EarthTalk: Most environmental organizations appear
to be run by men. But who are the women leaders in this field?
I'd love to know about them. -- Leeona Klippstein, Carthage,
ranks of environmental advocacy are teeming with female “movers
and shakers,” both at the community level and in some
of the highest posts, though one would not know it from watching
mainstream TV networks that tend to let men do most of the
For starters, it was a woman, Rachel Carson, who ignited the
modern environmental movement with her 1962 book, Silent Spring,
which brought widespread attention to problems with pesticides.
The book led to a U.S. ban of the pesticide DDT, spurred the
founding of several influential environmental groups and helped
blaze the trail for passage of the nation’s bedrock
environmental laws in the early 1970s.
And it was Lois Gibbs who in 1978 pressured New York authorities
to evacuate and clean up Love Canal, a chemical-dump-turned-housing-development
suffering from high incidences of birth defects and cancer.
Gibbs also lobbied Congress to pass “Superfund”
laws mandating cleanup of similar sites. Today she runs the
Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), which
helps communities with similar problems.
Wangari Maathai has led thousands of women in Kenya in restoring
denuded lands through tree planting, and was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts. Another green heroine
was Dorothy Stang, who was murdered in 2005 by land speculators
angry at her efforts to preserve Amazon rainforest.
Not all of environmentalism’s leading female lights
have such a high profile, but their work is key nonetheless.
Deb Callahan turned the League of Conservation Voters into
a strong political force during her decade-long stint as Executive
Director. Frances Beinecke became the first woman president
of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 2006. And
Betsy Taylor founded the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD),
which provides resources for people who want to “green
up” their lifestyles.
Mary Evelyn Tucker co-directs the Forum on Religion &
Ecology and has organized major environmental conferences
bringing together religious leaders of all faiths. A woman,
Mary Pearl, heads wildlife Trust, an international network
of scientists engaged in work to save endangered species.
And Rebecca Wodder has been president of American Rivers,
the nation’s leading river conservation group, since
Theo Colburn, senior scientist at the World Wildlife Fund,
co-authored the 1996 book, Our Stolen Future, which brought
worldwide attention to the fact that common contaminants can
interfere with human fetal development. And Laurie David,
wife of TV icon Larry David, produced Al Gore’s Inconvenient
Truth and founded Stop Global Warming, an effort to engage
everyday people in addressing climate change.
Thousands of other women--in boardrooms, in offices and “in
the trenches” all over the globe--work tirelessly on
environmental issues, which affect us all equally regardless
of sex, race or natural origin.
CONTACTS: CHEJ, www.chej.org;
American Rivers, www.americanrivers.org;
Forum on Religion & Ecology, www.environment.harvard.edu/religion;
Our Stolen Future, www.ourstolenfuture.org;
Stop Global Warming, stopglobalwarming.org.
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50 percent of U.S. residential water usage goes to irrigating
I'm sick of having to maintain my lawn, and I'm
sure that all the chemicals I'm using are no good for the
environment. What alternatives can I explore that will save
time and money while keeping the property looking nice?
-- Sarah, Bethesda, MD
Grass lawns first
appeared in Europe in medieval times, status symbols for the
rich that had to be kept trimmed by fairly labor-intensive
methods, often by grazing livestock and certainly not by polluting
lawn mowers and poisonous weed killers. Lawns actually did
not become popular in North America until the middle of the
20th century, but are now as common as the middle class suburban
homes they surround.
Besides hogging public water supplies--over 50 percent of
U.S. residential water usage goes to irrigating lawns--a 2002
Harris Survey found that American households spend $1,200
per year on residential lawn care. Indeed, the booming lawn
care industry is more than eager to convince us that our grass
can be greener--and then sell us all the synthetic fertilizers,
toxic pesticides and leaky lawnmowers to make it so.
According to Eartheasy.com, which offers online insights on
a host of environmental issues alongside books and green products
for sale, there are many alternatives to a carpet of monochromatic
grass for one’s property. They recommend groundcover
plants and clover, which spread out and grow horizontally
and require no cutting. Some varieties of groundcover are
Alyssum, Bishops Weed and Juniper. Common clovers include
Yellow Blossom, Red Clover and Dutch White, the best suited
of the three for lawn use. Groundcover plants and clovers
naturally fight weeds, act as mulch and add beneficial nitrogen
to the soil.
Eartheasy also recommends flower and shrub beds, which can
be “strategically located to add color and interest
while expanding the low maintenance areas of your yard,”
and planting ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses, many
which flower, have numerous benefits over conventional grasses,
including low maintenance, little need for fertilizer, minimal
pest and disease problems and resistance to drought.
According to David Beaulieu, About.com’s Guide to Landscaping,
moss plants should also be considered, especially if your
yard is shady: “Because they are low-growing and can
form dense mats, moss plants can be considered an alternative
ground cover for landscaping and planted as ‘shade gardens’
in lieu of traditional lawns.” Moss plants do not possess
true roots, he points out, instead deriving their nutrients
and moisture from the air. As such they like wet surroundings
and also soil with a pH that is acidic.
In all fairness, lawns do have a few plusses. They make great
recreational spaces, prevent soil erosion, filter contaminants
from rainwater and absorb many kinds of airborne pollutants.
So you might still keep a short section of lawn, one that
can be mowed with a few easy strokes. If you do, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends avoiding
traditional synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
A number of all-natural alternatives are now widely available
at nurseries. Natural lawn care advocates also advise mowing
high and often so that grass can out-compete any nascent weeds.
Also, leaving clippings where they land--so they can serve
as natural mulch--also helps prevent weeds from getting a
CONTACTS: Eartheasy.com, www.eartheasy.com/grow_lawn_alternatives.htm;
EPA’s Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment, www.newdream.org/consumer/lawncare.pdf.
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