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    Thoreau Muses

    Thoreau Muses

    Wangari Maathai

     

    Our Thoreau muse this month is the internationally renowned environmentalist, women’s rights activist and Nobel laureate, Wangari Maathai.

    After exemplary performance in her primary and high school education in Kenya, Maathai was awarded a scholarship to study in the US where she completed college, attained a bachelor of science degree and a master’s in biology. After studying and working in Germany, Maathai returned to Kenya and in 1971 she become the first Eastern African woman to receive a PhD.

    Throughout the 70s and despite having a young family, Maathai worked relentlessly for women’s rights and the environment. She played leading roles in the Kenya Red Cross Society, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP),the National Council for Women of Kenya (NCWK) and most significantly her Green Belt Movement which she set up to employ women to plant native tree nurseries throughout the country.

    After her attempt to run for Kenyan Parliament was thwarted by the Government on dubious legal grounds in 1979, she threw herself into her Green Belt Movement and with the backing of the UN expanded it throughout Africa to become the Pan-African Green Belt Movement.

    Throughout the late 80s and 90s Maathai’s movement fought the oppressive Kenyan government, seeking to unite the fractious opposition parties in order to foster free and fair elections. She survived imprisonment and death threats - at times in hiding - and was instrumental in bringing the world’s attention to the actions of the vicious regime.

    In 2002 she was finally elected to Parliament as part of the Rainbow Opposition Coalition and was appointed Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her ‘contribution to sustainable development and peace’.

    We pay homage to this amazing lady for her persistence in the face of brutal political oppression and for inspiring women, not only in Kenya, but throughout Africa and around the world.

    Thoreau Muses

    Thoreau Muses

    Jane Goodall

     

    Famed British primatologist and ethnologist Jane Goodall is our second Thoreau Muse.

     In 1960, at the age of 28, Jane began her 56 year career studying chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Defying both the dangers presented to a woman in remote Tanzania in those days and the scientific convention of numbering individual animals instead of naming them, she was able to observe social behaviour that broke new ground in how we view these close relatives.

     As the only human ever accepted into chimpanzee society, Jane was the lowest ranking female member of a troop for a period of 22 months. She was able to observe unique personalities, basic tool-making skills and complex social interactions both positive and destructive. These findings suggested far closer similarities between humans and chimpanzees than merely genes and revolutionised the way we perceive other animal species’ intelligence and emotional development.

     Since the mid 80s Jane has been a leading voice for animal rights and continues to work on promoting greater awareness and education around conservation of biodiversity.

     This pioneer, widely considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, not only helped pave the way for women in scientific endeavour, but challenged the deeply held idea of human elitism and changed the way we perceive our co-inhabitants of this world. For this we are profoundly grateful.

     

     

    Thoreau Muses

    Thoreau Muses

    Rachel Carson

     

    Our first Thoreau Muse is the inspirational author and marine biologist Rachel Carson. After a distinguished career working for the US Bureau of Fisheries, Rachel turned her attention to the harmful effects of pesticides, in particular DDT, on people and the environment. Several years of rigorous scientific investigation culminated in one of the most important books of the 20th Century, Silent Spring, in 1962.

    Battling terminal breast cancer, in one of her last public appearances Rachel testified before President Kennedy’s Scientific Advisory Committee. In May 1963 the Committee issued its report largely agreeing with Rachel’s findings which led to the nationwide banning of DDT.

    The enormous social and political impact of Silent Spring is impossible to measure but it proved to be the rallying cry for the global grassroots environmental movement that gained momentum throughout the 60s and led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

    We pay homage to this remarkably courageous, intelligent woman whose work has inspired generations to make a stand for Earth and all its inhabitants.

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