Combatting Climate Change? That’s “Women’s Work”

There’s no doubt the earth’s climate is changing. As temperatures rise, climate patterns alter and extreme weather events occur with different and often greater frequency. Short-term effects such as drought, flooding, erosion, increasing numbers and intensity of natural disasters, and steadily rising sea levels are changing life as we know it for people all over the world. These short-term effects in turn stimulate lasting, long-term impacts on fundamentals like food and energy security, and health, safety and wellbeing. These negative impacts hit women first and worst, revealing that climate disruption isn’t gender neutral.

With livelihoods often depending on the procurement and use of natural resources for day-to-day living like food, water, and fuel, the world’s poorest are most vulnerable and least likely to recover quickly, or at all, from short- and long-term impacts of climate disruption. Composing 70 percent of the world’s one billion poorest people, women are affected most directly and negatively from climate disruption. In fact, when extreme weather hits, women are 14 times more likely to die than men.

This isn’t just an issue overseas. Climate disruption is hurting women here in the United States, too. After Hurricane Katrina, a storm fueled by climate disruption, hit New Orleans in 2005, 80 percent of those left behind in the Lower Ninth Ward were women.

But women are more than victims of climate disruption, they’re changemakers.

When more women are involved in the decision-making process, their perspectives are likely to promote improvements in energy access as well as innovative ways to combat climate change. Companies with more women on their board are more likely to proactively invest in renewable power generation, and the number of women serving in a country’s parliament can determine whether that country reduces greenhouse gas emissions. If women were to play an equal role in clean energy across the globe, the rate of clean energy use could accelerate rapidly.

Across the globe, the renewable energy sector is growing at an amazing rate. More than 8.1 million people worldwide are now employed by the renewable energy industry, up five percent from last year. But the energy sector itself is currently among the most gender-imbalanced industries. In the energy industry as a whole, according to a report by Sustain Labor, women make up just six percent of technical staff, four percent of decision-making positions, and a mere one percent of top management. While more women are included in the clean energy field, making up 20 to 25 percent of workers in industrialized countries, the majority of these women are in administrative and public relations positions, rather than playing a technical or decision-making role.

Girls and boys express the same level of interest in STEM careers (those related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and achieve an equal level of success through secondary education, but a major barrier for girls and women is the lack of visible role models and mentorship in the STEM and renewable energy industry.

By college, this interest decreases in young women. A national report on college freshmen major interests shows that on average, 20 percent of young women intend to major in a STEM field, compared to 50 percent of young men. While these numbers increase for young men over time, from 45 percent to 56 percent, they do not increase for young women. Additionally, a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce found that only 26 percent of women with a STEM college degree have entered a STEM career.

Fortunately, women like Lynn Jurich, the CEO of Sunrun, a solar energy provider for residents across the country, are breaking ground in the clean energy sector, helping to both proliferate the industry’s success and draw attention to the importance of women playing an active role, or roles, in the field. Sierra Magazine recently profiled Jurich and other clean energy pioneers, a third of whom are women. Joining Jurich are women like Dr. Caitlin Powers, an eco-engineer who started a own solar stove company to provide stoves powered by the sun to women without access to electricity in the Himalayas.

But Jurich and Powers are still an anomaly in the clean energy industry, not the norm. To accelerate into the clean energy economy and lessen the impacts of climate disruption on those who feel it most, the norm needs to change.


A. Tianna Scozzaro is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Gender, Equity & Environment Program, where she works to ensure climate and environment policies support women and LGBTQ communities. Previously, she worked on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, conducted research about women's environmental stewardship in Congress and served as a public policy fellow for the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  She holds an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia and an undergraduate degree from UC Davis.