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How far would you go to prove that you have all the brains (and brawn) of your male counterparts?
To the ends of the Earth?
Well, that’s exactly what the 76 women scientists of the Homeward Bound 2016 expedition did.
History’s largest female voyage to Antarctica was neither a vacation nor a simple fulfillment of wild-woman wanderlust. It was a landmark statement heard around the globe in response to prevailing sentiments of discouragement and sexism in the scientific realm. Shockingly, the United States didn’t allow American women to work in Antarctica until 1969, and it has been an uphill battle since then for women to get a foothold on the icy continent.
The challenge inspired women’s leadership activist Fabian Dattner. Last year, she joined forces with Ecosystem Modeler Jessica Melbourne-Thomas to send a boat full of women to Antarctica on a mission that would serve both scientific and gender-equality agendas.
Simply put, women want to take an active role in protecting the planet, and this opportunity sought to fling the door wide open for them. The Homeward Bound expedition’s motto became, “Mother Nature needs her daughters.”
“You feel something inside you that makes you want to take care of people and the planet,” French population modeler and expedition participant Deborah Pardo, who attributes a portion of her passion to motherhood, explained to CNN. “Women have this drive to ensure the sustainability of the environment and the welfare of their families.”
And so, after nearly a year of training, 76 women from around the world—ranging in professions from marine ecologists to doctors, physicists and astronomers—set sail from Argentina on December 2.
After two and a half weeks at sea, the women set foot on the wildly remote shores of the earth’s southernmost landscape.
“Antarctica represents the relative fragility of the natural world, but it is also an environment that can provide us with a lot of information about what’s happening on the global scale,” said Melbourne-Thomas. “Antarctica is an important system in terms of providing us with early warnings about climate change, but also a way to untangle the effect of multiple changes in the environment.”
According to CNN, the Antarctic expedition was part of a 10-year project to help women in science cultivate their clout. “The 10-year goal, starting with Homeward Bound 2016, is to engage, encourage and support a diverse pool of women into leadership roles where they can shape policy and decision making. The hope is to establish one great network of 1,000 women with backgrounds in science collaborating for a shared vision.”
Melbourne-Thomas added, “We just really can’t afford to have the voice of women missing at the leadership table. Women bring a diversity of approaches and a whole range of complementary skills and styles in terms of science, and leadership more generally.”
Plans are now underway for a second all-female trip to Antarctica in February 2018.
Learn more at HomewardBoundProjects.com.au.
When the city of Melbourne, Australia, launched a project to improve maintenance of urban trees, the response was even more positive than predicted …
“Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and e-mail addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches,” reported Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic. “People did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which, by now, have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.”
Treemail? From tree huggers?
Here is an example of an adoring ode, written in February, 2015:
Dear Algerian Oak,
Thank you for giving us oxygen.
Thank you for being so pretty.
I don’t know where I’d be without you to extract my carbon dioxide. (I would probably be in heaven.) Stay strong, stand tall amongst the crowd.
You are the gift that keeps on giving.
In addition to love letters from human admirers, Melbourne’s trees have received letters, like this spunky selection, from pen pals who claim to be trees themselves:
To: Oak, Tree ID 1070546
Just sayin how do.
My name is Quercus alba. Y’all can call me Al. I’m about 350 years old and live on a small farm in NE Mississippi, USA. I’m about 80 feet tall, with a trunk girth of about 16 feet. I don’t travel much (actually haven’t moved since I was an acorn). I just stand around and provide a perch for local birds and squirrels.
Have good day,
According to LaFrance, “The surprising thing in the case of e-mail-equipped trees, though, is that some of the people who have sent messages have received replies. Like [the following] correspondence between a student and a green leaf elm.”
29 May 2015
Dear Green Leaf Elm,
I hope you like living at St. Mary’s. Most of the time I like it too. I have exams coming up and I should be busy studying. You do not have exams because you are a tree. I don’t think that there is much more to talk about as we don’t have a lot in common, you being a tree and such. But I’m glad we’re in this together.
29 May 2015
I do like living here.
I hope you do well in your exams. Research has shown that nature can influence the way people learn in a positive way, so I hope I inspire your learning.
Green Leaf Elm, Tree ID 1022165
How can you stay in touch with trees here in the U.S.? Of course, you can hug them! You can also sign up to receive your own Tree-Mail, the e-newsletter of the National Forest Foundation, which includes stories, news, and tips about our National Forests.