Inspired by the book All We Can Save, a celebration of the feminist climate renaissance, we asked 15 local women who are thinking about and working on climate change to respond to the question: “If we are at a crossroads of peril and promise, where do you see possibility alive and growing?”
The responses below come from women who participated in recent All We Can Save Book Circles at the Academy and Drexel, as well as local women who are doing work around climate change. Contributors embody, as the book says, “climate leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist, rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration.”
We thank all the women* contributors for their willingness to grapple with this question and for serving as an inspiration to others.
This post, part one of a two-part series, is part of ongoing programming for Climate Year at Drexel and the Academy of Natural Sciences.
*Our use of the term women recognizes people who are trans women, non-binary and gender non-conforming.
Amy Whisenhunt Eno, she/her, Philadelphia, Manager of Individual Giving at the Academy of Natural Sciences
It’s difficult to picture a crossroads when it feels like we’re surrounded by winding trails, some leading blindly to destruction, some leading nowhere, some teeming with red herrings, and some blocked from our view entirely.
I often think back to being a kid in the nineties when saving the ozone was taught as a shining example of international cooperation fueling innovation. But I was wrong to view this one event as a sign that justice is a foregone conclusion. And as someone who had never, up to that point, felt betrayed by my leaders, I was also fooled by my privilege.
Where I see peril is in continuing to forsake those facing the most loss from extreme temperatures, flooding, wildfires and food scarcity, while the 90 corporations that account for two-thirds of carbon emissions steal more clout with fake emissions targets. Where I see promise is in a return to what those before us already knew. This year, I’m inspired by the wisdom of shmita.
Shmita means “release” in Hebrew and is an ancient Jewish practice of letting the land lay fallow every seventh year. In addition to ceasing agriculture, there’s the dual commandment to erase all debts and redistribute resources within the community. We no longer live in ancient times, but shmita provides a progressive framework for recalibrating our relationship to the earth and to one another. After all, humans are part of nature and dependent on its well-being.
Peril exists in our current power structures. Promise exists in redistributing that power to those who are facing peril and returning to practices that put justice above profits to honor all denizens of this one earth.
Avani Kavathekar, she/her, Philadelphia, Student at Drexel University
Possibilities are abundant not only in the urgency caused by the peril but also through the optimism created within a community. As a young adult studying and working in the climate resilience and activism space, I have witnessed so many of my friends and peers paralyzed by the impending doom that the climate crisis poses. But beyond the panic, we have found community in our concern for the environment and our futures which fuels our positivity for a better world. The youth-led climate movement has already introduced various new ideas, highlighted often ignored issues and amplified diverse voices to foster countless new opportunities. These possibilities flourish through the community that emphasizes inclusion to nourish the hopefulness in the face of a daunting crisis.
Joey Hartmann-Dow, she/they, New Orleans, La., Artist
In the past few years, I have split myself between two sweetly similar and different places. When Hurricane Ida came for New Orleans, I evacuated to Tennessee and watched in anxious helplessness as the storm ravaged the Gulf. When it swept north, the images of downtown Philadelphia flooded in a way I had only seen New Orleans flood, and it shook me.
Days before landfall, mutual aid groups were organizing to help people evacuate. The ritual of preparing for a hurricane is coming for the Northeast as well, and more places will begin to understand the complexity of leaving or staying for a disaster.
With each superstorm, many people will never recover from losing their home, their job, their savings just to get away — but I see people helping each other. Philly is no stranger to mutual aid either. I see promise in relationships, I see possibility in the ways we lift each other up. I have hope when we invest in mutual aid.
Katy Indvik, she/her, Minneapolis, Minn., Policy Engagement Specialist, Urban Health Collaborative, Drexel University
As strange as it sounds, one thing giving me hope these days is the increasing hopelessness of others. No one enjoys hearing about the ways our systems are broken and the destruction they are causing, and among friends and family I’ve always been known as the depressing one. I can’t blame them, and I’ve often envied others’ ability to ignore problems and get on with their lives. After all, anxiety without action is pretty worthless.
But over the past year, I’ve heard from more and more people who are scared and overwhelmed by the changes we are seeing, and finally want to talk about it. I think this shift is the product of many factors — news media, definitely; science and advocacy, hopefully. Whatever the driving forces, the result is a growing consciousness surrounding this critical issue.
For decades, experts and advocates urged us to act before being forced to make impossible choices in the face of devastating change. We didn’t listen. But maybe, finally, enough people in enough places with enough power are turning to face this problem head-on, and we’ll have a chance of saving all that we still can.
Korin Tangtrakul, she/her, Philadelphia, Sustainability Manager, Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Lab at Drexel University
I was inspired to pick up the All We Can Save anthology because I was feeling so overwhelmed by the climate crisis, and I wanted to know my role in addressing it. When I started a book circle, I found that there were so many other people, mostly women, that also felt so much urgency and energy to do SOMETHING but didn’t know where to get started. There is incredible latent capacity, and I hear climate creeping into more and more conversations, and so many people asking: what can I do?
All We Can Save helped me realize that there are all sorts of avenues for action, and you can find something in your own corner of your world that brings you joy and does some good. There is a climate lens to every action and an entry point for every person to get involved, and we need everyone.
Laura Guertin, PhD, she/her/hers, Media, Pa., Professor of Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine; science storytelling through quilting
I see university students as critical contributors to our work on climate solutions. I am an earth scientist who teaches non-STEM majors in my courses, and I am amazed that students are choosing to sign up for a class to learn about the science and societal impacts of climate change in a class that fills to capacity every semester. These students and others are voluntarily stopping by my campus library to write a postcard to their elected officials to advocate for climate legislation. Students are not only coming together on campus for climate-themed events, but also taking their knowledge to local community groups to educate and engage others in climate conversations. When non-scientists of all ages take advantage of opportunities to learn about and advocate for climate solutions, I feel energized to do even more to facilitate these connections which takes individuals and communities from the knowledge stage to action.
Loretta Dunne, she/her, of Philadelphia, Retired mother and advocate for the environment
I see a new urgency and a slowly dawning understanding that the time is now to face the crisis and seek out real change. For many years it has been non-profits who have put out the call for people to work together to deal with the realities of our situation. But now both the federal and local governments are finally showing some commitment to facing the implications of climate change, both to address and attempt to mitigate the current conditions and also, most importantly, to influence the causes of climate change, so that we limit our impact for the future. This gives me hope that people will join together and find ways to change our world for the better.