EarthxWomen brought together youth climate leaders, creative activists, and seasoned advocates in a series of online discussions for Earthx2020. The virtual conference, held in partnership with the National Geographic Society, commemorated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic was also high on the agenda during this year’s Women in the Environment summit.
Panelists drew parallels between the current health crisis and the climate change emergency, and discussed how communities and leaders can learn from the pandemic.
“If the industry knows how to shift from building a car to building a ventilator, they can also shift from building a power plant to renewable energy,” said Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, founder of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad. “And if the government knows how to take decisions to inject billions into the economy, they can inject these billions to Sustainable Development Goals.” Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the importance of collective action in solving global problems and the need to uphold scientific evidence. “Science matters. We listen to the health experts and we believe them. We need to listen to the climate experts and believe them,” she said.
Indigenous knowledge should help guide decisions both after today’s “Great Pause” and for building climate resilience. “We are realizing that the Earth is healing in the absence of our presence,” said Lyla June, an environmental scientist and musician of Diné (Navajo) and Cheyenne lineages. “But a lot of indigenous peoples created a way of interacting with the land that was so good that, if we were to leave, the Earth would actually miss us.” Tara Houska, who is Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe and founder of the Giniw Collective, noted a return to mutual aid. “For Indian Country and our sustainability, and for all of us, it’s strengthening our local governance systems, our relationships with each other, our relationships to the Earth, and looking horizontally, instead of always vertically, for our liberation,” she said.
In conversations with long-time activists, including Jane Fonda, youth climate leaders discussed how their movement is evolving. Xiye Bastida, a climate activist and member of the Mexican Otomi-Tolmec Nation, said she hopes to grow the narrative beyond blaming fossil fuel companies and adults to foster more collaboration. “We started the movement saying, ‘You are stealing our future.’ That’s what got people’s attention,” said Bastida, who is a leader of the Fridays for Future climate strike campaign. “Now that we have the world’s attention…we need to reimagine what the future will actually look like so we can get there.”
Creative activism can help develop such visions, artists and storytellers explained. The renowned playwright V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, read her letter “Losing the Birds,” which laments the loss of 2.9 billion birds in North America and ends with a pledge to protect Mother Earth. Erika Woolsey, a marine biologist and CEO of The Hydrous, said she uses virtual reality to “bring the ocean to everybody” and encourage empathy. Megha Agrawal Sood and Jess Search, co-founders of Climate Story Lab, shared how they’re working with women, girls, indigenous communities, and people of color — groups on the frontlines of the climate emergency — to transform the climate documentary genre. Agrawal Sood called for moving beyond well-worn messages of fear and hope to those of “ferocious love, inclusivity, and positivity.”
EarthxWomen also featured climate scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Maureen Raymo took viewers inside a vast archive of deep-sea core samples, which document the Earth’s climate history. Chia-Ying Lee discussed her research on hurricanes and their connection to the changing climate. Galen McKinley described her work to understand how oceans absorb carbon dioxide, and how CO2 affects marine ecosystems. She encouraged young people to consider careers in science. “One of the ways you can help to promote a cleaner planet would be to...join us in creating these studies and lead the next generation,” she said.
Sylvia Earle, the esteemed marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer in Residence, spoke about the threat of deep-sea mining. Over half the Earth’s surface is deep international water, and companies are eager to dig for rare-earth minerals to make consumer electronics, batteries, and other devices. In July, the International Seabed Authority is set to vote on a Mining Code to facilitate such practices. Earle and Vasser Seydel, campaign director for the Oxygen Project, urged the audience to call for a 10-year moratorium on any decision-making.
“We can continue doing what we’ve been doing: taking, taking, taking from the natural world,” Earle said. “Or, we have the moment in time right now to move in a different direction.”
“What we do to take care of the planet means what we’re doing to take care of ourselves,” she added.
Written by: Maria Gallucci