Is environmentalism a feminist issue? Well, it’s hard to argue with the fact that climate change disproportionately affects poor women and children, especially in the Global South. Also, pollution and a lack of clean drinking water and sanitation services are daily issues women must combat. And that’s just a start of an answer to the question.
So Earth Day is a perfect excuse to highlight two new books from Conari Press that offer inspiring examples of women’s environmental advocacy–and the sort of everyday activism we can all aspire to. Both showcase women’s impressive work in conservation, green jobs, anti-deforestation activism, urban gardening and pesticide education.
In The Next Eco Warriors, Greenpeace scion Emily Hunter compiles the engaging stories of 22 young people trying to save the planet. Tanya Fields, a guerrilla farming advocate in New York City, is profiled alongside David Nickarz, a cancer survivor in Canada on a mission to eradicate dangerous pesticides. Australian performance artist Allana Beltran sits in trees in an ancient Tasmanian forest, dressed as a fairy. And, following devastating earthquakes and a tsunami scare in Fiji in 2009, Subhashni Raj began working as a speaker for 350.org, Bill McKibben’s international environmental awareness organization.
Though you probably haven’t heard of many of these courageous young people, you’re likely to be moved by their passion and commitment. Each has employed creative tactics to curb climate change and combat the ferocious, inextricable mix of environmental destruction and poverty.
The book’s title is complicated, however. Do we really want to be self-labeled “warriors” instead of advocates for peace, especially when environmental justice is concerned? After all, Greenpeace was founded on peaceful values and continues to be successful because of its commitment to anti-violence. The stories are an inspiring mix of personal struggle and collective activism, but I worry that the message could be ignored by both peace-driven activists and outsiders who think environmentalists are nothing more than what the FBI has dubbed “eco-terrorists.” Given that editor Emily Hunter is the daughter of two Greenpeace co-founders, it seems she might have picked a more inclusive, less sensationalized title—assuming she had any control over it.
Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Like A Tree: How Trees, Women, and Tree People Can Save the Planet takes a more spiritual, traditional ecofeminist approach to environmental activism and the women engaged in it. Lamenting the loss of a beautiful, enormous Monterey pine that was cut down in her neighborhood while she was attending a U.N. meeting on the status of women, Bolen decided to tell the story of “tree people”– represented by Greenpeace’s Kleercut campaign, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement and individual activists such as Julia Butterfly Hill, Hilary Huntley and Linda Milks.
Like A Tree is a celebration of physical trees, both as ancient sacred symbols and life-giving forces, and of the ways in which the natural world enriches our lives. A book about why women and girls are strong, soulful and wise like trees may not be light weekend reading, but alongside Hunter’s book it can likely excite environmentalist newbies to keep up the good work of protecting the natural world.