Year by year, though, my family and I began to detect unsettling changes. Our breathtaking constellation of stars faded as lights from the suburban sprawl encroached, and birdcalls no longer lulled me to sleep on summer nights. One day I found our stream stagnant and rotten, choked with yellow foam. It had become contaminated from chemical run-off from the neighboring farms.
When I began reporting around the world, I recognized a mourning similar to my own in the eyes of women in the Amazon whose sacred lands had been coated in oil spills. The animals they relied on for nourishment had vanished, and their children had become sick with unexplainable rashes, boils, and stomach cancers. In Burma and neighboring Thailand, I met families who had been forced from their homes by military troops to make way for a natural gas pipeline. Many had been forced into slave labor for oil companies. They had been gang-raped and tortured into submission.
Everywhere women are on the frontlines of ecological destruction. As the primary caregivers, providers of sustenance, and agricultural producers, they work most closely with the natural environment and are most impacted by its degradation. Mothers hold contaminated water to their children’s mouths and care for family members with birth defects, cancers, and illnesses due to toxic pollution. Young girls spend their days scouring for firewood that has become scarce. Women farmers find their land eroded by thinning topsoil, baked dry or washed away due to climate change. Just as rape plagues womankind, the rape of the Earth strikes a double punch.
Yet with the most at stake, women have become increasingly motivated to protect the Earth. Millions of modern-day Rachel Carsons are stepping out from the shadow of mining pits, blasted mountains, dumping grounds, and scorched forests to mobilize their communities.
These women leaders are a potent immune system for the Earth. They, and the solutions they bring, are poised to lead the environmental movement into its most formidable chapter yet.
Now it is our job to crank up the volume on these often-unheard voices so that they can become an unstoppable, vibrant force for ecological restoration: quiet no more, loudly roaring and gushing with life.