History was made in New York City on Sunday when more than 300,000 people marched together in solidarity against climate change for the People's Climate March. The largest climate march in history, 208 events took place in 166 countries, and will continue to take place throughout the week. More than 125 world leaders will gather for the U.N. Climate Summit on Tuesday.
Presented by the Women's Earth and Climate Change Action Network (WECAN International), a panel of female activists joined together to speak out against environmentally and socially destructive policies during the "Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change" discussion.
Held at the Church Center of the United Nations, co-founder and Executive Director of WECAN Osprey Oreille Lake opened the conversation and applauded all the activists who marched in solidarity the day before. "For us, this march is one big win," she said.
WECAN is a grassroots organization that supports "moral leadership," especially in remote or underdeveloped locations. Industrialization, fossil fuel combustion and over exploitation of resources have raised global temperatures at a dangerous rate by almost 0.9 degrees Celsius since the end of the 19th century. This has led to rising sea levels, population displacement from extreme flooding and storms, loss of biodiversity and food scarcity. The panel of female leaders spoke about the hardships of having their land taken from them in a game of geopolitics, where big corporations profit from exploitation.
The panel of women included: Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and chair of Nobel Women's Initiative, Casey Camp-Horinek, actress and native rights activists with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Patricia Gualings Montalvo, Indigenous Kichwa leader from Ecuador, Angelina Galiteva, from 100% Renewables Policy Institute, Crystal Lameman from Beaver Lake Cree Nation and Treaty 6 Canada, and Dr. Fatimata Niang Diop.
The strong female leaders are breaking the glass ceiling by taking a proactive approach to policy change in a male-dominated field. Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams lightheartedly said that she was inspired to join other women leaders at the frontlines after getting so mad at men to point that all she wanted to do was smack them. While most of the leaders are men, Williams said that if women were running the show "we would not have to be here doing this."
Isso Nihmei, an International Ambassador representing the Pacific Islands was one of the men who came to support the work the women have done and rally for the cause. Back home in Vanuatu, a remote South Pacific island, Nihmei said the people lack the education to foresee the exploitation of the land and have become confused over climate change. If the U.N. and U.S. commit to reducing carbon emission, than other nations may follow suit and prevent further damage.
Indigenous Kichwa leader from Ecuador, Patricia Gualinga Montalvo spoke about marching one year ago with local women, some who carried babies on their back, from the Amazon to the Andes to meet with government at the National Assembly. The women on the frontlines marched in solidarity to tell the government that they will not allow outside businesses to come into their territory and exploit their resources.
The women argued at the forum that policy makers who live in cement should put their feet in the shoes of the indigenous people to understand what it's like to feel the dirt beneath their toes. "Let them sit there in the middle of the obnoxious fumes," Williams said. "Let them see the realities of what their policies are doing to our families."
Big corporations purchase land from indigenous people who are too poor to profit off their resources. They pollute the air, dirty the water, and release carbon emission gases that cause autoimmune diseases and cancers.
The women stressed that climate policy needs to change not to save the planet, but to save ourselves. "The Earth cares not if ticks or mosquitoes called human beings continue to suck on her. We're simply not necessary, but she loves us," native rights environmentalist and actress Casey- Camp-Horinek said.
The female activists said that the issue should not be jobs versus the environment. What we need, they said, is a new economy that supports clean energy, renewable resources and biodiversity. The extreme profiting off of nature needs to stop now because nature is not going to wait for government officials. "When women decide what we want, it will happen," Ecuadorian activist Patricia Gualinga Montalvo said.
Climate change discussions continue all week. Supporters of the movement marched at Wall Street before and during the forum. "We really need to go to the heart of the belly of the beast which is right there on Wall Street," Lake said.
Climate change will cost 2.5 % of the global GDP by 2030 if the policies stay unchanged.
Check out a video from the panel here.