This morning I attended a panel discussion sponsored by The Women's Media Center and the TckTckTck campaign, held in honor of Climate Week and the fast approaching UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.
Women's Media Center President Carol Jenkins hosted the panel, entitled "Global Women Taking Action on Climate Change," and introduced a group of eight women who were forced to take action in their local communities when natural disaster hit.
For those of us who follow the news and watch the developments of both national and international climate change legislation, it is no surprise to hear stories of floods, droughts, melting ice and other disasters that are starting to pop up with increasing frequency. I can't say I was shocked by any of the stories I heard today. However, it was undeniably powerful to hear the same basic story repeated by women hailing from lands as far apart as the Arctic Circle, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Pacific Islands and the Bronx, to name a few. Rising waters, melting ice, dry lands, high winds -- these are all threats that can no longer be relegated to an isolated "fluke," or just a problem that "they" have. The panel served not only as a rallying cry for grassroots work to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but also a wake-up call that significant action in the US congress and Copenhagen is crucial.
Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, began the morning's comments by connecting the environmental issues of pollution and climate change to human rights issues. Carter was followed by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist who traveled by dog sled for the first ten years of her life -- living in a world completely foreign to Carter's in the Bronx, yet sadly comparable in its sense of environmental disenfranchisement. "This is much more than about melting ice," she said. "This is about families and children."
Ursula Rakova of the Carteret Islands began her comments with this statement: "Once upon a time my island was a tropical paradise. It is a tropical paradise no more." Sharon Hanshaw of Biloxi, Miss. spoke of the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which left her not only homeless but helpless, when her own government seemed not to be listening. But she soon realized she was not helpless, and co-founded the group Coastal Women for Change.
The rallying cry of the morning was simultaneously inspiring and sad; the panelists have all fearlessly taken the climate crisis into their own hands and voices, yet at the same time it is difficult not to wonder why they have to. Individuals create change, but good governmental leadership can make those changes infinitely easier. Ritt Bjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, spoke about the climate conference that is soon to take place in her city. "Kyoto wasn't what we hoped for, so we need all the pressure we can get," she said. The crowd applauded, and we can only hope that sentiment is shared by UN leaders in December.