Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson convened a group of amazing women from across the country yesterday for a White House briefing on women and the environment. I was fortunate to attend on behalf of the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs and share our goals for connecting new and diverse audiences with the outdoors.
Administrator Jackson reminded us that the environmental protections we take for granted today did not happen by accident. She encouraged us to think about the women throughout history “who have taken slings and arrows to speak out for the environment.” Throughout the morning, I had the opportunity to listen to dozens of strong women share their work and ideas around environmental protection.
Following formal remarks, I participated in a breakout session to discuss some of the more pressing environmental challenges we need to tackle over the next few years. I was pleased to hear an outpouring of support for engaging new and diverse audiences in the environmental movement and ensuring that we are providing environmental education to our kids. There seemed to be a growing consensus that in order to protect our air, land and water, we need to broaden the movement by being more inclusive and disseminating information to a wider audience. I couldn’t agree more.
On my bike ride back to the office following the event, I began reflecting on some of the women who have influenced my perspectives and shaped my character. Rachel Carson immediately came to mind. Better known for Silent Spring and her call to action to end the use of toxic chemicals, Rachel Carson was also a strong advocate for inspiring a “sense of wonder” in children. Carson grew up on a sixty-five acre farm exploring the forests and streams of Pennsylvania. She called on her generation to ensure that children were able to enjoy the same kinds of experiences that had helped to shape her: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
In thinking about my own childhood and my outdoor experiences that fostered in me a sense of compassion for the environment, I couldn’t help think about my most significant female influence, my mother. My mom wasn’t the outdoorsy type by any stretch of the imagination. She tells me about the one time she went camping with my dad when they were newlyweds – it rained, they hated it and that was that. My parents never took me camping, but my mother gave me the freedom to roam. As a child, I was encouraged to get outdoors to play with other kids in the neighborhood. We would explore the cornfield across the street, sled down the street (we lived on a hill), or run through the forest at the top of the hill – really it was just a few trees, but to a small kid, it seemed like a forest. I had plenty of time to be outdoors, pick flowers, breathe fresh air and just be a kid. I am not so naïve to think that all of our streets and neighborhoods are safe enough for parents to just shove their kids out the door and say “don’t come back until dinner time.” But for me, time outdoors helped develop within me a love of nature which I carry with me today.
Here’s to all the women out there, past and present that are making a difference in the world and in our lives. Happy Women’s History Month.
Jacqueline Ostfeld; Sierra Club's National Youth Representative