Published January 18, 2023 by Rebecca Goldfine

‘Hope Comes from the People Making it Happen:’ Bowdoin Cohosts First “Women in Climate” Event

The January 26 event, “Women in Climate: Community,” will be the first in a series The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Maine is launching to highlight women who are protecting our communities, rivers, oceans, forests, air, and public health.
Portraits of the five panel participants
Moderator Kate Dempsey ’88 with panelists Van Du ’08, Amy Hussey ’23, Teona Williams ’12, and Tamara Lee Pinard.

The event, “Women in Climate: Community, will be the first in a series The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Maine is launching to highlight women who are protecting communities, rivers, oceans, forests, air, and public health. 

TNC reached out to Bowdoin to be its first partner in the series, and the inaugural event includes three Bowdoin alumnae and one current student, as well as a Bates alumna. The panel will be moderated by TNC Maine State Director Kate Dempsey ’88 and will take place from 7:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center's Kresge Auditorium.

Women in Climate: Community Panelists
  • Kate Dempsey ’88, state director, The Nature Conservancy in Maine
  • Van Du ’08, senior environmental planner, Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Amy Hussey ’23, government and environmental studies major, former TNC Maine intern
  • Teona Williams ’12, Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University, former TNC Maine intern
  • Tamara Lee Pinard, community program director, The Nature Conservancy in Maine

Focusing on Women

The “Women in Climate” series is a chance to learn about the perspectives women are bringing to climate change efforts, Dempsey said. The event at Bowdoin, in particular, will focus on strategies women are generating for and with communities impacted by global warming.

Conservationists argue that it is essential to involve women in the effort to forge a livable, sustainable future in the face of drastic environmental change. Studies have shown that when women are involved with climate change initiatives, “the chances of success are greater,” Dempsey said. Plus, their projects are not just more effective, they also tend to produce more equitable outcomes.

Research has identified several reasons for this, including the different way women assess risk and prioritize the welfare of their families and communities. Whether an objective or idea is successful is also dependent on relationships and communication—critical pieces in the quest to change behavior (such as reducing fossil fuel pollution).

Many studies in the social sciences have demonstrated that no matter how much data scientists or policymakers offer people, the information usually has only small and temporary effects on attitudes and behavior. Instead, the best way to change someone's mind is through conversation with trusted friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances.

“And women tend to be very good at that,” Dempsey pointed out.

Data about climate is really important to ground us and to help figure out where we need to go, Dempsey said. “But data is not really great at convincing people to change their behaviors...What we will be talking about on the panel are the different disciplines women are bringing to create change.”

Climate Change's Unequal Impact 

Another reason to include, and elevate, women's voices in planning for climate mitigation and adaptation is that they are disproportionately threatened.  As regions around the world experience the ravages of climate change through floods, drought, hurricanes, and wildfires, Dempsey said those left desperate and destitute are most often women and children

“This is because women tend to be more vulnerable financially and also responsible for the home,” she said. “If you have children and you have to evacuate, you are the one having to figure that out.” 

Such unequal scenarios are playing out in hard-hit areas globally, as well as in the United States. In this country, poorer communities—often communities of color—bear the brunt of weather disasters. In the aftermath of storms and other calamities, these communities also receive less federal assistance than wealthier ones.

Kate Dempsey ’88 on the upcoming “Women in Climate: Community” event, cohosted by The Nature Conservancy in Maine and Bowdoin, 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., January 26 in Kresge Auditorium. 

Dempsey emphasized that, despite these challenges, she and many others in the conservation field are more optimistic now than they have been in decades. State and federal policies have moved us forward dramatically just in the past two to four years, she said.

“There are really amazing reasons to be hopeful,” she continued. And the upcoming “Women in Climate” evening at Bowdoin will reinforce why. “Hearing stories of people coming together to take action on behalf of their communities will inspire people to continue to do good work.”

“In a time of constant divisiveness and the real—very real—experiences of climate change in our daily lives,” she continued, “there are in fact hundreds of thousands of stories of people coming together to work on climate change.”

Bowdoin and TNC

In the past two decades, students have strengthened the bond between the liberal arts college and the impactful state nonprofit. Since 2000, twenty-two students have completed TNC fellowships over fifteen summers; sixteen of these fellows are still employed in the environmental field.

Environmental studies students consider the fellowship at TNC to be one of the more desirable summer opportunities available to them. Importantly, the experience is open to all students no matter their financial status, because Bowdoin supports each TNC fellow with a Psi Upsilon Environmental Fellowship

In addition to supporting fellows, Bowdoin and TNC have collaborated on other projects that examine community vulnerabilities to climate change, including the Maine Coastal Risk Explorer and the Midcoast Social Resilience Project.