Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

How Inspired and Empowered Women Could Create the Most Effective Climate Solutions

by Sheryl Karas M.A., CRARS staff

Katherine Wilkinson

As one of the keynote speakers at the recent This Way to Sustainability Conference at Chico State University, Dr. Katherine Wilkinson inspired the gathering with her ideas about how women lead and the impact that could make on the climate crisis. Wilkinson is a climate strategist and co-author of two of the most influential books about climate change solutions: the New York Times bestseller Drawdown and its follow-up The Drawdown Review. She has been called one of 15 “women who will save the world” by Time Magazine, and her most recent book All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis throws a spotlight on the words and work of 60 other women leading the way.

Wilkinson started her speech by saying that the science about climate change is clear and we already have multiple effective solutions that we know could provide a solution, especially when taken as a whole. There are many things we can and should be able to do, but so far the will and follow-through to implement these solutions has been lagging. The biggest problem, from her point of view, is that world leaders (whether in politics or in the key financial sectors) have had the most to gain from the status quo and are still focused on short-term profits while too much of the public continues to stand on the sidelines. The key players are almost entirely white men and even when there is talk about implementing changes, their world view centers more on profit-making and competitive technological solutions than on collaboration that includes everyone to create a more just and sustainable world for us all.

The concern is that certain regions and populations will continue to be viewed as “sacrifice zones” as they have been viewed historically. But, according to Wilkinson, it is precisely the exploitative and inequitable worldview of extracting as much profit from our natural resources as possible without sufficient concern for the livability and welfare of those regions that got us into this crisis in the first place. The voices of women and Black, Brown, Indigenous people have been most often disregarded and left out of the equation.

 Fortunately, Wilkinson notes that the newest and most effective leaders in the climate change movement are women. That’s across all generations and especially includes a great many people from historically disadvantaged groups who are throwing open the doors and doing all they can to welcome more people in. But they face many challenges because of their historic disadvantages and many more people are needed to join the work. That is Wilkinson’s greatest focus right now and the reason she co-edited the All We Can Save anthology and the women’s empowerment project being developed around that book.

Community Leads the Way

One of the biggest messages Wilkinson is attempting to put out about climate solutions is that we need all hands on deck. The old adage that “everything is connected” increasingly plays out in scientific findings. “No single thing, no species or ecosystem, community or culture is safe in the face of the climate crisis we face,” she says. “We unravel as one or regenerate as one.”

She emphasized that we cannot do this job as individuals making personal consumerist choices. The job is too big. While those choices are helpful, she said that “to focus only on what we can do as individuals instead of what we can do together will mean failure.” She wants people to understand that they have more power than simply recycling or buying an electric car. We also have “our voices, our networks, dollars, skills and ingenuity.” But coming together in community will be the key. She encouraged participants at the conference to create groups using the resources in her book or join groups that exist to support each other, create a nurturing space to release feelings, to empower and learn from each other, and to take action together. And most of all she encouraged people to think of the work ahead as joyful. The idea is to imagine a future you want to create and have the fun of making it happen, collaboratively, using all the resources a group can bring together.

She called the work of these women’s groups a “Feminist Climate Renaissance.” Renaissance means rebirth and renewal, and it’s important to acknowledge that many of the solutions that have been identified as workable harken back to the past. For example, many regenerative farming techniques (low-till, no pesticides or herbicides, animal and crop integration, etc), are quite similar to how people farmed before mechanized corporate “efficiencies” were instituted. Indigenous ways of making decisions based on how it will affect seven generations into the future is another example.

Why Women?

Wilkinson is not excluding men but she, personally, is focusing on empowering women because climate change is already deepening the burden of gender inequality around the world. During the current pandemic women more often lost their jobs or had to leave them to take care of children who were no longer in school. In areas of drought, famine, or floods, last resort survival strategies such as forced early marriage or sex work become more common as does the incidence of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and forced prostitution. It also makes it more difficult for women in cultures where they are tasked with collecting water or growing food. 

Given their increased vulnerability to climate crisis, it is no wonder that women are starting to contribute to the solutions. Unfortunately, they are under-represented in almost every space where executive decisions on climate are being made: politics, business, finance, technology, and climate negotiations. However, Wilkinson says that where women do participate equally with men, climate policy interventions are more effective. They more strongly support stricter environmental laws, are more likely to influence the ratification of environmental treaties, and convey greater scientific knowledge of climate change and act on that knowledge.

Wilkinson also believes that transformational leadership occurs through the types of behaviors that are more typical of what happens in women’s groups. That includes an emphasis on making change through collaboration and sharing resources rather than competing to be in charge. There is a commitment to undoing and healing systemic injustices rather than perpetuating or worsening them. It includes leading from the heart and not just from the head and a willingness to use empathy as well as analysis, and moral clarity along with scientific rigor.

Before taking questions Wilkinson ended by reiterating that we need community as the foundation for creating a better world. In a crisis you depend on whoever is there with you. Nurturing that community is essential to build the largest and strongest team possible with enough collective resource and experience to do what we needs to be done.

 You can watch the entire keynote address(opens in new window).

Visit the All We Can Save project(opens in new window) to learn more or get involved.