Mardy Murie, Rosalie Edge, and the like— these unsung heroes have chosen to tackle the most challenging issues of our time. By using their voices and smarts, these wild women of today are raising a ruckus, creating change, and altering the way we view our relationship with Mother Nature. Curbing Climate Change
ROBIN SILVER, BRENDAN CUMMINGS, BOB SIEGEL
rostpaw, the polar bear, wanders through the climate conference in Copenhagen. Heads turn as this giant, furry white beast passes leaders from all over the world who have come here to hash out a new climate treaty. Frostpaw explains to the media that the plight of his species hangs in the balance unless humans make drastic changes to cut greenhouse gases. The brains behind the bear suit belong to Kassie Siegel, Director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Climate Law Institute. “We are transforming the planet so profoundly it’s hard to comprehend,” says Siegel. For this reason, employing creative measures—like having threatened species descend on Copenhagen and Capitol Hill—is necessary. Siegel illustrates her point with alarming facts regarding animal extinctions, sea level rise, and extreme weather. “Huge social and economic changes will accompany the physical changes already underway; this is simply inevitable. The goal now is to limit the damage by reducing greenhouse pollution and guiding change in the most positive direction.” Siegel first immersed herself in climate science while writing the petition to protect the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.“I quickly realized that global warming threatened everything I care about and I decided to do something about it.” A woman of definitive action, Siegel has most certainly succeeded in her mission. With the help of a strong team from CBD, Siegel developed a climate program that relies on innovative ideas, grassroots activism, and fierce use of the law to shift environmental policy. Their greatest success so far: compelling the Bush administration in 2008 to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act and to acknowledge, for the first time, the scientific connection between greenhouse gas emissions and species endangerment. While Siegel and crew focus largely on creating change at the national level, Melanie Lenart, an environmental scientist and writer, seeks to reach the masses with words. “We all have a lot to learn when it comes to climate change,” admits Lenart, author of Life in the Hothouse: How a Living Planet Survives Climate Change and a professor at the University of Arizona.
From left: Kassie Siegel; Kassie Siegel dressed as Frostpaw, the endangered polar bear at the Copenhagen climate talks; Melanie Lenart walking in the desert foothills near her home.
In her research, Lenart discovered something that scared her and that she wanted to share. “Based on climates of the past, it is possible Earth could switch gears rather suddenly into a much warmer climate with much higher sea levels. I think the general public doesn’t get that there’s this threat of abrupt climate change. The scary part is we won’t know we’re at the threshold of abrupt change until after we’ve passed it,” she says. At this point, cities would experience an approximately 200-foot sea level rise, hordes of people would be displaced, and others would experience disruptions from floods, drought, and agricultural challenges. Lenart’s work emphasizes the importance of our forests in combating and adapting to climate change. Forests play a huge role. “They remove about half the carbon dioxide that ends up in the air from burning coal, oil, and gas; plus, the remaining forests take up all of the CO2 released from the world’s wildfires, deforestation, and other types of land-use changes,” says Lenart. “This is an amazing contribution that we tend to take for granted.” Both of these climate warriors admit that it is not always easy to take on one of the greatest challenges facing society. At times, Siegel struggles with the “acute awareness of so much pointless and preventable damage to people, plants, animals, and the planet,” and Lenart does get overwhelmed, sometimes feeling as if there’s
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