This year we celebrate the 51st Earth Day. The idea for Earth Day was conceived in 1969 with Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, after he and many others across the nation had witnessed a massive oil spill in our own Santa Barbara. He mobilized over 20 million Americans, most of them high school and college students, to call for increased environmental protections for the planet and what would become the first Earth Day in 1970.
In 1990, Earth Day went global, becoming the most widely celebrated secular holiday in the world. Today, Earth Day still sparks global conversations about climate change and environmental protection. To celebrate, here is a list of six inspirational women that have dedicated their lives to protecting our planet.
Politics and Diplomacy
Christiana Figueres has served as diplomat of Costa Rica to Germany and the UN. She attended Swarthmore College for her bachelors and received her masters in social anthropology from the London School of Economics. Figueres spent much of her career working with actors beyond governments, such as insurance companies, the scientific community, faith groups, and youth and women’s groups, encouraging them to partake in the global efforts to address climate change. Representing the Government of Costa Rica, Figueres was a negotiator of the United Nations Conventions on Climate Change from 1995–2010. She was essential to actualizing the Kyoto Protocol, and the Clean Development Mechanism, which helped promote clean development in developing countries. From 2008-2009, she served as the Vice President of the Bureau of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. She has broken through the glass ceiling as a powerful Latina in politics and diplomacy, and has fought to protect the people who need it most along the way.
Author, Climate Policy
Rhiana Gunn-Wright is the current Director of Climate Policy at the Roosevelt Institute. Born in The South Side of Chicago, Gunn-Wright went on to study at Yale and become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where she studied public policy. After school, she interned for Michelle Obama and served as policy lead for Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign for governor of Michigan. Knowledge of her brilliance and excellent work ethic spread, and she was asked by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign to join New Consensus, a think-tank in Washington, D.C.. There, she was appointed to be policy director. Her biggest success as of yet has been working with Rep. Ocasio Cortez on the Green New Deal. She’s continued to champion climate relief efforts and is becoming a powerful and inspirational figure in U.S. politics.
Kotchakorn Voraakhom is a Thai landscape architect and chief executive officer of Porous City Network, a social enterprise that looks to increase urban resilience in Southeast Asia. She studied landscape architecture for her undergrad in Thailand and continued for a masters at Harvard University. Voraakhom has taught landscape design at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, since 2010. She is also the founder of the Kounkuey Design Initiative, which works with communities to rebuild public spaces. She’s been using her platform to campaign for more green space in cities for over a decade, and has booked many speaking engagements, including one at TED. Recently, Voraakhom designed Asia’s largest urban rooftop garden and she is currently working to make Bangkok a more sustainable city to help it fight rising sea levels.
Business and Biotech
Miranda Wang is one of the rising stars of biotech and eco-business. At only 27 years old, Wang is the cofounder and CEO of Novoloop, an organization that uses chemicals to recycle plastics. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of Pennsylvania, triple majoring in Engineering Entrepreneurship, Philosophy, and Molecular Biology. In 2018, at 24 years old, Wang received the UN Environment Programme’s Young Champions of the Earth award for inventing a recycling solution for unrecyclable plastic wastes. In addition, she won the Perlman Grand Prize in the Wharton Business Plan Competition in 2016 and has been named in the Forbes 30 under 30. She is soon to be a titan in the world of sustainable business.
Sunita Narain is one of South Asia’s leading environmentalists and experts in sustainable development. After completing her studies at the University of Delhi, she studied the relationship between environment and development and worked to create public consciousness about the need for sustainable development. She then served as the Director General of the India-based research institute the Centre for Science and Environment Director of the Society for Environmental Communications, and helped to expose the high level of pesticides present in American soft drink brands, such as Coke and Pepsi. Narain was on Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People and appeared in Leonardo Dicaprio’s documentary Before The Flood to talk about sustainable development in developing countries.
Science and Activism
Wangari Maathai was a woman of many firsts. Among her many accomplishments, she was the first East African woman to receive a PhD and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her work focused on the intersection between women’s rights and environmentalism. In 1977 Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. She was a member of the Kenya Parliament between 2003 to 2005, and campaigned continuously throughout her life for fair voting in Kenya and multi-party elections. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” She died in 2011 due to complications from ovarian cancer but is remembered for her fearlessness and commitment to her cause.
These six women are just some of many that dedicate their careers and their lives to preserve the Earth. Although they deserve celebration every day for their monumental contributions, Earth Day is the perfect week to recognize all that they’ve done. From science to tech to politics to architecture, these women are paving the way for the next generation of girls who want to do their part to help save the planet.
Feature Image Courtesy of teenvogue.com