INTRODUCTION BY DR. JO DURGAN, RESEARCH SCIENTIST, THE BABRAHAM INSTITUTE
In this edition of our Green Labs blog series, we’re exploring the important intersection between gender and climate change. How and why are these key issues connected?
Impacts: Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, often feeling the impacts first and worst within frontline communities, due to complex social, economic and cultural factors 1,2. They represent a staggering 80% of those displaced by climate disasters 3.
Solutions: However, these same women and girls represent vital agents of climate adaptation and mitigation, through their knowledge of water, food and resource management and direct interactions with the natural world 2. For example, through the Green Belt Movement, Prof Wangari Maathai mobilised women in Kenya to plant over 30 million trees 4. Project Drawdown estimates the provision of education for girls, alongside high-quality family planning, could reduce emissions equivalent to 85.42 gigatons of CO2 between 2020-2050, making this the 5th most impactful action quantified 5.
Activism, Policy and Politics: Women and girls have taken a central role in advocating on climate, from young activists, like Greta Thunberg (School Strikes) and Vanessa Nakate (Climate Justice), to policy shapers, such as Christiana Figueres (Paris Climate Agreement) and Mary Robinson (UN, The Elders). Many female politicians speak up prominently for environmental responsibility, including Nemonte Nenquimo (Waorani people, Ecuadorian Amazon), Alexandria Ocazio-Cortez (Green New Deal, USA) and Mia Mottley (PM of Barbados). However, at the level of global decision making, women remain distinctly marginalised, comprising less than 10% of presidents and prime ministers at COP26 6.
Science and Technology: In 1856, Eunice Foote became the first scientist on record to study CO2, sunlight and temperature, reaching strikingly prescient, but little recognised, conclusions on the potential for global warming 7. Since then, female scientists have made major environmental contributions, despite their relative under-representation, from Rachel Carson 8 to the many contemporary researchers globally 9,10. Women in science and technology are also now at the forefront of developing vital new climate solutions.
To explore this subject further, we’ve invited guest contributor, Zara Amer from The Climate Change Project to share a blog and to introduce her podcast.
The Change: Women, Technology, and the Anthropocene My name is Zara Amer, and I am the Founder of The Climate Change Project- an indie climate publication that creates climate content for a climate-conscientious, self-educated audience. The Climate Change Project was created to counter the poor climate information diet.
We counter by plugging information gaps, by naming, defining, and detailing specific climate problems and interviewing the experts who are solving those problems with concrete actions. This blog post will focus on our new podcast ‘The Change: Women, Technology and the Anthropocene’ which links together three very big topics, namely women, technology, and the Anthropocene.
The medium is very much the message here. The interviewees are the change. They are all women, all working in climate tech and science, inhabiting top jobs, and operating at a unique level in specialised positions that bridge and intersect the gender equity, climate science and climate tech worlds.
All our interviewees have varying interpretations of change and they possess diverse and distinct lenses through which they navigate, relate, and solve climate problems. They all have the grit, the intellectual capital, and the imagination to lift this subject matter into the realm of cultural excitement.
Something that they do without defanging the very serious problems we face and without infantilising an audience that knows and deserves better. They are all key contributors to an already A.M.A.Z.I.N.G climate tech ecosystem that is comprised of a global spectrum of voices, perspectives, and academic disciplines. Some of them have been quietly and diligently working away at solving climate problems for decades. Their work, their stories and their character transcend the one-dimensional framing and narratives that have defined the women in climate tech story so far.
This podcast has numerous objectives.
For listeners, it is an opportunity to learn about and take pride in the women who are developing, financing, and procuring climate tech and renewable energy sources. As a publisher, these interviews have afforded me a unique opportunity to map the global climate tech and renewable energy spectrum. This happened by default as we synced into job functions and global expertise that was otherwise unknown, under the radar, or under-appreciated by the mainstream mediums.
The intention here is to create an audio and visual record, to curate and compile an encyclopaedia about influential women in climate tech, thereby creating a roadmap for other women interested in getting involved in the climate tech space.
‘The Change’ was also designed to speak to and problem-solve the realities of the unconnected and the voiceless majority. We do this by spotlighting the global south, specifically women in the global south who are trying to hyper-charge the transition to a clean energy economy in their respective countries.
Episode by episode, we dig into what our interviewees do, how they do it and why. Series by series we will develop an exacting lingua franca for change as we name, describe, and promote the value that women all over the world are bringing to climate tech.
If that sounds like an ambitious project, it is. If it sounds like an abstract one, it isn’t.
My collaborators and I banded around the central premise that change can’t be vague. We get specific about change as we get into specifics about the problems and solutions we discuss.
For instance, in Season 1, interviewees define the impact tech ecosystem, the tech culture problem, some of the lesser reported consequences of tech acceleration as well as gender, and diversity challenges in the tech industry.
Listeners can look forward to hearing about the potential of wave energy generation technology, all things climate tech capital. i.e., which segments attract the most capital, who is investing, where the biggest gaps exist, gamification for climate engagement, and solastalgia.
We also get geographically specific. Tafaol Alageb, a researcher talks about Sudan's readiness and technological capacity to address its climate challenge and Amina Idan Paul, a civil servant working for the government of Djibouti talks about Djibouti’s ambitions to become the first African country entirely reliant on green energy.
The podcast is also an opportunity for me to follow through on instincts relating to narrative and tone.
Getting climate content just right is now more important than ever. I believe that smart, thoughtful climate narratives emerge and thrive when you get tone right. Personally, I’ll tune out climate discourses laden with normative assertions, hyperbole, and digitised Disney endings. I’m in the camp that values ushering in more honesty and detail about the nature and reality of the Anthropocene and the fluctuating and increasingly consequential relationship it has with gender equity and tech.
Striking the right tone is critical to achieving that outcome. Bad tone contributes to degrees of misinformation, and that has an accumulative effect. Without meaning to, we can see how compromised content leads to misinformation, short sighted thinking and contributes to narratives that overreach. The ‘how tech will save the planet’ category is a particularly acute and frivolous example of that brand of overreach. The heropreneurship discourse is another problematic narrative, one that has muddled and stunted the impact tech discourse for years as it side steps the ecological paradoxes of the digital transition altogether.
We serve as an antidote to antiquated, uncritical and one-dimensional tech narratives by highlighting, clarifying but also complicating.
In some instances, we problematise the relationship between climate breakdown and tech, specifically the idea that tech, and the use of tech, is a panacea to the various environmental crises facing the planet. We do this sensitively, out of respect to the global majority and in service to the most vulnerable.
The underreported reality is that technology and climate breakdown are driving a new generation of inequalities and these inequalities are being felt most intensely by women, especially in the global south. UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate breakdown are women. According to 2018 ITU-ICT estimates, 49% of the world’s population still does not have access to the internet, most of whom are women in developing countries.
As it stands, more than half the world’s people lack basic information and communication technology skills and thus entire groups of people, even nations might get left behind in the not-too-distant future as the world becomes more digital.
For so many of us, including myself, the prospect of balancing a series of unbalance-able ecological equations with tech, is an extremely seductive one, i.e., seeing the right person, with the right technology working on a climate problem where they can have a transformative impact, that’s very exciting. It is possible to get the blend just right and our interviewees are living proof that it does happen, but there are other dimensions here and the process of exploring those multi-dimensional realities can also be empowering and inspiring, in the way that information in and of itself is always empowering, always inspiring. As a listener, you’ll walk away moved by the beating heart humanity of this work and these women.
Tune in to see what I mean and become a virtual member of #TheChangeCollective.
Foote E (1856) "Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays", American Journal of Science and Arts
Carson R (1962) Silent Spring