Planet Protectors: Notes from Session 3 of TEDWomen 2019

Singer-songwriter Shawnee brings her undeniable stage presence to TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

The impacts of climate change are here, right now. In Session 3 of TEDWomen 2019, we dig deep into some of the most urgent environmental issues we’re facing — exploring solutions and the many ways people across the globe are fighting for change.

The event: TEDWomen 2019, Session 3: Planet Protectors, hosted by Whitney Pennington Rodgers and Chee Pearlman

When and where: Thursday, December 5, 2019, 11am PT, at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California

Speakers: Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Kelsey Leonard, Shawnee, Colette Pichon Battle, Renee Lertzmann, Jane Fonda

Music: Singer-songwriter Shawnee brings her undeniable stage presence of music of empowerment to the stage, performing two songs: “Way Home” and “Warrior Heart.”

The talks in brief:

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, environmental activist

Big idea: To combat climate change, we must combine our current efforts with those of indigenous people. Their rich, extensive knowledge base and long-standing relationship with the earth is the key to survival.

Why? Modern science and technology date back only a few hundred years, but indigenous knowledge spans thousands, says Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. As she puts it: “For us, nature is our supermarket … our pharmacy … our school.” But climate change threatens their — and all of humanity’s — way of life. In her own nomadic community, some social fabrics are unraveling under the strain of its effects. To ensure resilience in the face of these developments, she suggests a marriage of new and old learnings to map and share crucial information for global survival. “We have 10 years to change it. 10 years is nothing,” she says. “So we need to act all together and we need to act right now.”

Quote of the talk: “I think if we put together all the knowledge systems that we have — science, technology, traditional knowledge — we can give the best of us to protect our peoples, to protect the planet, to restore the ecosystems that we are losing.”


“We need to fundamentally transform the way in which we value water,” says Kelsey Leonard. She speaks at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Kelsey Leonard, Indigenous legal scholar and scientist

Big idea: Granting our water bodies legal personhood is the first step to addressing the ongoing water crises and injustices —  especially those endured by indigenous people. 

Why? Water is essential to life. Yet, in the eyes of the law, it remains largely unprotected — and our most vulnerable communities lack access to it, says Kelsey Leonard. As a representative of the Shinnecock Nation, she shares the wisdom of her nokomis (or grandmother) on how we should honor this precious life source, by asking these central questions: What if we asked who water is, in the same way we might ask who is mother? This type of orientation fundamentally transforms the way in which we think about water, she says — prompting us to grant water the same rights corporations maintain under the US’s Citizens United case. In this way, and by us to looking to indigenous laws, we can reconnect with the lakes, oceans and seas around us.

Quote of the talk: “We are facing a global water crisis. And if we want to address these crises in our lifetime, we need to change. We need to fundamentally transform the way in which we value water.”


Colette Pichon Battle, attorney and climate equity advocate

Big idea: Climate migration — the mass displacement of communities by climate change — will escalate rapidly in the coming years. We need to prepare by radically shifting policies and mindsets alike.

Why? It’s predicted that climate change will displace more than 180 million people by 2100. As a generational native of southern Louisiana and an attorney who has worked on post-Hurricane Katrina disaster recovery, Colette Pichon Battle knows the world is not prepared for these population shifts — and urges us to plan before it’s too late. How? By first acknowledging that climate change is a symptom of exploitative economic systems that privilege a few over the many, and then working to transform them. We need to develop collective resilience, preparing communities to receive climate migrants by allocating resources and changing social attitudes. And finally, she says, we need to re-indigenize ourselves, committing to ecological equity and human rights as the foundational tenets of a new climate-resilient society.

Quote of the talk: “All of this requires us to recognize a power greater than ourselves and a life longer than the one we will live. We must transform from a disposable, short-sighted reality of the individual to one that values the long-term life cycle of our collective humanity. Even the best of us are entangled in an unjust system. To survive, we will have to find our way to a shared liberation.”


Renee Lertzman, climate psychologist 

Big idea: We need to make our emotional well-being a fundamental part of the fight against climate change.

How? What’s happening to our planet feels overwhelming. While we have a lot of information at our fingertips when it comes to the science of climate change, we know much less about its emotional impact. Renee Lertzman has interviewed hundreds of people about how climate change makes them feel, and now she wants to equip us with a toolkit for handling our climate grief and still being able to take action. Patience, compassion and kindness are all qualities we need to deploy much more often in our conversations about the crisis, she says. As climate events push us outside our “window of tolerance” — the stresses we can withstand without becoming overwhelmed — feeling numb and seeming apathetic are very natural responses. A lot of people tell her: “I don’t know where to start.” She recommends practicing attunement: listening to our own feelings and those of others, accepting them without judgement and meeting our experiences with curiosity. Whether in a small friendship group or a larger climate action gathering, remembering that we are human is a key ingredient in the fight for our world.

Quote of the talk: “These are hard issues. This is a hard moment to be a human being. We’re waking up.”


Civil disobedience is becoming a new normal, says actor and activist Jane Fonda. She speaks with host Pat Mitchell about Fire Drill Fridays, her weekly climate demonstrations, at TEDWomen 2019: Bold + Brilliant on December 5, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Jane Fonda, actor, author and activist

Big idea: In the wake of climate change, protest is becoming a new normal — at least until we see the changes we need.

Why? At age 81, Jane Fonda is putting her body on the line for the earth. In a video interview with TEDWomen curator Pat Mitchell, Fonda discusses Fire Drill Fridays, the weekly demonstrations on Capitol Hill she leads in partnership with Greenpeace. Since moving to the capital in September, Fonda has staged a sit-in of the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill every Friday to protest the extraction of fossil fuels. She has been arrested multiple times, spent a night in jail and her action is inspiring people around the world to host their own Fire Drill Fridays. But, she says, we don’t all need to get arrested to raise awareness: there many ways to put pressure on lawmakers and hold governments accountable. Read a full recap of her talk here.

Quote of the talk: “There are about twenty-five million people in this country who are really scared about climate crisis, and they want to do something but no one has asked them. We have to ask them. We have to get organized.”

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