In 1979, Dr. Sylvia Earle prepares to dive in a JIM suit. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
As climate change continues to worsen and, as a result, worry over animal endangerment and extinction grows, it’s easy to feel hopeless and overlook all the people who are advocating for, researching, and forever altering environmental and animal welfare issues.
Many inspiring women all over the world are working every day to make Earth a better place for all of us. These eight women have informed legislation, made new discoveries, or committed their lives and work to the protection of the environment or the well-being of animals.
1. Ingrid Newkirk, animal welfarist
Ingrid Newkirk founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 1980, the largest animal rights organization, and has since been its international president. She regularly speaks on animal rights issues and has written several books about the fair treatment of animals.
Newkirk has been integral in legislation, campaigns, and best practices that minimize animal cruelty in a range of industries worldwide. She helped push legislation that created the first spay and neuter clinic in Washington, D.C. and helped coordinate the first arrest in the U.S. of a lab experimenter on animal cruelty charges. PETA continues to make big impacts on how organizations of all kinds treat animals.
Newkirk once said, “Discrimination is discrimination, and it’s wrong, whether you’re a woman or a chicken.”
2. Dr. Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, animal conservationist
Sangdeaun Lek Chailert has been called Thailand’s elephant whisperer for her dedication to advocating for the rights of Asian elephants. Born in Thailand in 1961, Chailert was deeply affected when she learned that Asian elephants were becoming endangered.
She created the Elephant Nature Foundation in 1995 to protect this species, now known as the Save Elephant Foundation, and the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which continues to serve as a rescue and rehabilitation center for Asian elephants.
Chailert’s work with Asian elephants was recognized in the National Geographic documentary Vanishing Giants, which won the Humane Society’s Genesis Award.
3. Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer
Dr. Sylvia Earle is the president and chairman of Mission Blue, an organization building awareness and providing support for initiatives to protect the ocean. Earle was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and she’s known for her marine algae research, her early use of SCUBA gear, and her oceanographic exploration. She has led many undersea expeditions and once held the world record for the deepest untethered sea dive.
Earle has been called “Her Deepness” (or “Her Royal Deepness,” to be more formal) by The New York Times and The New Yorker, and she was named the first-ever Hero for the Planet by Time magazine in 1998.
4. Peggy Shepard, environmentalist and justice advocate
Peggy Shepard is an environmental advocate who founded WE Act for Environmental Justice, which aims to “empower and organize low-income, people of color to build healthy communities for all.” Shepard started the organization after seeing how some of the most polluted environments are where people of color are living, including Shepard’s own West Harlem. The organization combats environmental racism by educating and organizing low-income residents and people of color around environmental health and living conditions.
Shepard testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee in 2019, saying, “We must pledge to end this dichotomy of two Americas, of throwaway communities, of the acceptance that we will always have winners and losers.”
5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, politician
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is a U.S. representative and a political advocate for climate change. Within the past couple of years, she and Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey introduced the Green New Deal in Congress, which is a resolution to better manage climate change. The plan outlines how to lessen fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and how we can add new high-wage jobs using better, cleaner energy sources.
While the Green New Deal has yet to fully advance, AOC is still advocating for the resolution and even read the entire plan in February 2020 on the House floor to emphasize its benefits and to clear up misunderstandings. AOC is committed to pushing her environmental agenda, and she’s the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress.
6. Dr. Dení Ramírez Macías, marine biologist, conservationist
Dení Ramírez Macías, born and raised in Mexico City, knew she wanted to be a marine scientist from a very young age. She is an expert on whale shark genetics and director of Whale Shark Mexico in La Paz. The organization uses science and whale shark research to advocate for conservation policy.
Thanks to the work of Macías, populations of whale sharks in La Paz Bay have grown, and her research has contributed to global conservation initiatives. She is also developing management plans for whale shark tourism in La Paz Bay, and she helps promote the conservation of whale sharks along the Pacific coastline of Mexico.
7. Grace Froelich, animal welfarist
In 1976, Grace Froelich founded Animal Rescue, Inc., which continues to be home for hundreds of animals in two locations, one sanctuary near Baltimore and a farm at the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania. The organization takes in abused and abandoned animals and provides care until they can be adopted, aiming to minimize the number of animals being euthanized.
Animal Rescue, Inc., also provides discounted or free emergency medical care for animals as well as affordable spay and neuter clinics for feral cats in the area. Froelich continues to serve as the organization’s president and is a great example of a woman making big impacts on animal welfare within our communities.
8. Marina Silva, environmentalist and politician
Known for her work protecting Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, Marina Silva fights for environmental protection and sustainable development. She served as the Minister of Environment of Brazil from 2003 to 2008. She oversaw a decrease in deforestation during her time in office. She was also Brazil’s youngest-ever senator and cofounded the independent trade union movement in Brazil in the 1980s.
Silva was named one of The Financial Times’ Women of 2014, one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy, and one of the 2015 Women Inspiring Change by Harvard Law School.