Why Women Leading the Climate Movement Are Underappreciated and Sometimes Invisible
The American scientist Eunice Newton Foote theorized in 1856 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could produce global warming three years before similar work by the Irish physicist John Tyndall, whose research on warming is often cited as the beginning of climate science.
Foote was also an early women’s rights campaigner, signing the 1848 Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments,” a manifesto produced during the nation’s first women’s rights convention.
She is, thus, a fitting historic figure for Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson to cite in opening their new book, “All We Can Save,” an anthology of essays, poetry and original illustrations on climate change by a diverse range of women, to be published Sept. 22.
“Foote arrived at her breakthrough idea through experimentation,” the co-editors write. “With an air pump, two glass cylinders, and four thermometers, she tested the impact of ‘carbonic acid gas’ (the term for carbon dioxide in her day) against ‘common air’… From a simple experiment, she drew a profound conclusion: ‘An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature…'”
Among 41 contributors to the book is Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University who is now working with other scholars to ensure that Foote receives the credit and recognition she deserves.
Other contributors include Jacqui Patterson, senior director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program; U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo; writer Alice Walker; Jainey K. Bavishi, director of the New York Mayor’s Office of Resiliency; Christine E. Nieves Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Emerge Puerto Rico, and Tara Houska-Zhaabowekwe, an attorney, environmental and indigenous rights advocate and founder of the Giniw Collective.
“The climate crisis is not gender neutral,” Johnson and Wilkinson write in the book’s preface. “Climate change is a powerful ‘threat multiplier,’ making existing vulnerabilities and injustices worse. Especially under conditions of poverty, women and girls face greater risk of displacement or death from extreme weather disasters.”
Johnson, a Brooklyn native and marine biologist who is CEO of the Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm, and Wilkinson, an author and teacher from Atlanta who is the editor-in-chief at Project Drawdown, a climate nonprofit, originally conceived of the book at about 65,000 words. It has ballooned to about 130,000 words, with 41 essays and 16 poems, selected quotes and artwork.
In a recent interview, Johnson and Wilkinson spoke about their book process, how climate fits into a national reckoning over systemic racism, electoral politics and the Covid-19 pandemic.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Where did the inspiration for your book originate, and how did you two come together to co-edit it?
Wilkinson: The inspiration for this book came from the women who are in it. Ayana and I were in Aspen together for a conference and [felt] a bit of frustration about how much the public discourse on climate is still dominated by primarily older white male voices, and how many brilliant innovative, hardworking, committed women are not getting the megaphone. We went on what Ayana has now deemed a “rage hike” in Aspen, really putting our heads together on, “How can we get women in climate the attention and resources they need to really be able to have the change that they’re capable of making?”
Johnson: We knew that these women who were leading climate work were out there. They just weren’t visible. They weren’t household names, and because of that, they weren’t getting the resources or support they needed.
And we know that a lot of the way that people become considered as thought leaders is through writing books, and there haven’t been nearly enough best-sellers on climate. But we knew that a lot of these women were not going to stop doing their work to write a book about their work—which is actually fine, because we want them doing the work—and so in lieu of that, we thought we could bring the book to them and use it as an opportunity to shine this spotlight on dozens of women climate leaders at once, and show the chorus and the mosaic of voices that is needed in this moment.
Source: Inside Climate News