For me it is important to have heroes. People who have done things that I find inspirational or brave have often spurred me on to do better in my own life. Many of my heroes are men, and my ‘eco-heroes’ are no different. David Suzuki, and David Attenborough head the list, along with David Hawke and David Homer here at The Couchiching Conservancy. There must be something about ‘Daves’. That being said, during the month of March and the celebration of International Women’s Day I often feel a tinge of guilt. Why do I not think first of women who have made a difference to the world of conservation? After all, the number of women in the field is staggering, and the more I thought about it, the more surprised I was that I didn’t think of these women first. So, I am going to share some of my female heroes in conservation, who have made a huge difference to the world around us.
“She is one person who has seen firsthand what the degradation of habitat can do to a population, human or animal, and she has taken personal action.”
It would be shameful if I didn’t first mention Jane Goodall. She is of course the world’s foremost and perhaps longest working researcher of Chimpanzees. Naturally, her fieldwork and study has lead to a genuine passion to protect these beings and therefore their habitat. Goodall is one person who has seen firsthand what the degradation of habitat can do to a population, human or animal, and she has taken personal action. That action reaches across the globe through The Jane Goodall Institute that works on community conservation, chimpanzee care and helping young people become agents of change in their communities. She has made a difference as a person, and will continue to make a difference far into the future through those she has inspired.
Another hero of mine, though one you may not have heard of is Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who I learned about on a trip to Iceland. She was instrumental in protecting Gullfoss, a waterfall that competes in beauty and scale with Niagara Falls, it flows in a dramatically carved, rugged landscape set against a glacial backdrop. This staggeringly beautiful natural feature lasts because of one woman, Sigríður. Developers wanted to turn it into a hydro damn at the turn of the last century. She knew in her core that that was wrong. So she saved it. Taking great efforts like walking barefoot to Reykjavik, 120km away, and crashing developers meetings across the country- she even threatened to throw herself in the falls if they were dammed. She saved those falls by sharing her passion with others, by being a tenacious force to be reckoned with and by not giving up. Iceland is now powered by geothermal energy, and the falls can be appreciated for the humbling and powerful presence they are. Thank you Sigríður.
Finally it wouldn’t be right to not mention Rachel Carson. Rachel is an inspiration because, she wasn’t afraid to ask big questions. Big questions that came up through her research as a marine biologist, big questions about the chemical industry in the 1950’s and big questions about why we think we have the right to pollute the planet. She was our first modern environmentalist.
“If you see a need take action, take it; if you know something is wrong and you feel strongly, fight to make it right; and never be afraid to ask big questions and believe in the answers you uncover.”
Rachel didn’t just question the implications of chemical use in the modern world, she asked where science was going and if it was ethical to go there. Her book Silent Spring lead to a massive shift in the way people viewed pesticides and chemicals. This of course lead to massive changes in the way that chemicals were handled in legislation, giving us a ban on DDT and the development of the US Environmental Protection Agency. This woman changed everything, and she did it by speaking up when she knew things weren’t right. Rachel, we salute you.
There is so much more you can read about these women, and I encourage you to. Check them out online or at our fantastic library. But these are not the only ones, the list goes on and on, Tzeporah Berman, Sylvia Earle, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Jane Jacobs, Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Julia Butterfly Hill it is truly endless. Perhaps one thing we can take away from this list is that it comes from all over the world. We all have the earth in common and we all need to work to protect it. Anyone can become a hero and there is no reason you can’t become a part of this list. If you see a need take action, take it; if you know something is wrong and you feel strongly, fight to make it right; and never be afraid to ask big questions and believe in the answers you uncover. Remember no matter who you are, or where you live; “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make” -Dr. Jane Goodall
Courtney Baker is the Administrative Assistant at The Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting nature for future generations.