The women of Homeward Bound. Photo credit: Anne Christianson
For Anne Christianson, a younger Homeward Bounder, the trip took on special importance for her work. Christianson is completing a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and her dissertation focuses on how climate change disproportionately affects women in developing countries. She points out that, while it was easy to see the consequences of climate change watching glaciers in Antarctica, it's important to keep in mind how climate change threatens women around the globe.
Rising temperatures are melting Antarctica. Anne Christianson
"We have these cascading impacts [of climate change] on women that simply aren't seen in men," Christianson said. "Women generally don't have enough capital to build our own resilience to climate change."
For Westerners, it's easy to see climate change as a threat to poor and rural women in distant, impoverished countries. But climate change isn't just melting glaciers in Antarctica and flooding cities in Bangladesh. It's already imperiling women within the U.S. and the threat is getting more dire. More than 83 percent of poor single mothers in New Orleans were displaced in the post-Hurricane Katrina housing crisis—a statistic that bodes ominously for future climate disasters.
"We've already had our own climate refugees in the Gulf and in Alaska," Christianson said. "The majority of people in poverty in this country are women who will be less able to adapt to what's coming with climate change. Having more resources allows you to move away from sea-level rise and heat waves, to switch jobs, to find alternate sources of food and fuel."
Even for progressives in the U.S., the link between climate and gender can be hard to grasp. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) attempted to start a conversation on the issue in 2015 in by proposing a resolution to recognize "the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change." The bill moved nowhere fast in Congress and became a target for right-wing media, as outlets like Breitbart, The Daily Caller and Fox News mocked a line in the bill that linked climate-induced food insecurity to prostitution.
The view from Antarctica. Anne Christianson
Both Steltzer and Christianson signed up for the journey months before the election. Like most, neither anticipated the political world would turn upside down just a few weeks before the trip. "It would have been a different trip if we had been celebrating the success of the first woman president," Christianson said. "As scientists, we were all disappointed to see a denier in office."
Fortunately, Homeward Bounders feel well-prepared to face the Trump administration's assault on science. Steltzer worked with other Homeward Bounders to write a letter in support of female scientists on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in February. Other program participants are banding together to share knowledge locally, giving presentations across the country to community and school groups.
"Getting women in science into leadership so we can reignite energy, enthusiasm and work towards re-engaging the public—that's where it's at," Steltzer said.
Anne Christianson.Shelley Ball
Both Christianson and Steltzer say the female perspective in science is more important now than ever.
"There is a certain understanding that women scientists have of how hard it is to be heard and right now all scientists are understanding what women scientists have experienced," Christianson said.
"We've been in this state before, but a lot of our male colleagues haven't," Christianson said. "Because we've had to fight so hard for our personal rights, now that we're trying to make our voices heard in our field of interests and now that men are joining us for the first time, really, we can have more of a leadership role in how to make our voices heard."
According to Hayhoe, that's already happening. Female leadership in climate at the international level is playing a role in shifting the climate conversation.
"I'm inspired by [executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] Christiana Figueres and other leaders in the climate movement who have been women," Hayhoe said. "I know that having a diversity of voices is so important. The tone and the framing with which we talk about this issue has shifted radically over the last ten years and I think at least some of that is due to the involvement of women."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.