkinson is a writer, teacher, strategist, and public speaker who has been passionate about the environment ever since High School. In 2012 she wrote a book called Between God and Green about the relationship between religion and the environment. She is the Vice President of Project Drawdown, which is attempting to make this plan into a reality, and in 2017 she was the primary author of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. If you want to learn more, check out another book she co-edited, All We Can Save- a collection of essays and poems by women scientists, activists, organizers, artists, lawyers etc about climate justice. Wilkinson recently co-hosted the Feminist Climate Renaissance, an outdoor retreat in which she said “The climate crisis is also a leadership crisis, and many women and young girls are stepping in to fill that void and lead us forward…”
Breland, K. (n.d.). 12 women and girls of color leading the charge in climate science and activism. Earth Day. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.earthday.org/12-women-and-girls-leading-the-charge-in-climate-science-and-activism/#:~:text=%2012%20women%20and%20girls%20of%20color%20leading,Armed%20with%20a%20Ph.D.%20from%20MIT%2C...%20More%20
[Kate Marvel smiling while sitting on steps outdoors]. (n.d.). Kate Marvel. http://www.marvelclimate.com/
Prof Inez Fung [Photograph]. (n.d.). LUI Che Woo Prize. https://www.kkwilkinson.com/photos.html
Staff, T. (2019). Meet 15 Women Leading the Fight Against Climate Change. TIME. https://time.com/5669038/women-climate-change-leaders/
Wilkinson, K. K. (n.d.). [Katharine K. Wilkinson standing in her home with her arms crossed.]. Katharine K. Wilkinson. https://www.kkwilkinson.com/photos.html
Women in climate change. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_climate_change