12 women and girls of color leading the charge in climate science and activism
February 10, 2020
February 11 marks the United Nations’ fifth annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science. While Greta Thunberg has undeniably changed the face of climate activism, dozens of other women have made valuable progress in both climate science and policy.
For this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we’re highlighting 12 women and girls of color from all over the world — whether it’s through research or activism, these women have dedicated their lives and careers to fighting climate change.
Inez Fung was born in Hong Kong and received her Ph.D. in meteorology from MIT in 1977. Since then, she has worked as a professor of atmospheric science at the University of California-Berkeley and co-authored some of the most influential climate reports in the field, mostly notably the Third and Fourth Assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Raised on the South Side of Chicago, where air pollution causes exceptionally high rates of asthma, Rhiana Gunn-Wright always saw the connection between social justice and environmental policy. After attending Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, she joined the think tank New Consensus, where she was one of the central creators of the Green New Deal. She has been recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the world’s most important women fighting climate change.
Maria Carmen Lemos
Armed with a Ph.D. from MIT, Maria Carmen Lemos researches and advocates for environmental policy in Latin America and the U.S. She was a lead author for the IPCC reports on climate change and co-founded the Initiative on Climate Adaptation Research and Understanding through the Social Sciencesfounded (Icarus), which connects scholars in social sciences on climate change.
Before her death in 2011, Wangari Maathai was one of the most important environmental scientists and activists in Africa. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi and founded The Greenbelt Movement, an organization dedicated to reforesting Africa and empowering women. In 2004, she was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in sustainability management, Esperanza Garcia founded three organizations focused on sustainability, including the Philippine Youth Climate movement, while simultaneously raising her daughter. She has consulted for the U.N., UNESCO and the Philippine Senate on sustainable development. Today, she manages Academic Housing Rentals, an eco-friendly co-living business in California’s Bay Area.
Opha Pauline Dube
Opha Pauline Dube was born in Botswana and received her Ph.D. in geographical sciences from the University of Queensland. As the vice chair of the Botswana Government National Climate Change Committee, Dube promotes climate action within Botswana’s development efforts. She also co-authored the IPCC special reports on global warming and was part of the team of researchers who received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Kotchakorn Voraakhom is a Thai landscape architect and graduate of Harvard University’s School of Design, known for her work on social equity and improving Bangkok’s resilience to climate change. At only 1.5 meters above sea level, Bangkok is especially susceptible to flooding from sea level rise, so Voraakhom has designed parks that capture runoff and absorb excess water in artificial wetlands.
Indigenous Canadian environmental activist Autumn Peltier began advocating for clean water at age 8, after learning that her indigenous community often had boil advisories and that much of Canada lacks reliable access to clean water. At just 15, Peliter has twice addressed the United Nations about the importance of clean water and climate action. She was appointed the chief water commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation, an advocacy group that represents indigenous interests in Canada.
Lidio Brito received her Ph.D. in forest sciences from Colorado State University before returning to her home country of Mozambique to serve as the nation’s minister of education, science and technology. She is internationally recognized for her expertise in African sustainable development and her work with the United Nations and UNESCO on sustainable forestry.
Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and advocate for sustainable development. She is the director of India’s Centre for Science and Environment, as well as director of the Society for Environmental Communications. Narain focuses on the intersection of climate change and social equity and in 2016 was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
At just 25, Miranda Wang is the CEO and co-founder of the startup BioCellection, where she uses her degrees in cell and molecular biology and engineering entrepreneurship to transform unrecyclable plastics into biodegradable, reusable materials. The company works with waste management departments to solve the plastic crisis. In 2018, Wang was honored as the United Nations Young Champion of the Earth.
Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican diplomat known for her work as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and for spearheading the 2015 Paris Agreement. She also founded the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas, which empowers Latin American countries to adopt environmental policies.
Want to make your own mark on the world? Check out Earth Day Network’s citizen science campaign, Earth Challenge 2020. Through citizen science, anyone can monitor and mitigate threats to environmental and human health in their communities.
In April 2020, Earth Challenge 2020 will use a mobile app to collect billions of observations in air quality, plastic pollution and insect populations, providing a platform and valuable environmental insight to promote policy change in defense of the Earth.