Women and Global Catastrophic Risks: Nuclear, Climate Change and Pandemic

GUEST ARTICLE BY SHEREEN NANISH

Part 2 (read part 1 here)

Women in the Frontlines in This Fight

Ironically enough, we, humans, obviously have a hand in creating or at least exacerbating the three risks to our very existence. As we’ve seen, everyone is being affected or is going to be, but not equally.

And the segment of the population that is more vulnerable is the least represented. However, the contribution of women does make a difference. A good recent example is the corona crisis management in some countries. Several of the best countries that have relatively done well during the corona crises (Germany, Newsland, and others) had women as part of the leadership managing the crisis.

We can see that women’s issues intersect with environmental and health issues. Thus, having female scientists can add unique elements to climate studies and nuclear and research, because they can better relate to the issue.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, (UIS), less than 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women. However, women have established significant milestones in both science and peace-building throughout history.

Marie Curie, for instance, made an immense contribution to the field of physics and was the first person to win a Nobel Prize twice. Also, when it comes to nuclear science, Lise Meitner, who had to flee Nazi oppression from her Vienna birthplace, laid the foundation for the discovery of nuclear fission in the first place. She worked as a professor of physics at the University of Berlin and was the first woman in Germany to have such a title.

Another incredible nuclear female-scientist who promoted nuclear peace is the first female Egyptian nuclear scientist, Sameera Mousa, who organized the International Atomic Energy for Peace Conference. She worked on intensive research in the field and intended to continue her work before her tragic death.

Women have also contributed significantly to climate science. One of the great discoveries in the field of climate studies was made by a female scientist more than 150 years ago. Eunice Foote found that higher levels of CO2 would lead to warmer temperatures on Earth. She reached this conclusion after a simple experiment she had conducted in 1856.

Foote’s discovery of carbon dioxide’s warming effect helped her realize that global warming could become a reality in the near future. Her experiment was not sophisticated yet enabled her to speculate why the temperature of the atmosphere rises after receiving carbon dioxide molecules from the combustion of burning fuels and oil.

She made this discovery from filing separate glass jars with water vapor, carbon dioxide, and air, and then comparing their ability to heat up. The container “jar” (similar to our atmosphere) with the carbon dioxide heated up faster when it was exposed to sunlight. Although Foote’s findings were ignored and forgotten until a few years ago, she left her mark in the field of climate studies.

Women’s Touch

Some studies show that gender differences suggest different cognition, analysis and communication styles, and even learning patterns. However, this is not a result of biology or genetic differences only; it also has to do with the influence of culture and environment.

But how can this relate to the role of women in science? Women showed their ability to contribute to science and advocate for it!

Increasing the diversity in the field of peace-building, conflict resolution related to nuclear policies, in addition to elevating more women to senior positions are some of the endeavors many female professionals are seeking, such as Sarah Bidgood, Director of Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at MIIS.

Many contemporary scientists have proved this, such as Kate Marvel, a climate change scientist who is communicating climate science to the public audience through different channels. She uses computer models and satellite observations in her studies and also advises journalists and policymakers on environmental issues.

Women can add value to climate change studies and advocacy. The main opportunity for women in science, which has become more available due to the encompassing rise of social information technologies, lies in communication. Alena Yakovleva, President of WiN Russia, believes that women’s bright, emotional, exciting and thoughtful advocacy compels us to change oneself and the society.

As we have seen, the recent movement of climate change advocacy is marked by women’s involvement. Yakovleva suggest that women-specialists today present a huge unspent potential for strengthening relations with the public, inspiring the next generation of researchers, and popularizing opportunities and achievements of science, “particularly thanks to their softness and tenderness, compassion, responsibility, humility and harmony; they can win hearts and minds of numerous people, calmly discuss the most serious of problems and find acceptable solutions.”

The Future of Women Amid The Crises

It’s true that the current corona pandemic is overwhelming, but it should not distract us from thinking of other existential risks that are endangering us and the whole planet.

It’s also important to look beyond the direct consequences of the epidemic, which obviously has to do with health, and focus on other aspects that would affect our lives profoundly, such as the economic damages that women are more vulnerable to. The World Bank has predicted that 25 million people in East Asia and the Pacific will remain poor despite the recent efforts of the governments to improve their economic situation.

These unavoidable consequences will affect women mostly, as they constitute that majority of the poor especially in these areas. Perhaps one of the many lessons to be learnt after the easing of the corona crisis is that we should work faster and more efficiently towards dealing with other risks before they also hit us hard and it becomes too late to act. And while doing so, carry more women on the ship that leads the global research and consider the most vulnerable yet valuable segment of our race.

This article is part of a series of publications written by young women contributors Atomic Reporters is proud to be associated with. They add to the effort to bring familiarity to the subject of nuclear.

References:

  1. 8. Nellemann, C., R. Verma, and L. Hislop (eds), Women at the frontline of climate change: Gender risks and hopes. A Rapid Response Assessment, 2011
  2. https://www.sciencealert.com/a-feminist-and-amateur-scientist-beat-one-of-climate-science-s-founding-fathers-to-a- discovery
  3. https://cktechnical.co.uk/news/women-in-industry-sameera-moussa/
  4. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.5.031428/full/
  5. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52103666
  6. https://www.montereyherald.com/2020/03/11/monterey-scholar-advocates-for-women-in-arms-control/amp/?__tw itter_impression=true
  7. https://www.foe.org.au/nuclear_power_climate_change
  8. http://www.marvelclimate.com/
  9. https://www.audubon.org/news/the-female-scientist-who-discovered-basics-climate-science-and-was-forgotten
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4266559/
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329973013_Climate_Change_Nuclear_Risks_and_Nuclear_Disarmament_ Global_Responsibility
  12. https://www.unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/gendered-impacts-en-620.pdf
  13. Foote, Eunice, 1856. Circumstances affecting the heat of the Sun’s rays: Art. XXXI, ​The American Journal of Science and Arts​, 2nd Series, v. XXII/no. LXVI, November 1856, p. 382-383.​Foote Papers