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Can Women's Voices Save the Planet?

Many of earth's most passionate defenders are female.

Key points

  • Women have emerged as important advocates for climate change.
  • President Trump and other Republicans have minimized global warming and Democrats have struggled to pass climate change legislation.
  • Democratic female members of congress have continued to push for action.

Women’s voices are having a distinct impact on the future of the planet, as polls shift towards more support for federal action on climate change. Every day brings news of catastrophic climate events: raging fires in Oregon, devastating droughts in California, and record-breaking hurricanes along the Atlantic coast. In fact, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active and the fifth costliest on record.

Although tackling climate change is a top priority of the Biden administration, the New York Times reports, “The chances of pushing climate legislation through Congress, a tall order from the beginning, now appear even more uncertain...Embedded in the president’s infrastructure proposal were billions of dollars to help pivot the country away from the fossil fuels that are generating the pollution that is heating the planet.”

The politics are so difficult that a path forward is unclear.

On the one hand, voices of financial doom dominate. Most of these voices are Republican; many are elected officials beholden financially to the fossil fuel industry. In fact, 19 of the 20 top recipients of funding from the fossil-fuel industry in 2019-2020 were Republicans; the only Democrat was Joe Biden. Of note, leader Mitch McConnell was among the largest recipients, with Trump receiving a whopping 3.7 million.

Almost all these recipients ignore the science, play down the risks and invoke fear-inducing threats about the costs and consequences of reducing our dependence on coal and oil, thought by many to be a major cause of global warming.

In a 2020 interview with Leslie Stahl for CNN, President Donald Trump predicted climate change would fix itself. “He doesn’t think climate change is a hoax, and as such he doesn’t necessarily believe that it is man-made.” Trump told Stahl, “I think something’s happening...Something’s changing and it’ll change back again. I don’t think it’s a hoax, I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this. I don’t wanna give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t wanna lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t wanna be put at a disadvantage.” Additionally, I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, in previous years, we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just have now I wouldn’t want to push in millions and put jobs at stake.”

In the midst of 2020’s devastating fires in California, Trump again declared that global warming will reverse itself and dismissed climate change as a cause of huge blazes fires engulfing the West during a meeting with local California officials. “It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he told Wade Crowfoot, the head of the California Natural Resources Agency.”

Republican officials say the plans that Democrats have devised to address climate change will decimate the economy.

Senator McConnell has been in lockstep with the Trump administration’s agenda to promote fossil fuels and relax environmental regulations. He is not alone.

These voices of doom all but drown out messengers of hope, yet those voices survive. Many are women and Democrats; none are benefactors of the fossil-fuel industry. “Besides oil and gas, the electric utilities industry is another big donor... Less generous, but even more partisan, is the mining industry.”

The Democratic play book is strikingly different. It is rooted in science, stresses the urgency of the climate situation, and focuses on passing legislation to combat “human-driven global warming.” Elizabeth Warren is one such prominent voice. She challenges “the Republicans' argument that boldly addressing climate change and having the world's strongest economy are incompatible. I believe that the exact opposite of that is true. Tackling our climate challenges will provide us with the opportunity to grow our economy, protect public health, and propel the United States to become the world leader in green innovation in the 21st century.”

No wonder we are at a stalemate. The partisan divide among lawmakers allows little negotiating room. While media attention is focused on the two partisan positions, a third position is now emerging that is non-partisan, based on science, independent of the fossil-fuel industry, and widely popular with large numbers of Americans and people worldwide. Its most prominent spokesperson is Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swedish teenager.

Thunberg is outspoken about the need to take immediate action to deal with the climate. “She has taken her message to the halls of power across the globe. We hear her thundering out: How dare you! in her 2019 emotional speech to the UN and world leaders.”

Thunberg “has become the most compelling voice on the most important issue facing the planet.” She is “the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Hong Kong to the halls of Congress in Washington.”

Her directness, passion, and “piercing outrage,” combines hope and fear. As Time Magazine put it, “This is not fearmongering; this is science. For decades, researchers and activists have struggled to get world leaders to take the climate threat seriously. Now Thunberg is taking up the cause.”

Talking to world leaders, she said: “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Greta was named Time Magazine’s person of the year in 2019.

Polls show that Thunberg’s message resonates with most Americans. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center poll, “65% of Americans see too little federal action on climate change, and back a range of policies to reduce its effects.”

She “led millions of people from all around the world in a global climate strike to demand change.” Organizers reported that more than 4 million people of all ages participated in the strikes worldwide, “making it the largest climate demonstration in human history.”

Margaret Atwood, prize-winning Canadian novelist and environmental activist, calls Greta Thunberg the Joan of Arc of environmentalism. St. Joan is a national heroine of France, who by the age of 13, knew that her destiny was to drive the English invaders from France. By 17, with no military training, she led the French army in a victory that repulsed an English attempt to conquer France. In so doing, she restored the integrity of France for the future.

Captured a year later, Joan was burned at the stake as a heretic by the English and their French collaborators. She was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint more than 500 years later, on May 16, 1920.

Thunberg is also a courageous teen, fighting not just for a nation, but for the future of the planet for generations to come.

In a stirring speech to world leaders at the United Nations, she cried out, “How dare you...You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Let us all hope that her words will be heeded, as the climate crisis continues to escalate before our eyes as we head to 2022.