March 2021

By Anoushka Ambavanekar

Women throughout history have been at the forefront of the climate justice movement, unwavering, and yet unrecognized. Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA), a non-profit organization that engages elected officials to progress climate issues, is proud to be working with female climate leaders who are revolutionizing the environmental movement. 

For Women’s Month Protect Earth Newsmagazine would like to honor some environmental stewards from the past and present who deserve recognition for their numerous accomplishments and dedication to conservation. Those women highlighted who hold office today work with EOPA.

Then: Margaret Murie (1902-2003)

Margaret Murie was a conservationist and writer best known for her work in establishing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which earned her the title “grandmother of the conservation movement.” Margaret and her conservationist husband Olaus wrote articles and letters, delivered talks, and advocated for legislation to protect America’s wilderness. Margaret was appointed to a task force dedicated to preserving Alaskan land. She worked on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which ensured protection for more than 100 million acres of Alaska’s wilderness which included the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Margaret Murie’s continued environmental work and dedication earned her the Audubon Medal in 1980 in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of conservation and environmental protection. In 1998, her commitment to conservation also earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now: Mayor Heidi Harmon

Mayor Heidi Harmon has spent the last 5 years transforming San Luis Obispo (SLO) into a climate leader in California and throughout the country. As an environmental steward, she joined Monterey Bay Community Power and led the effort for Community Choice Energy, giving SLO residents the choice of energy providers encouraging clean energy and innovation. During her time as Mayor, the city council has created the most ambitious carbon neutrality goal in the US, designed a robust electric vehicle charging plan, purchased open space to add to the city’s green-belt, and created a pathway for fossil fuel-free living in new buildings. 

Looking forward, Mayor Harmon hopes to continue major upgrades on the Water Resource Recovery Facility, transition to a net zero city focused on clean energy sources, and increase alternative environmentally-friendly transportation options. Mayor Harmon is also Co-Chair of the California Elected Officials to Protect America branch.

Then: Celia Hunter (1919-2001)

Celia Hunter started her career as a pilot and adventurer, only to become one of the most influential conservationists of all time. Hunter, along with fellow pilot Ginny Wood, was inspired by the great wilds of Alaska and decided to create a place in the wilderness for people to stay and enjoy outdoor activities: Camp Denali. Celia herself once wrote “Although the term had not yet been invented, Camp Denali was probably the first eco-tourism venture in Alaska, possibly the U.S.” 

In support of the Arctic National Wildlife Range, Hunter and others formed the Alaska Conservation Society (ACS), Alaska’s first statewide conservation organization. Their efforts helped make the difference in the creation of the Wildlife Range. The Alaska Conservation Society continued to fight against climate threats, including opposing the use of a nuclear bomb to create a port and the creation of a costly and environmentally-hazardous dam. 

Celia Hunter’s work with the ACS drew national attention and led to her appointment as president, and later executive director, of the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society, becoming the first woman to head a national environmental organization. Hunter then helped start the Alaska Conservation Foundation and served on the Board of Trustees for over 18 years. Even at the age of 82, Hunter continued to write letters to Congress advocating for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s protection from oil drilling. Celia Hunter fought for the environment until the very end.

NOW: Mayor Catherine Blakespear

Mayor Catherine Blakespear was born and raised in her hometown of Encinitas, where she has served on the City Council for 6 years, and as mayor for 4. Mayor Blakespear was recently awarded the 2020 Climate Courage Award from the Climate Action Campaign for her efforts as a climate leader. Since her election as mayor, Mayor Blakespear has adopted a “gold standard” Climate Action Plan, started a food waste program with the Encinitas waste hauler, reduced and eliminated single-use plastics and Styrofoam, promoted recycled water for common space, created an “urban forest advisory committee” and planted more than 1,000 new trees, and formed a Joint Powers Authority with other cities to allow Community Choice Energy to provide clean electricity for residents and businesses.

The Encinitas City Council recently voted on an energy plan where every city resident, businesses and municipality will default to 100 percent renewable energy with only a slight increase of .01 percent in each customer’s bill. A cheaper “PowerOn” plan is available that offers 50 percent renewable energy as well as a more expensive plan that uses less renewable energy. This takes Encinitas from 31 percent renewable sources to 100 percent with negligible increase in price. Encinitas is on it’s way to becoming a leader in renewable energy because of the efforts of Mayor Blakespear.