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Earth Island Reports

Climate Wise Women

Speaking Truth to Power

At a United Nations breakfast event in New York City in September 2009, four women – a peasant farmer, a former hairdresser, a journalist, and a social administration expert – came together with former heads of state and Nobel Prize winners to speak about the daily effects of climate change on their lives and on their communities.

The guests at the UN Summit on Climate Change were awed by the power of these women’s tales. Many lingered in the room for over an hour after the event to learn more about the realities of climate change.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, chair of the meeting, summed up the power of these women’s narratives: “When we focus on the human dimension of climate change, we see the effects of the problem differently and we then approach the solutions differently. Giving voice to the experiences of these women, allowing them to bear witness to their experiences, can influence policy outcomes and instruments of adaptation.”

Inspired by the sense of possibility created on that September morning, Ulamila Kurai Wragg of Rarotonga, Cook islands, Ursula Rakova from the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea, Constance Okollet of Uganda, and Sharon Hanshaw of Biloxi, Mississippi set out to take their stories around the globe. Their goal: to connect the dots between local and global climate change-related impacts and, ultimately, to wield women’s time-honored approach of kitchen-table activism as a catalyst toward a sustainable future.

Thus was born the Earth Island Project, Climate Wise Women.

At first glance they may seem an unlikely quartet. Wragg is a former journalist-activist and now a government climate negotiator. Rakova is a social administration expert and leader of her island’s climate refugees. Okollet is a farmer who organizes women around issues of agriculture, community health, and education. Hanshaw became a community leader after her home and her beauty salon were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. While connected by the broad issues of climate change and sustainable development, each woman faced different challenges – whether it was sea-level rise, extreme weather events, famine, health crises, poverty, or natural resource despoliation. In New York they found a common voice. As Wragg wrote in the Huffington Post: “New York taught me that to be seen is to be heard.”

During the past two and a half years the Climate Wise Women have spoken at universities and international conferences, and at UN climate change conferences in Denmark, Cancún, and Durban. They have received global recognition for highlighting the urgency of grassroots women’s leadership on climate change.

As a pile of reports have reiterated, it is women, especially in poorer nations, who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. Yet while there are countless stories of women around the world who find commonsense strategies for improving the lives of their families and their communities, it is rare to hear first-person accounts from these women or see them in positions of leadership. The Climate Wise Women intends to make sure these women are heard and seen on international platforms.

In June, Wragg, Okollet, Hanshaw, and a new Climate Wise Woman, Ngozi Onuzo, a geologist from Nigeria, traveled to Rio to speak about climate adaptation and mitigation at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

“Green space, and women’s equality – they go hand in hand. We know it; now we want our leaders and negotiators to know it. We are leaders too; we deserve a legitimate place at the decision-making table,” Hanshaw said at the People’s Summit, the Rio+20 counter-conference organized by civil society groups in Flamengo Park.

Okollet addressed the concerns of family farmers. “Climate change is gambling with agriculture, our main source of food and income, and causing spread of diseases like cholera and malaria,” she said.

Despite the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate women’s leadership, the results of the Rio+20 were dismal – and women fared particularly badly. The official Rio+20 declaration, titled “The Future We Want,” omitted language on the reproductive rights of half of the world’s population.

The Climate Wise Women left Rio committed to continue sharpening their influence and finding new venues for their message of women’s empowerment as an essential pillar for global sustainability. As Wragg said at the People’s Summit: “There are many like me with unheard voices. Their views are important to how we govern and treat our natural resources.”


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The fastest mitigation to climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 and takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act!

“As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: and

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~ Albert Einstein

By JC on Tue, September 04, 2012 at 5:04 pm

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