…Seltzer’s colleagues were more knowledgeable than your average gaggle of tourists. The travelers on her trip were all scientists, and several of them focus specifically on climate change. What’s more, her 75 companions on the three-week trip were all women, bound together on the largest-ever, all-female expedition to Antarctica. The trip was the focal point of a year-long leadership development program called Homeward Bound, which aims to groom 1,000 women with science backgrounds over the next ten years to influence public policy and dialogue.
While women made up more than 50 percent of the US workforce in 2016, they represented only 24 percent of workers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Representation in public policy is even worse: Women hold less than 23 percent of parliamentary positions worldwide, and less than 20 percent of Congress is female. The founder of Homeward Bound told Reuters that inspiration came from the trip from hearing two scientists joke that a beard was a requirement to land an Antarctic research leadership role.
Steltzer echoed similar experiences. “At one point in time, women were present in equal measures to myself at a peer level,” she said. “But now that I’m in my early 40s, an associate professor, in many environments I’m in there are fewer women. There are ways we can do better.”
For Anne Christianson, a younger Homeward Bounder, the trip took on special importance for her work. Christianson is completing a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, and her dissertation focuses on how climate change disproportionately affects women in developing countries. She points out that, while it was easy to see the consequences of climate change watching glaciers in Antarctica, it’s important to keep in mind how climate change threatens women around the globe.
“We have these cascading impacts [of climate change] on women that simply aren’t seen in men,” Christianson said. “Women generally don’t have enough capital to build our own resilience to climate change.”
For Westerners, it’s easy to see climate change as a threat to poor and rural women in distant, impoverished countries. But climate change isn’t just melting glaciers in Antarctica and flooding cities in Bangladesh. It’s already imperiling women within the United States, and the threat is getting more dire. Over 83 percent of poor single mothers in New Orleans were displaced in the post-Hurricane Katrina housing crisis — a statistic that bodes ominously for future climate disasters.
“We’ve already had our own climate refugees in the Gulf and in Alaska,” Christianson said. “The majority of people in poverty in this country are women who will be less able to adapt to what’s coming with climate change. Having more resources allows you to move away from sea-level rise and heat waves, to switch jobs, to find alternate sources of food and fuel.”
Even for progressives in the United States, the link between climate and gender can be hard to grasp. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) attempted to start a conversation on the issue in 2015 in by proposing a resolution to recognize “the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change.” The bill moved nowhere fast in Congress and became a target for right-wing media, as outlets like Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and Fox News mocked a line in the bill that linked climate-induced food insecurity to prostitution.
Both Christianson and Steltzer say the female perspective in science is more important now than ever.
“There is a certain understanding that women scientists have of how hard it is to be heard, and right now all scientists are understanding what women scientists have experienced,” Christianson said.
“We’ve been in this state before, but a lot of our male colleagues haven’t,” Christianson said. “Because we’ve had to fight so hard for our personal rights, now that we’re trying to make our voices heard in our field of interests, and now that men are joining us for the first time, really, we can have more of a leadership role in how to make our voices heard.”
According to Hayhoe, that’s already happening. Female leadership in climate at the international level as playing a role in shifting the climate conversation.
Excellent reading, highly recommended. Full story here.
More good reading: Women are leading the way in HIV research.