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Lisa Witter

Lisa Witter

Posted: November 26, 2007 04:52 PM

Polar Bears and People


Imagine seeing as many images of hunters and fisherman drowning as we see of polar bears. Up North, way up in the Artic, the Inuit people suffer from today's effects of global warming. Not only is their way of life being threatened but so are their lives.

Ms. Shelia Watt-Cloutier, former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee grew up in the Artic. As a child she remembers the long winters, heavy snow and her dogsled team. Ice is life for her people. Ice provides platforms for hunting and fishing. It hardens to create roads so trucks can bring in critical supplies, and it houses the food and water needed to survive.

Since 1000 CE the Inuit people have lived in harmony with the ice. They have become symbiotic with it. They know ice so well that they use it to build igloos that are so ingenious that a baby is toasty warm lying naked in the middle of one during the worst of sub-zero storms. But their harmony is melting away.

At the recent International World Leaders Global Security Summit, sponsored by the White House Project, the Council of Women World Leaders, the Women Leaders Intercultural Forum and the Annenberg Foundation Trust and Sunnylands, Shelia framed global warming as a human issue. She spoke of people dying - hunters falling through the ice. She spoke of the devastating effects for nursing mothers and babies of the release of trapped toxins from the melting ice. She spoke about how she fears her 10-year-old grandson will not know the way of her people.

As a new mother myself I've just recently become a 'convert' to Vice President Al Gore's inconvenient truth. I suppose it's looking into my baby's eyes and wondering what disease he might contract, what war he may have to fight and how his way of life will be threatened by the effects of the climate crisis.

Don't get me wrong. I've known about global warming for some time. I believed the science. But it wasn't "my issue."

I've dedicated my life to fighting for social justice. My issues were about empowering women to rebuild their lives post-war and rape. They were about alleviating suffering from those who suffered most. They were about promoting women's leadership. They were about ending war.

Sitting, listening to Ms. Watt-Cloutier talk and thinking about my 5 ½ month old son, I realized that global warming is my issue and that it's interconnected with all the other things I care so deeply about. Global warming is fostering war, disease, poverty and we're only just beginning to see its devastating effects on people. It's all connected.

And that was the point of the International World Leaders Global Security Summit. The summit's co-hosts Mary Robinson, President, Ireland (1990-97) and Kim Campbell, Prime Minister, Canada (1993) and more than 80 women world leaders wanted to show that one of the unique leadership attributes that women bring to problem solving is seeing issues for their interconnected nature and not just in silos.

How so, you might say? You can look at brain science for proof. Men have larger processors in the core of the most primitive area of the brain, which registers fear and triggers aggression -- the amygdala. Women have larger a prefrontal cortex, which tames the amygdala, and is the center for language and finding connections.

This is not to say that all men are bad and all women are good. Not at all. But what it does say is that women's brains hold an important and under tapped capacity to solve the greatest challenges of our time - namely global warming.

I've been amazed how, for the most part, global warming has been about ice caps melting and polar bears. It's been about hard science and charts. All of this is, of course, is very important. But, women are especially moved by stories about people. They are moved by calls of action that speak to their caring nature, their desire to be connected and their wish to have control over their lives, and their families' lives, and their future.

And don't forget. Women aren't a 'special' interest. They are the majority interest. All recent presidential elections have been decided by the women's vote. They aren't a niche audience; they are the audience to activate for political change.

Up to now, women have been asked to un-shop, un-drive and swap out polluting light bulbs. All this is incredibly important. But for the people on Earth to survive, we need much more than that. We need a massive political movement that demands immediate action. I believe that this will happen much quicker if we do more framing of global warming as a people's issue and appeal to the largest untapped source for change: women and their leadership. Ms. Watt-Cloutier is a shining example of that and I thank her for it.