“When I grow up I am going to be a little old lady in tennis shoes,” Mary Catherine Bateson, the septuagenarian writer and cultural anthropologist, told the audience at the TEDx Women conference held in New York City near the end of 2011. To the room full of 50+ women, the reference to Rachel Carson–and the attempts to dismiss the burgeoning environmental movement she helped found–came through loud and clear. As did Bateson’s call to action: “If there is one thing we should all be working on, it is preserving the environment.”
It’s an urgent message, especially when you consider the 191 anti-environmental votes taken by the House in 2011. Polls consistently show that Americans value strong government protections against pollution. But if our Congressional representatives aren’t listening well enough to their constituents, Americans may not be doing all they can to be heard.
Bateson strongly urged seniors to take up the slack and advocate for a healthy environment. Seniors–women in particular–have a unique role play, Bateson argued. It seemed a fitting lesson for a new year. Let me explain.
Jane Fonda kicked off the TEDx Women conversation with a jaw-dropping statistic: “We are living on average today 34 years longer than our great-grandparents.” Looking at our society as a whole, this is a “longevity revolution.” Fonda challenged the panel to consider how we use this time.
To Bateson, this added longevity may be the major source of hope we have in the world. She recognized that people in their 30s, 40s and 50s–overly busy with work and family–have too much to deal with in the short term. But those in their 60s and later–“Adulthood II” as she called it–have more time and wisdom, and Bateson believes are better at problem-solving for the long term.
Both Fonda and Bateson spoke of Adulthood II as a creative, productive period–a new phase of the life cycle that has been inserted before old age. Besides Carson, who wrote Silent Spring when she was 55, Bateson recalled that Betty Friedan was 58 when she wrote Feminist Mystique and Maggie Kuhn was 66 when she founded the Gray Panthers.
Bateson also pointed out that women entering Adulthood II include large numbers who remember the ’60s, and the ’70s, who were activists at some point in their lives, and “who in the beginning years of feminism had to rethink who am I, what do I want, what am I going to do with my life?” These women are on the frontier once again, “pioneering a part of life that did not ever exist before.”
Where should they direct their energy, skills, wisdom, and time? To Bateson it was clear: “Be impassioned advocates for a positive future,” and for future generations one will never see. Check out these 15 women, including three over 90, who according to Nuke Register, were arrested in June at the Entergy Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.Â The women were charged with trespass after advocating for replacing nuclear power with solar power. I like the Huffington Post story of 69-year-old Sue Kelso in southern Oklahoma who stopped the Calgary-based TransCanada from running the Keystone XL pipeline under her family’s peanut farm. And no one will ever forget the brave and visionary Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai, who passed away last fall. Rightfully, much has been written about her life, the Green Belt Movement she launched, and the 40 million trees that have been planted as a result of her work.
There are countless stories of women of all ages taking up the cause of a positive future. Tell us yours. And let’s make 2012 the banner year for women environmental activism.