Women's History Month 2022
In celebration of Women's History Month, this blog will be featuring innovative women who have made incredible impacts for a happier, healthier and more equitable world thorough sustainability, environmental conservation and energy progress.
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
"I believe we should strive for diversity, and to make the scientific community just, equitable and inclusive simply because that is the right thing to do." - Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a leading researcher on how fire, erosion, climate change, and armed conflicts effect out environment, and, more specifically, how they affect our soil. In 2019, Asmeret was invited to present a TED talk (see below) on her life's research, and the result was a powerful, inspiring look at how the six feet or so of soil that covers our planet is the key to the long-term survival of life on earth.
Berhe argues that our rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions have long been bailed out by the natural ecosystems that sequester carbon from the air - but due to mismanagement and negligence, these ecosystems have begun to degrade, and we may not be able to rely on their help for much longer if things continue as they are.
Her research has concluded that there is overwhelmingly more carbon stored in the earth's soil - about twice as much - than in all of the plants and trees, the atmosphere and all other natural environments. As green plants photosynthesize, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and passed into the soil, where it can be banked for hundreds or even thousands of years.
However, this natural "storage bank" for harmful greenhouse gases is only as efficient as the quality of the soil. Healthy soil is constantly replenished by mature ecosystems that support all forms of flora and fauna - including us - and acts like a sponge for soaking up carbon, while also sharing important minerals and hydration with the habitat.
Soil has long been ignored as an important natural resource, and constant abuse from deforestation, overgrazing of live stock, excessive chemical and pesticide use and intense agricultural cultivation has led to the severe degredation of our soils. Alarmingly, half of the world's soil is now considered degraded.
But what does this mean for us? What changes when soil loses its integrity? Firstly, degraded soil is less able to support plant life, resulting in less essential nutrition for every kind of living thing on earth. This means a lower quality and quantity of food and less natural materials.
Second, degraded soil loses its ability to properly store carbon, and instead of storing carbon long-term, compromised soil releases up to 12 times more carbon into the atmosphere. Our greatest environmental ally has been pushed to its limits, and the floodgates have begun to open.
Asmeret believes that all hope is not lost. By addressing both soil degradation and climate change together - through responsible land management to nurture healthier soil - we can reverse the effects of both. A global effort called the "4 per 1000" or "4 per mil" is currently working towards a goal of increasing the amount of carbon stored in soil by 0.4% annually. If successful, this will effectively sequester a third of global emissions caused by fossil fuels.
To learn more about the actions and steps being taken to return vitality to our soil, check out Asmeret Berhe's 2019 TED talk here:
"We can’t eat money, or drink oil." - Autumn Peltier, 15 years old, in an address to the UN
Autumn Peltier, now 17, has been an advocate and activist for clean, accessible water and indigenous rights since she was 11. In 2018, at only 13, she addressed world leaders at the UN General Assembly on the issue of water protection.
"Many people don't think water is alive or has a spirit," the Anishinaabe girl from Wikwemikong First Nation told the diplomats gathered in New York City in her speech on World Water Day. "My people believe this to be true."
Living on a First Nation reserve in Ontario on the the shores of Lake Huron, Autumn has witnessed the negligence of water management first-hand, first raising her voice in protest of Prime Minister Trudeau's support of pipeline development in indigenous territories, where oil spills and runoff can cause tragic toxicity in the drinking water.
In 2019, Autumn was named chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation.This position was previously held by her great-aunt, Josephine Mandamin, who died in 2019.At the time of her selection, current Anishinabek Nation Ground Council Chief Glen Hare explained how it was quite a simple decision to make: “Autumn has extensive nibi giikendaaswin (water knowledge). She has been bringing global attention to the water issues in our country for a few years now.” In her role as Chief Water Commissioner, Peltier represents 39 First Nations in Ontario and is responsible for relaying community concerns to the Anishinabek Council. (source)
Today, Autumn has a large following on social platforms, where she continues to be outspoken on water protection and environmental racism against indigenous peoples. (Check out her profiles here)
"One thing that isn’t well-known is that the products and the packaging that we put on our body and sometimes the food we ingest are all sources of exposure to toxic chemicals. When we talk about packaging, for example, there are roughly 12,000 chemicals that are intentionally added to packaging to provide the functionality we need—for example, to make sure that it’s water repellent or moisture repellent, to give it stretchiness, or to provide a certain type of color or look. But lurking inside that packaging … chemicals that are directly added can pose a problem." - Boma Brown-West in an interview with Resources Radio (full interview available here)
Boma has over 15 years’ experience in product sustainability and degrees in engineering and technology policy from Yale University and MIT. She uses this extensive knowledge to influence retailers and brands to do their part in creating a safer and healthier experience for consumers, from the chemicals used in product packaging to the efficiency of supply routes to decrease carbon emittions.
As senior manager of consumer health at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), she works closely with the largest corporations, such as Walmart and McDonalds, to reduce the use of harmful chemicals through innovative approaches and sustainable materials. In addition to establishing EDFs Five Pillars for Safer Chemicals, Boma Brown-West has also launched Sustainabuy (link), a platform for promoting sustainable consumer brands and informing consumers on the chemicals found in common products from skincare to electronics.