Stories shared by young women / young trans and non-binary folks / young feminists for climate and environmental justice based in Europe and North America. We are diverse, but often encounter similar challenges. Our vision for the future is one of determination and hope.
Sam Klein | California / Hong Kong
Credit: Katherine Walsh
“You aren’t one of those tree huggers are you?” an elderly American man asks. I am standing in the ticketing area of a movie theater with my research group. My boss is explaining to a man who just butted into our conversation that he studies ecology. “What do the rest of you do?” The man directs this question towards the woman in the group. My other boss is a young woman who is a recipient of a National Geographic grant to study bat diversity in Thailand. It is her grant that keeps our research group running.
She chooses not to respond. Instead she looks the other way, sensing that this conversation is moving in disappointing direction. I along with the other intern stay silent, making it obvious with our body language that we do not want to continue talking. “This is why I am worried about the younger generation, they don’t seem to have any drive.” the man chuckles, looking to my male boss for camaraderie. I’m angry knowing that this stranger is judging me. He thinks that our silence means we are unmotivated, useless members of society. I could have explained to him that I am studying biodiversity loss in fragmented habitat and spent the last four years getting a degree in environmental science. Or I could have told him about my work to ban dangerous methods of oil and gas extraction in California, collaborating with other young people fighting for a future without the use of fossil fuels, to fix a problem his generation exacerbated.
But if I told him all of this, he probably would just call me a damn tree hugger. He reminds me of all the people that have assumed I don’t know what I am talking about based on my age and gender and disparaged the movement I am a part of.
He reminds me of Mark Nechodom, the former director of the California Department of Conservation, who was speaking on a panel on Agriculture and Fracking at my university in 2014. When I asked him about excess methane release from fuel extraction contributing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, he answered, saying that I was confused and that it doesn’t happen in California, only on the East Coast. Throughout his talk he continued to assert that fracking, hydraulic fracturing, a method of blasting water and solvents into the earth, does not cause harm to agriculture and the environment.
I felt humiliated, brushed aside, and worse, I felt sick knowing that this was the man in charge of preventing the fossil fuel industry from damaging California’s environment and endangering people. In 2015, a gas storage facility in Porter Ranch outside Los Angeles had the largest human caused methane leak in US history, leading to evacuations of nearby residents and a release of 97,100 tonnes of methane into the atmosphere. In June 2015, Nechodom resigned after it was discovered that his agency allowed fossil fuel companies to inject thousands of gallons of fracking and oil field toxic wastewater into protected aquifers, aquifers that were meant to safeguard water for agriculture and human consumption.
The man outside the movie theater reminds me of the employees of Shell and Chevron who were paid to attend a San Francisco air quality commission meeting, to plead their case against an emissions cap on the Richmond refinery. They stated that this cap would cost them jobs. One young woman, a leader advocating for environmental justice in the Richmond community, gave a public comment to explain that Richmond has the highest number of respiratory hospitalizations in the whole country, and this may be caused by the dangerous emissions from the refinery. One oil industry representative corrected her to say that Richmond CA actually has the second highest number of hospitalizations, and the true problem is that environmental activist’s lies need to be fact checked, to which the crowd of Shell and Chevron employees applauded. They applauded to their community having the second highest rate of hospitalizations for asthma and respiratory issues.
This past summer we have truly begun to experience the impacts of climate change. Our changing climate is creating a series of devastatingly strong hurricanes, destroying the infrastructure of Caribbean island nations and the lives of people living throughout the gulf coast and Caribbean. Unprecedented flooding has claimed lives of thousands of people in South Asia while heat waves and wildfires rage across the western United States. These last three years have been the top three hottest years in recorded history. It breaks my heart to know that people in the oil and gas industry think that our biggest problem is climate activists inflating the truth.
Some days I want to give up when I consider that a climate change denier is leading the EPA, and that the former CEO of ExxonMobil is the U.S. secretary of state. I feel immense sadness knowing that the old men in charge of protecting the people of the world, were leaders of an industry that is willfully endangering human life. Due to their privilege and accumulated fossil fuel wealth, these men, their children, and their grandchildren will not experience the worst impacts of climate change. The people that will be most impacted by climate disasters are citizens of small island nations, indigenous people, low-income communities, and communities of color.
However, when I feel this hopelessness, I know that this is how extractive industry executives want me to feel. It benefits them for me to feel that all odds are stacked against the climate justice movement.
Instead, it gives me so much power and hope to think of all the inspiring people I work with, the young women, non-binary people and men that are a part of this movement. I think of the water protectors at standing rock, in spite of historical oppression and colonization, fighting for indigenous rights against the oil industry’s destructive projects. I think of the Richmond community organizer, working to prevent the refinery from poisoning her city. We are young and innovative. We are building power through every rally we attend, every public comment we give and every article we write. We are not motivated by money; we are motivated by love for our communities and the ecosystems that sustain us. Being a feminist fighting for climate justice is important to me because it is building a world where my voice and expertise are valued, where the health and future of my community will be more important than profits.
Kayla Devault | Window Rock, Navajo Nation
My demand for participants at COP23 as well as environmentalists and activists everywhere is simple: Talk about sovereignty. I’m so tired of seeing Big Green (large environmental movements and organizations) swoop into indigenous fights against pipelines, redact any mention of “treaty rights” or “sovereignty”, and effectively co-opt the entire thing. I call it an “appropriation of a movement”. Meanwhile, I see so many practices trending within those organizations – like individuals smudging, owning dreamcatchers, taking elements from Asian-rooted religions – that, quite frankly, border on cultural appropriation. I read headlines about “environmentalists and Native Americans”, implying either that the two are mutually exclusive or romanticizing indigenous peoples to the point that they’re perceived as earth-worshipping, soft victims. In reality, the majority of untapped resources lie on tribal lands. In reality, some tribes rely on extractive industry. We need to be able to differentiate when we are attacking Big Oil and when we are attacking a historically oppressed tribal nation. Those two landscapes – and how to build a better future from them – are incredibly distinct worlds to navigate and build relationships within.
Until we are all capable of having conversations about tribal sovereignty and self-determination, we will never be able to achieve climate justice.
Nicaraguan Revolution – Kayla DeVault
Stina | Sweden
I grew up in the archipelago of Stockholm, Sweden, and learnt from a young age to appreciate nature and the ocean. I’ve seen climate change up close; when I was young(er), the water was always clear, there were quite a lot of fish around the island where I lived, and you rarely saw plastics or non-degradable materials in the water. Now, the water is more green than blue, with algal bloom in a lot of places in the Baltic sea. There is barely any fish left – the local fishermen have given up and found other jobs. When I’m out paddling in my kayak, I see plastic water bottles or bags at almost every bay.
I began to study law because I was driven by the will to change the society, and I had the mindset that I wanted to change the world. Quite quickly I was discouraged – it was difficult being heard as a female law student. Nowadays there is probably an equal amount of women and men that study law, but there is one major difference between us. Whilst most men are loud and quick to support each other’s arguments, women are not that good at supporting each other as there is jealousy between us even though the spotlight is big enough to share. Furthermore, environmental law is considered a boring topic by most people, probably because it is quite difficult to understand given it’s a massive subject, and also a certain amount of resignation surrounding the subject.
Obviously, the environmental laws we have today are not working. When realizing this I started doing research on different philosophies about nature, and quite quickly found the concept of Nature as a right bearer, just as humans. I emailed the Earth Law Center and was granted an internship with them over the summer, as an Ocean Rights Associate. I got the opportunity to learn much more about the idea, and also about the ecological status of our oceans worldwide. An article I wrote about Ecosystem-based management for marine protected areas got published on their website and I helped drafting an Earth rights-based framework for MPAs which was presented during IMPAC4.
Without really realizing it, I’m now working in an area of law and policy which is heavily dominated and influenced by men in suits (corporations, world leaders) but I have also met fantastic influential women who have given me the chance to speak my mind.
Their encouragements have given me the strength to fight for Nature, since it doesn’t have a voice of its own. Feminism for me stands for the belief that we are all equal; humans (men, women, children, transgender, elderly) and non-human (other species, ecosystems). The only way to have a just and healthy planet is to recognize this fact.
Liviana | Germany
Coranda with courage and coriander
And she is proud of every kilo on her body.
One day, light wind was blowing into her ears and told her a secret. Since that moment, Liviana did everything to find out more. In her bag, a lot of courage, this is what people told her when she was hitchhiking through Europe by herself. Where can I go to listen to the wind? That was the question motivating her while sleeping one night under a tree, the other on an old house`s roof top and sometimes invited to the houses of lovely people. In her mind, the goal: come closer, move on, be in action. Understand about privilege, gender and where she comes from. Coming closer what it really means to be on the way or people call traveling. It is not about taking the next cheap flight and moving to the next place. It’s not being everywhere in one year. It is not experiencing the best city tour or the most centrally located hostel. How to understand privilege here? Why do you take time when you don’t stop the production of neoliberal consumerism in your mind? Capitalist behavior without reflection and time pressure for the reproduction of women’s rules rhythm? Leicht and thirsty for alternative stories, listen to what is not told by teachers, written in any school books or is asked by your parents. So, what is real dialogue? Actually this was something that Leve was learning by listening to the wind. You don`t understand? It is something like how soup should tastes when the coriander leaf is cooked enough times. It`s necessary to express the essence of coriander. The cars she was hitchhiking with took her from Belgium to France, from Spain to Portugal and back to Spain. Sitting on a stone at the beach in Tarifa, there was a moment the wind was very strong. Light and calm she opened her arms and felt about: I can do it! Back to the port of Cadiz and Gibraltar: Bad luck, maybe it was too late. Already December, her wish was stronger. One month later, she was in Tafaya. Close to La Palma where people told her, there she will find a sailing boat to cross the Atlantic. Some women called her from a window when walking down the small streets full of men. Since that day, every day she had Coriander Soup in the house of a woman. Some days later she woke up, the wind was blowing so strong that the boat, which would travel to La Palma could only leave seven hours later. All the people were worried, but she knew that the moment was close. Three days later, she was on a sailing boat crossing the atlantic with the energy of the wind for three weeks. During this time the wind told her the story of her great grandmother Coranda, she finally found in the eyes of the stars. There is no time plan for an ecological footprint. There is just the wish to search for Coranda and to break out of patriarchal family structures and take time. It’s your decision!
The lonely man story with the only woman
Permaculture is a system of ecologic design. In permaculture, exists the concept where two systems at the most dynamic point and diversity meet. When you bring together a diversity of thoughts, you can create a rich community. Permaculture is an amazing movement bringing people together for change. However, we should recognize that we easily fall into a trap of defining leadership in a community. The trap is very serious because as in so many movements, we find leadership in a very masculine figure. So with the question of what to do and how to redefine values of the permaculture movement, I called Sarah who is a Permaculture Designer based in South of Germany. As an empowered woman, she inspires to look inside of the Permaculture movement. Permaculture is founded by a man, narrated by man`s ideas, man`s input, man’s thoughts, man’s revolution, and a man seen as the hero. After some years of experience, women spoke out about the need for social input and the social permaculture was as proud as sunflowers in the sun. A lot of Permaculture community projects had problems of understanding collectivity before and with the social permaculture, they could find answers and grow. The contribution of social aspects inside of the movement created new possibilities and developed a whole new understanding of the ecological circles.
However, still today, “The lonely man“ narrative is guiding the philosophy, the interpretations and the courses for new Permaculture students. Again a woman, Sarah, asks for the movement to really focus on goals that make collective base possible and to ensure gender equality. In the Permaculture Association in Switzerland, Sarah is the only woman, which is evident of a man’s world in the Permaculture movement. Is this how the next generation should look? Connection based on nature and community with man’s protagonism of hero storytelling? In 2016, the Papst declared Maria Magdalena a great author and storyteller. She were silenced for thousands of years and hid as a man as one of the twelve masculine disciples. The permaculture movement really needs a new generation where women and men are equally represented. Sarah knows that the permaculture movement doesn’t need to prove its’ greatness. We can find Permaculture practice all over the world today. The question is how to live the feminine principles when we want to care for mother earth? What we really need are grandmother universities, especially in northern Europe where the patriarchal roots are very deep. To listen to mother earth means to connect with the feminine principle equally as with the masculine! Let’s change from the roots to let the wings get some new wind. Permaculture is political from the roots to the sky!
Meine Verbindung zur dir, du Mauerblümchen.
Meine Leidenschaft, in der Großstadt.
Mit all seiner Kraft zwischen dem Beton raus sprißt.
Stärke. Mut. Mein Vorbild
du bist, du genießt.
Gelb, neben dem grau.
Mein Glück – lich – keits – grad ist auf Pegelstelle mau.
Es ist eine Deklaration zum mitnehmen`.
Ich bin Frau und.
Frei und hinterfrag.
Wie eine Blume, dass aus der Mauer des Patriachats
ausreißt und sich befreit.
Geht weiter hinaus, als Seiten raus aus reißen !
Nicht das Gelb vom Grau entfernen,
noch rot und lila dazu – vermehren!
immer mehr Risse
anfängt zu wackeln
und ich den Geruch nach Blütenstaub
riechend und in meiner Nase hütend
mein Geist von Freiheit nicht nur träumt,
auch nichts mehr versäumt.
Wach hier ist und die festen Strukturen zerstückelt.
Desmechanisiert, ausprobiert und
blau und pink dazu addiert.
nur mit Nissen und Disteln.
Gemeinsam mit Kaktus und Rosenstacheln,
sind wir bewaffnet zum gemeinsamen lachen.
Romantische Liebesrosen, die wissen wir zu posen!
Viel besser als beim Rendevou,
zum Hydrolat gekocht um Mitternacht.
Waffen kreieren, um uns selbt nicht zu verlieren,
heißt es auch mal was zu riskieren.
Ich küss dich auch, wann ich das will.
Ohne Rosenbett und Feinstoffmüll.
Beim Wildblumen pflücken
oder Fahrrad fahn.
Vielleicht kommen wir viel eher auf eine gemeinsame Bahn.
Vom Mauer zur Wildblume transformiere ich
etwas das Neu ist.
Erschreck dich nicht.
der zu hören ist
present aus dem Wald
Und vertreten in der Großstadt.
Ecofeminismus? Ich bin bin niemals satt.
New forms of understanding.
Recreating our lives.
Understand where we come from.
Start with ourselves.
In Between the lines.
Knowledge from our ancestors
understand what is going on
at earth told in poetry.
I would like to present the poet
She writes because:
Creating new texts is like to connect elements of thoughts.
To think new narratives is like to tell about our stories.
Stories from women,
Actually knowledge is preserved by the woman of our families.
Our histories of our ancestors.
Our indigenous and african ancestors, like in Barbara’s family.
There is so much to learn about.
There is such a simple question we make.
So we have to point out new protagonists to imagine a new configuration.
A new form to lead with territorial questions.
Where do you come from?
Occupations of spaces.
The earth where sprouts life and nature can grow.
Think in ancestrality
of indigenous and africans
think reverse of an capitalist construction
which is imposed to us.
Think in earth like something alive
for the persistence of our existence.
All this sprouts in the construction of poems.
Initiating from a wish of tell histories as narratives.
Portray slopes of existence
in a decolonial perspective.
Use poetry like a potence of imagination
point out with speech.
Break the silence
about the woman in your histories.