originally published in The Huffington Post
“Do me one favor, get your children and grandchildren outside to play.” President Obama’s nominee to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, appealed to a room full of environmental leaders this morning at the second annual White House Women and the Environment Summit. According to McCarthy, we’ve got two great environmental challenges on our hands, climate change and the growing divide between kids and nature.
March is Women’s History Month, and I am reminded of the incredible women throughout history who stood up to solve the greatest environmental challenges of their day. Rachel Carson, my personal hero, awakened a generation to the dangers of pesticides with her book Silent Spring, which led to the banning of DDT and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. I am also remembering Dian Fossey who gave her life studying and protecting gorillas in Rwanda and Wangari Maathai who endured police brutality for her causes and inspired the Green Belt Movement which has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya and across Africa since the 1970s.
And let’s not forget the leaders of our time – just a few weeks ago, Daryl Hannah went to jail with Sierra Club and other leaders for protesting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This morning Gina McCarthy encouraged us to think about each of the women that we know making a difference for the environment. I started thinking about some of the heroes I get to work with – Allison Chin of the Sierra Club, Cheryl Charles of the Children & Nature Network, Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro, Christine Fanning of the Outdoor Foundation – to name just a few female Presidents and CEOs that are making a difference for the health of our planet by connecting kids and communities with the natural world.
Over the next few weeks and months, two more women are likely to assume leadership positions that will help shape how and with what sense of urgency we address the greatest environmental challenges of our time. This morning Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell cleared a committee vote in the Senate (19-3) along her way to confirmation. Jewell, CEO of REI, has been a steadfast champion for connecting children with nature. Under her leadership, REI helped to found the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) a growing coalition of over 50 national organizations working to bridge the divide between kids and nature. Jewell understands that ensuring each and every child can enjoy a simple walk in nature is the first step towards a lifelong appreciation for the great outdoors and a larger and more inclusive conservation movement in America.
President Obama also nominated Gina McCarthy, the host of this morning’s Women and the Environment Summit and a leader on both climate and connecting kids with the outdoors, to be our next EPA Administrator. During her tenure as Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection, McCarthy established the “No Child Left Inside” campaign to encourage families throughout the state to visit their parks and forests. McCarthy knows that bridging the divide between kids and nature improves the wellbeing of our children and the long-term health of our environment.
While we should celebrate and lift up the women making a difference for our communities and our planet every day, Women’s History Month gives us a nudge to do it now. As a fellow woman in the fight to ensure that our children and our children’s children have a clean and green environment (with lots of safe space to play and connect with nature), I am honored to have been surrounded by female environmental leaders at the White House today, even if we do only get together like this for a few hours each year.