CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 11 . . . . January 25, 2008
When Francis Rooney began the research necessary to write Exceptional Woman Environmentalists, she wondered how she would find 10 women who would fit this description. Her concern quickly diminished, and she was left wondering how to choose among all of the incredible female activists she had been able to identify. In the end, she decided to write about Rachel Carson, an American and “the founder of the modern environmental movement,” Jane Goodall from England and Tanzania, Dai Qing from China, Fatima Jibrell from Somalia, Vandana Shiva from India, Shelia Watt-Cloutier from Nunavut, Sharon Beder from Australia, Marina Silva from Brazil, Severn Cullis-Suzuki from British Columbia, and Olya Melen from Ukraine. Each one of these women has acted publicly on her convictions about environmental health, biodiversity, sustainable development, and the protection of life and, in so doing has led an extraordinary life. With the finesse of a superb storyteller, Rooney makes the reader vividly aware of both.
Dai Qing, as one example, was born in 1941 to a mother who was tortured as a spy and a father who was imprisoned, tortured and executed by the Japanese invaders of China. Dai Qing was adopted by a general in the People’s Liberations Army and at the age of 25 graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. After studying missile engineering in Japan, Dai Qing worked for the Chinese military intelligence as a guided missile engineer. Her work for the government ended with the Chinese Cultural Revolution when she and her husband were sent to a remote region of China and forced to live and work as farm peasants for three and one half years. When they returned to Beijing, Dai Qing worked as a writer for the Enlightenment Daily newspaper. It was in this position that she became aware of the plans for the Three Gorges Dam proposed for the Yangtze River and the environmental disasters that environmentalists and scientists predicted if the dam was built. In 1989, she edited and published a collection of essays that made people in China aware of the environmental and social consequences of building the world’s largest hydro-electric dam on unstable bedrock. In July, Dai Qing was arrested, and her book was banned. Six of the 10 months she was imprisoned, she spent in solitary confinement. Undeterred by prison and uninterrupted surveillance, she continues to speak out against the construction of the dam. Her work has been acknowledged around the world with prestigious fellowships, awards, and honors. Notwithstanding, the Three Gorges Dam is scheduled for completion in 2009.
In a similar fashion, Rooney writes about Goodall’s work to save the chimpanzees and their habitat in Tanzania, Jibrell’s work to save Somalia’s acacia forests and return barren land to the original grassland ecosystem, Shiva’s work on “biodiversity, biopiracy, and earth democracy,” Watt-Coultier’s fight for environmental health and the eradication of persistent organic pollutants in the high arctic, Beder’s campaign to stop the beach and ocean pollution caused by city sewage, Silva’s non-violent work on behalf of indigenous peoples and the well-being of their rainforest habitat, Cullis-Suzuki’s environmental work on behalf of children around the world, and Melen’s legal suit that stopped the government’s construction of a shipping link between the Danube River and the Black Sea that would have destroyed a flourishing wetland.
Once I began reading Exceptional Women Environmentalists, it was difficult to put down. Rooney has written a captivating book about 10 fascinating women. It is certain to appeal to girls interested in ecology, ethology, the environment, and environmental activism. My hope is that boys interested in these same topics will not pass it by because it is in “The Women’s Hall of Fame Series.”
Barbara McMillan is a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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