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Climate Change and Violence: We Must Listen

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by Matt Petersen

I have a confession.

I am stuck in a bad relationship.

In fact, I think we are all stuck in a bad relationship.

And what are the hallmarks of a good relationship? Communication. Listening. Respect.

Well, we are not listening -- and certainly not demonstrating our respect -- to the planet or for women and girls, as they suffer at our hands. We seem to be deaf as both are speaking out loud and clear.

Whether it is growing impact of global warming as evidenced by sea-level rise and storm surge from Hurricane Sandy, or the epidemic of violence against women as seen in the unspeakable atrocities against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are not listening.

So, on February 14, I'm rising because we can no longer plunder the beauty that exists on this planet to serve our desires. Whether is the beauty of nature or beauty of women, we must change our relationship, and no longer claim dominion over both.

As the planet suffers, we see that women and girls suffer too.

The UN recently released a report on this very topic: women, gender equality, and climate change. The report states:

Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men -- primarily as they constitute the majority of the world's poor and are more dependent on their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. Furthermore, they face social, economic, and political barriers that limit their coping capacity.

So, what do we do? How do we get out of this bad relationship and how do we learn from what's going on?

Nearly 2 years ago, I was fortunate enough to journey to a place where these two challenges -- these two bad relationships -- are more interlinked than anywhere else perhaps on planet Earth.

A place where the bastardized concept of dominion - dominion over women and the planet - has spun out of control.

I joined V-Day, their amazing founder Eve Ensler, and others on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place that is rich in so many ways, but particularly in natural resources, including rare-earth minerals. These rare-earth minerals are essential to our cell phones and other electronic goods that we have become so dependent on, which we supposedly "need" for our daily lives. And what's happened?

Armed militias, who depend on profiting from these rare-earth minerals, use rape of women and girls to control and continue to profit from these rare-earth minerals. Over half a million women and girls have been raped in the last 10 years alone in the Congo.

Why is the Eastern Congo the rape capital of the world, as a UN official recently put it? In great part because we're so dependent on these cell phones and electronic goods, and the rare-earth -- or conflict minerals -- needed to manufacture them.

During the journey to the Congo, we celebrated the opening the City of Joy -- a place that Eve and V-Day built as a community for women survivors of gender violence -- rape and other atrocities -- in Bukavu, in the Eastern DRC.

The theme of the celebration was "Turning Pain into Power."

At the opening of the celebration (an odd term to use given the pain, suffering and destruction), I was blessed to be able to dance with hundreds of local women. Many of these amazing woman had been raped multiple times and yet they danced with such incredible joy, and love. As they danced, they didn't hold back their joy and love. They truly turned pain into power. And my life was forever changed by these beautiful, brave, joyous women.

Last August, I returned to the Congo to further help turn pain into power. Well, solar power, that is.

Global Green has partnered with V-Day to green the City of Joy, and we not only delivered one hundred solar LED lights (replacing kerosene lamps in the residences), we installed a solar system to provide reliable, clean electricity, and reduce -- and eventually eliminate -- the need to rely on expensive, dirty diesel generators. (Thanks to the generosity of the SunPower Foundation, as well as the 11th Hour Project and COINS Foundation for making this possible.)

Now their lights and other electrical needs are powered by the Sun.

What can we do to help the reduce the conflict and end this unfathomable violence against women and girls -- and increasingly boys -- in the Eastern Congo?

As consumers, we can make a difference by demanding cell phones and electronic goods that are conflict mineral-free. It is good to see progress being made on this front thanks to activists and consumers around the world.

But that's not enough. We need to stop allowing ourselves to be defined as consumers. We need reclaim our role as citizens. Yes, we need to vote and hold our leaders and elected officials accountable and demand action on these global issues of great importance.

Still, that's not enough, either.

We need to empower and call upon each every citizen to not just reclaim our role as citizens, but to become citizen entrepreneurs: people who love their home, who love the earth, who connect the dots to the global challenges we face, and who take responsibility for a corner of their world. People who unleash their creativity in making their neighborhood, school, or community a better place, however big or small their idea.

So what do we do? How do we mend this bad relationship we are stuck in?

What if we valued and celebrated citizen entrepreneurs, people who love their neighborhood, who listen to planet Earth and women?

And what if Vanity Fair created the new establishment list of citizen entrepreneurs? What if Forbes, rather than listing the richest people in America, created the Forbes list of citizen entrepreneurs?

I'm not just talking about the people who run nonprofit organizations or CEOs of corporations that have a commitment to social change. I'm talking about people we all know: teachers and nurses; farmers and small business owners; and mothers and fathers in their neighborhood who care and have a crazy idea and do something about it, however big or small. That's what citizen entrepreneurship is all about.

So, what if we were committed to loving our home, loving our neighborhood, and loving the earth? What if we decided we wanted to listen and make a difference? And we wanted to make sure our relationship with our planet and women is healthy and strong and built to last?

On February 14, I am going to rise to heal this bad relationship we are stuck in. I hope you will join me.