It’s an unlikely partnership, but in the fight against climate change, the pairing of the first female president of Ireland with a stand-up comedian could be just the answer the world needs. In a new six-part podcast series, Mothers of Invention, Mary Robinson and Maeve Higgins are introducing listeners to the ‘women who are working on the ground in the climate justice arena’. The aim, in Robinson’s own words, is to detail the ‘wonderfully feminist solutions’ to climate change that exist.
The ‘climate justice’ that Robinson and Higgins want to see has been part of Robinson’s agenda for much of her career. Formed of a set of principles that ‘link human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach’, through her own foundation she aims to safeguard the rights of the most world’s most vulnerable people while ‘sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly’.
Initially setting out as a lawyer, Robinson had planned to campaign for human rights at the individual level. It was only following the chance to ‘do an awful lot for the women of Ireland’ in the role of president (coupled with the ‘Harvard Law School humility’ her husband attributes her decisions to) that made her agree to represent a larger group.
Her other roles have included UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, member of The Elders (a group of global leaders coordinating their actions for peace and human rights), and multiple positions as a UN Special Envoy. The Mothers of Invention podcast is just the latest attempt to encourage movement around climate justice.
The motivation behind this new direction is summarised for Robinson in one woman’s story: Ursula Rakova. Due to rising sea levels, Robinson describes how Rakova is ‘moving people from the threatened Carteret Islands, to mainland Papua New Guinea... 1,500 people. She’s bought the land, brought them across in small groups and introduced them to their new neighbours in Papua New Guinea. It’s a work in progress.’ Deciding to leave their homes is not a decision Robinson ever had to encounter as president, and is not a choice she wants her six grandchildren to have to face either. To prevent this, ‘we need a movement pushing much harder,’ she says, ‘to avoid the 3ºC increase in world temperatures’ that Robinson knows would be ‘catastrophic’.
Higgins motivation differs slightly. Her career as a comedian (and New York Times columnist) has been less focused on climate justice and more on eradicating the myths surrounding immigration. She’s certainly not new to podcasts. Maeve in America gives a platform for immigrants to share their anecdotal stories. Mothers of Invention is going to follow a similar vein – sharing the voices of ‘young women, of Black Lives Matter, of indigenous, but also women ministers’, opening listeners’ eyes to who is being impacted and how women are trying to change things.
One example is Tessa Khan. The Bangladeshi-Australian human rights lawyer is co-founder and co-director of the Climate Litigation Network, an organisation taking governments to court for not prioritising the environment. One of her latest cases involves Friends of the Irish Environment, which is suing the Irish government for having a ‘weak and unambitious’ climate policy. The case is expected to be heard in country’s High Court at the end of this year.
While stopping climate change would be the ideal goal, Robinson and Higgins are a little more realistic. Robinson wants to ‘get back that solidarity’ in which common goals become common action and international coordination. As well as action towards carbon-neutral development, she wants a shift in mindsets too. A positive and willing attitude are what she sees as necessary, both in the individual and international arena.
Higgins, also considering the potential impact of the podcast on individuals, wants to change the negativity often aligned with climate change. She admits that prior to starting the podcast, she ‘felt quite stuck and quite powerless’. She’s hoping that hearing how change can be enacted at the local level will alter the perception that top-down action isn’t the only method for real change.
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