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10 February 2021

Women Scientists in the Fight Against Climate Change

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For centuries,  women’s role in science has been hidden due to the prevailing social system. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that scientific activity by women began to gain more public notoriety in various fields such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering. Currently, climate change is the greatest challenge that the scientific world faces in the 21st century. And, of course, women are very present in this battle against global warming, as they search for a more sustainable relationship with the planet. Here we spotlight women in science you should know about.

Rose M.Mutiso: Committed to equality and energy efficiency

Dr. Rose M. Mutiso works with experts worldwide to find solutions to the energy crisis in developing countries. Mutiso received her BA and BE  in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Her knowledge of polymer physics and nanotechnology allows for a unique perspective on the applications of electronics in new sources of renewable energy. Additionally, Mutiso is the co-founder and CEO at the Mawazo Institute, an institution committed to the next generation of female scholars and opinion leaders in East Africa.

Mutiso was the principal investigator at the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), where she worked on the development of several environmental laws enacted during Obama’s term. She is also the research director at the Energy for Growth Hub, an institute that studies critical issues and the most relevant regions of the planet,  offering guidance in making the leap towards a future of higher energy efficiency.

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe: Soil´s value against  climate change

Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe focuses her research on understanding how disturbances in the environment affect the cycles of essential elements such as carbon and nitrogen through the soil system. At the University of California, Berkeley, she earned her Ph.D. in Biogeochemistry, where she discovered how erosion can cause the soil to store more carbon. Effective land restoration could play an important role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.

Her research extends to political ecology, where she works to understand the impact of armed conflicts on land degradation and how people interact with their environment. Berhe is the co-author of a publication evaluating the relationship between global change, soil and human security (including food security and water quality) in the 21st century, in which she analyzes possible interventions and solutions for sustainable soil management.

Angelicque E. White: Looking deep into the ocean

Angelicque E. White uses ancient microorganisms as a benchmark to assess the health of the ocean and discover how we can renew them at a time when sea temperatures are continually rising. This biologist and associate professor in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii is also the director of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) program. The objective of this program is to collect data to provide a complete description of the ocean at a representative site such as the North Pacific Subtropical Oceanic Gyre.

Through 30 years of data collection, White and her team have been able to separate seasonal changes and see the emergence of the human footprint in the natural world. CO2 increases in the atmosphere and, therefore, increases in the ocean causing a decrease in pH or acidification, which affects the organisms that must feed themselves and make shells. This not only affects plankton, but large ecosystems such as coral reefs.

White believes that continuous observation of the oceans and the planet is a moral imperative for scientists and that it provides an opportunity to adapt and promote global change, through environmental policies.

Joanne Chory: Plants that slow down global warming

Joanne Chory and her team at the Harnessing Plants Initiative aim to help plants develop larger, more robust root systems that can absorb greater amounts of carbon by burying it into the soil in the form of suberin, a natural substance found in their roots. This allows the stabilization of carbon by the plant, transforming it into something more beneficial for itself.

For Chory, plants are wonderful machines capable of transforming light and CO2 into sugars. Plants and photosynthetic microbes can transform over 20 times more CO2 than we create with human activity.

In 2019, Chory was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research together with Argentine biologist Sandra Myrna Díaz, for her contribution to the study of the functioning of plants and the fight against the effects of climate change and the defense of biodiversity.

Cheryl L. Holder: Medicine´s duty to nature

 As president of the Florida State Medical Association and co-president of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action, Cheryl L. Holder works to increase climate literacy and raise awareness of the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable populations. Holder is a doctor and professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and stands out for her work on HIV and climate change’s negative effects on health.

Holder views her profession as an opportunity to be on the front lines of change, collecting data from patients with climate-related illnesses, teaching eco-friendly behaviors, and acting as a spokesperson to influence climate change policy and politics in general.

Many women are making great strides in tackling climate change, and perhaps this is why governments are increasingly turning to their expertise and leadership when making important decisions about the environment. 

Still, much remains to be done to support the role of women in decision-making and ensure a better future for all, as stated by the United Nations in the report for the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, September 1995). In order to achieve this, the United Nations strives to place women at the forefront of sustainable development and in all efforts to combat the effects of climate change.

Paz Palacios

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