Women and Climate Change: Victims and Activists

Climate Change is human-driven but not created equally among Nations. Nor does it affect people equitably: the effects are most felt by those nations that participated least in the consumerism and addiction to fossil fuels that has driven Climate Change. Across the world, women and children in poverty suffer most from drought, flooding, unpredictable and extreme weather patterns, rising oceans, food and water shortages, poor nutrition, disease, abuse, loss of jobs, and displacement; they are most likely to become Climate Refugees.

Women and children in poverty suffer the most precisely because their basic rights continue to be denied in various ways. Women with children have less physical and economic mobility. In addition, the effects of Climate Change and other disadvantages are additive. Examples include:

  1. An already high incidence of asthma and cancer caused by pollution near refineries is exacerbated when flooding or fire at the refinery occurs;
  2. Housing policies, limited investment in green space and tree cover in poor inner city communities have resulted in “islands” of extra-high temperatures compared to nearby leafier suburbs (up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer documented in the US).
  3. It is estimated that 80% of Climate Refugees are women and children.


History of Feminism and Environmental Action

Human “progress” had been seen in opposition to the preservation of nature when the first calls came from women. Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson and the Green Belt Movement (1977) of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai are prominent examples. In the 1970s the term Ecofeminism was coined to express the parallel between the oppression of subordinate groups (women, people of color, the poor) and the exploitation of nature. This movement rejected aggressive resource extraction which prevents the earth from regenerating. See current thought on shifting the narrative can be found here.  Charlene Spretnick’s many publications include discussions of spirituality, nature-based religions, and environmentalism (for example, Green Politics, 1984). Her work focused on women’s perceptions of “inter-relatedness”, and called for the end of the use of fossil natural resources. She advocated building new green jobs including high-quality jobs in childcare, residential care and home health care. This work provided the underpinnings of the currently proposed Green New Deal in the US. To learn more, check out “Understanding Policy Intersections” .

A highly creative book, All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Marine Biologist, Ayana Johnson, and American writer Katharine Wilkinson, is “characteristically feminine…and feminist…compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration”. An anthology of writings by 60 women, it includes art, poetry and ideas, as well as programs to change the whole dynamic of the Climate Change discussion. The project website is https://www.allwecansave.earth.

Full participation and leadership by those most affected by Climate Change is essential to addressing local, national, and global disparities and injustices. And when people of color, women, and youth are included, those most affected have a say in the massive amount of creative work to be done. Youth like Greta Thunberg have already demonstrated their immense dedication and creativity in addressing this issue.

EUUC’s Actions for Climate Justice

The EUUC Mission Statement includes “Living our vision of a just and sustainable world”. Our Social Justice Program includes multiple efforts to support that vision.

Guided by the Peace and Justice Committee, EUUC has taken a “stand” on Global Warming and Climate Justice and signed on to support Youth and supporters in their request to the US Department of Justice for Youth to be included in the discussion (and heard in the courts) regarding a future safe environment

EUUC’s Advocates for Women are committed to fostering the full inclusion of women in the work to heal our planet and to reduce vulnerability of women and families to Climate Change.  Watch for educational programs, plate offerings and fund-raising designed to lift women through attention to the intersecting issues of equal rights, gender-based violence, economic and social disparity, and reproductive and health justice.

The annual Lobby Room provides a way for EUUC friends and members to make a difference in Washington State by contacting our legislators about specific topics and bills regarding climate change, women and families, and racial justice.


Article by Mary Ann Kirkpatrick