"This is a gender issue": Meet the women fighting climate change here in Ireland
"If we do not engage women in these issues, we will not make the changes we need to stop climate change."
Climate change affects us all but it has a disproportionate impact on poorer people, especially women and girls.
According to the United Nations, women and girls are more vulnerable to climate change than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor.
At the same time, women have the potential to make changes, and should be empowered to rise up.
This International Women's Day, there is a focus on climate justice as the feminist issue it is, with one of the themes being "gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow".
It has never been more important to recognise the contribution of women and girls around the world to the fight against climate change. We spoke to three women at the forefront of this fight here in Ireland about why it’s so important for women to be engaged, and how they remain positive in the face of one of humanity’s most pressing issues.
Dr. Cara Augustenborg
Dr. Cara Augustenberg is an environmental scientist, lecturer, and advocate for climate action in Ireland. She was recently awarded Ireland's Woman of Influence at the 2020 Irish Women's Awards. She also co-hosts the Down to Earth podcast on Newstalk.
Why is climate action important to you?
"My parents have always taught me to leave a place a little cleaner than when I found it. We as humans are very privileged to have this short time on this beautiful planet. I just think we are obligated to pay back and to minimise the damage we do."
Do you see climate change as a feminist issue?
"The more I looked into [climate change], I thought, gosh this is such gender issue. Climate change in general, it disproportionately affects poor people, but it also disproportionately affects women.
"A lot of the time in developing countries, women have to walk long distances to collect water and that becomes much harder in a changing climate, that's just one example.
"But the big shock for me was when I started to go to the United Nation's Climate Conferences, especially COP21 in Paris, which was like the big one, it was almost all men making these decisions. And I couldn't believe that the biggest problems facing humanity was being decided by essentially half of the population and women weren't getting any say in this.
"That bothered me a lot. Because we all have a right to contribute to solving this problem.
"Also, if you look at the solutions, the things that even in the developed world we have to do, behaviours we have to change, traditionally a lot of them are decisions women have to make in the household.
"What kind of car are you going to buy?... What kind of holiday are you going to go on - are you going to fly on a sun holiday or are you gonna take a local holiday? These kinds of things tend to be led by, or at least influenced by women in the household.
"So if we do not engage women in these issues, we will not make the changes we need to stop climate change."
How do you stay positive?
"To constantly be looking for the solutions, that’s the way. We might not like some of the solutions but there are solutions. When I feel overwhelmed is when I think of the climate crisis on a larger scale and all of these horrible things that could potentially happen.
"But if I just focus on dealing with the problem that's in front of me now, that’s much more manageable and I can see where I fit in to solving it. Figure out what your sphere of influence is - peers, community, politicians - and then figure out how you can influence those people to make the changes we need to make.”
Anna O' Connor
Anna O'Connor is a climate activist and author of 'Santa's Magic Mask', a book explaining the strange Covid world to children at Christmas. She is passionate about empowering the younger generation to fight for climate justice and is currently working on a new children's book focused on climate change.
Why become an advocate for climate change?
"Nothing else is really important if we don't fix climate change. Because what are we going to be left with if it gets really, really, bad?
"When you look at what's happening to the world, the climate's changing and the effect of this is happening to everybody in all different areas of the world... it affects everybody. There's no coming back from it. It's going to devastate everybody in the world. In that sense, you've got to have some hand in helping it."
How do you deal with climate anxiety?
"A lot of the work I've found myself falling into is with young people... so I think that helps because I try to approach things in a hopeful way. But you totally have to mind yourself as well. It can get to you so much, because no change is happening and you just have to keep going, trying to get your voice heard
"It dominates your thoughts, I think you have to try to not feel guilty for taking time for yourself too. I struggled with that for quite a long time. I never said no to anything related to work, I thought I had to do everything I can. But it's okay to take time to think of yourself.
"You just also have to remember that when you started, you started because you had hope."
How do you deal with people who just don't care about climate change?
"I don't mean to generalise, but maybe sometimes older people have a sense of doing that. A lot of the pressure right now is on younger people to make a difference. Most young people are like: 'Okay, we've gotta do something.'
"But other people might be struggling themselves with that feeling of hopelessness and it's about helping them feel again that, y'know, we can do it and pointing them in a more hopeful direction.
"It can be tough, I don't think those people are really coming from a malicious place that's like, 'screw everyone, let the planet burn cos I'll be dead". They're probably just coming from a place of fear and vulnerability in the face of such a big challenge."
Ceara Carney is a climate ambassador, podcaster and activist. She is also a public speaker, who gives talks to schools and business in the hopes of inspiring them to make small important changes.
Why are you passionate about the fight for climate justice?
“Since a young age, I have always been passionate about the environment and animals. I even once created a powerpoint presentation to give my parents about climate change and recycling! But going vegan then was when I started to learn about climate change and how people in power weren’t doing anything about it.
"We in the western world, are interfering and consuming and polluting so much. We're interfering with the natural ecosystem, it's affecting people in areas who have done nothing to cause it.
"I care because if I don't do something now, life as we know it... it's all threatened because of our actions. I care because the natural environment is so amazing.
"The fact that we are willingly causing this destruction, or that we are blissfully ignorant to the destruction, here in Ireland and lots of other first world countries, I think that's whats wrong with the world.
"The earth will be fine but all the species on it, including us, will not be. We can get back to living more symbiotically with the environment, so it's for that that I do this."
What can we expect to see from you next?
“I’ve been volunteering with Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion, organisations looking to enact systemic change around climate change.
"I’m also an actor. I have started creating my own work - short films, plays, poetry - that will encourage people to make a change and inspire hope when it comes to climate change.”
Feature Image Credit: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie