Women Who Changed Our Planet

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When it comes to environmentalism, why let Al Gore, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Muir take all the credit? Some of the most powerful voices documenting and studying our unique planet have been women. In many cases, these leading ladies pushed gender norms, stood up to patriarchal restrictions, and fought to make their voices heard in the national and international arena.

Jane Goodall


Photo by nick step via Flickr

Born in 1934, Jane Goodall grew to love chimpanzees after being given a lifelike chimp toy as a young girl. As soon as she was financially able, she booked passage to Africa and began working with Louis S.B. Leakey, a famous archaeologist who hired to her study wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. There, Goodall began observing the distinct personalities, emotional lives, and cognitive abilities of the chimps in her area.

Following her pioneering work with chimpanzees, Goodall has become a vocal activist for environmental causes, conservation efforts, and campaigns against the use of animals for sport. She is the author of two dozen books for children and adults, remaining one of the most powerful voices in the modern environmental movement.

Laurie David

cherie 2Photo by TEDxManhattan via FlickrIn a 2006 profile, Vanity Fair declared Laurie David the “Bono of climate change” for her tireless work to raise awareness about the impact of global warming on our planet. She is the author of “Stop Global Warming: The Solution is You!” and “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming.” However, David may be best known for her work as a producer of the Academy Award winning documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” David works consistently to educate regular citizens about the impact of energy policy and personal choices on climate change. She encourages individuals to explore how their state and local governments affect energy decisions. For example, understanding the energy industry allows residents to compare their rates and find utility options with the best value and lowest environmental impact.

Rachel Carson


Photo by Cornischong via Wikimedia Commons

Rachel Carson grew up in Pennsylvania, spending her childhood exploring the Allegheny River environment. She became passionate about aquatics, studying zoology and eventually was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to raise public awareness about the bureau’s work. Following World War II, Carson became deeply disturbed by the widespread use of synthetic chemicals as insecticides and pesticides. She published her most famous work, “Silent Spring,” in 1962, providing a wake-up call for agriculturalists and the U.S. government. Carson remained passionate about responsible use of the environment, conservation efforts, and legislation to curb corporate pesticide use until her death in 1964.

Julia “Butterfly” Hill

cherie 4In 1997, the nation became captivated by the story of a young woman living in a redwood tree as a protest against logging groups. Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived in the canopy of a 1,500 year old California Redwood tree called Luna for 738 days.

Photo by holisticgeek via FlickrShe stared down the logging groups that intended to harvest the tree and its neighbors. Hill eventually won the battle through her act of civil disobedience, convincing Pacific Lumber Company to preserve Luna and all other trees within a 3-acre range. Since Hill’s powerful nonviolent protest, she has become a widely sought after motivational speaker, co-founder of the Circle of Life Foundation, and protester championing local action in environmental causes around the globe.

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