Female environmentalists paving the way for a better, greener world

A trail runs through a forest.
Kevin Reber/File

John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt.

If you’re obtaining an environmental degree, read environmental literature or just really enjoy spending your time in natural places, you’e definitely come across these names before. These are the names that we associate with the natural world. These are the names of the men who have shaped today’s environmental sciences, opened today’s national parks and advocated for the places we are lucky enough to visit, study and enjoy.

You have heard of John Muir and how his advocacy protected the very park you hope to work in one day. You have heard of Aldo Leopold and his studies on ecosystems and wildlife management. And of course, you have heard of Teddy Roosevelt, the man who made the land you love safe under federal law.

These are the men that shaped the environmental world for outdoorsmen, activists and environmentalists alike. These are the men who fought for the public access of the places some of us share our fondest memories in. These are the men who advocated for the conservation of the places we live in and for the places we hope to one day visit. These men’s efforts have granted us the opportunity to continue exploring the natural beauty that surrounds us.

These achievements are worth honoring, but why are they the only achievements we ever honor? What about the people whose names are not repeated in every environmental class and carved into every historical plaque? What about the women who have done just as much, if not more, for the natural world that we all share? What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than by acknowledging the women whose names aren’t as well-known? And what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than by acknowledging their achievements in environmental advocacy, literature and science?

Take Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist who led the Green Belt Movement, which encouraged women to help restore the natural areas surrounding dried-up streams. By planting seedlings along the waterways, these women were able to sustain their food and water supply for monetary value. Maathai combined both her passion for solving environmental issues and gender inequality, dedicating her life to studying how the two are interrelated. And, in 2004, she was rewarded for this very effort, winning a Nobel Peace Prize for her achievements in environmental and political activism.

Or, we could learn about Vandana Shiva, an Indian scientist and activist, who is the founder of Navdanya, an environmental movement that promotes small farmers and organic farms. She is also a critic on genetic engineering of agricultural systems and has helped lead grassroot organizations across the globe for this very effort. Vandana is an outspoken environmental feminist who advocates for female engagement in local agricultural systems.

We can also learn about Rachel Carson, most famous for her book “Silent Spring” which led to a major shift in the global environmental movement. Carson, both a biologist and a writer, warned against the dangers of chemical use in the natural world, making environmental issues human issues. Her findings revealed that certain chemicals posed a serious threat to the future of both our survival and the survival of our ecosystems. This has opened up the conversation of environmental consciousness for generations since the book’s publication. 

Finally, we can learn about Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader. Berta Cáceres co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, an organization that defends the environment and the indigenous Lenca people. Berta is also famous for her protest against the construction of dams on native land, concerned that these structures would limit the Lenca people’s access to food, water and medicine.

These are just some of the names of the women who have dedicated their lives to environmental activism. These are the names of women who have shaped modern-day environmentalism and who have given their lives so that others can visit, study and enjoy the natural world around them. These are the names of women who don’t get the same recognition as names like John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Teddy Roosevelt. On International Women’s Day and from now on, why not add few more names to the list?

Contact Emily Denny at [email protected].