Berta Caceres led the battle against a huge hydroelectric dam in Honduras until she was gunned down this month.
by Jesse McMahon and Jennifer Curtis, members of the NRCM Rising Leadership Team
Portland Press Herald op-ed
To mark Woman’s History Month, we honor women around the world who are fighting for climate action, for clean air to breathe, for untainted water to drink, and for the sustainable use of natural resources. Most will never become household names – content to pursue this noble mission without recognition.
Berta Cáceres, for example, was a Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader who earned the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for a grassroots campaign to try to stop the world’s largest dam builder from building the Agua Zarca Dam at the Río Gualcarque. The project threatened the livelihoods, food and water supply of hundreds of indigenous Lenca people of Honduras. She was shot to death on March 3.
In the wake of her murder, we remember that women like Caceres, from Honduras to Sudan to Greenland to our corner here in Maine, are engaged in local- to global-level fights to stop the continued exploitation of the planet and its resources.
But despite greater education and political power for women in recent decades, they are still underrepresented at every level of government, and at the top of the global corporations that make decisions each day that impact the environment.
Women made up fewer than 25 percent of lead delegates at last fall’s Paris Climate Conference. Yet, they are disproportionately affected by climate change, comprising 80 percent of climate refugees.
Emerging research indicates that women are at a greater risk of harm from air pollution. In developing nations, women grapple with social, economic and political barriers that stress their resiliency to environmental disasters. This is just the tip of the melting iceberg.
Fortunately, in the United States, women have certain rights and protections that empower us to testify before the legislature, to protest in the streets, and to voice our concerns about environmental issues, without the same level of fear for our safety. These are powerful rights, but only if we exercise them.
We have a lot at stake in Maine. Women have stood with male colleagues to fight for the sustainable management of the state’s abundant natural resources, and to fight against water pollution from open-pit mining, the shipment of tar sands oil past a critical drinking water source, and efforts to block clean energy expansion.
Cáceres’ untimely death was a bitter beginning to Women’s History Month. We honor her legacy here with a nod to the women of this state who are finding and fighting for solutions to the complex environmental issues before us.
We give thanks to the countless Maine women who have marched, written letters, made phone calls, met with decision makers and otherwise organized around a cause.
Most recently, for many, that cause has been to demand federal action on climate change, and to speak out in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
Power plants are the nation’s largest source of climate-changing pollutants – as much as 40 percent. This plan sets national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
We honor the women who embrace sustainability in their work and in their lives. This includes the women who are often the role models in their families as they recycle, farm and garden sustainably, choose ecologically-friendly products, and strive for energy efficiency.
As we recognize the achievements of Maine’s environmental champions and stewards, we also look ahead for the women who will take the helm next – the women who will unquestionably face ever-growing challenges as the planet continues to warm. That is why we and our young colleagues and friends are getting more involved in environmental action every day.
Before her death, in an interview with The Guardian, Cáceres said, “We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.” We challenge women across Maine, of all ages, to join us as we stand up for a sustainable future.