Ayana Elizabeth Johnson – The Feminist Climate Renaissance: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

A Feminist Climate Renaissance is emerging in the movement for climate justice as women––specifically women of color––are transforming how we approach a life-giving future for all. Rebalancing decision-making and recentering community to understand climate change’s multifaceted nature is necessary to mobilize a mass movement for climate justice.

In this keynote address, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson talks about the emerging Feminist Climate Renaissance and draws on wisdom from a brand new anthology by women climate leaders she co-edited with Katharine Wilkinson, All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Ayana is one of the nation’s most innovative thought leaders in ocean and coastal conservation and recent co-creator of the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. 

This is an edited transcript of a keynote address delivered at the Bioneers 2020 conference.

Hello, Bioneers. It is truly an honor to be with you. I wanted to start by sharing just a bit of my background.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and the first time I had the chance to visit the ocean, I fell utterly in love and decided I was going to become a marine biologist. It is a pretty standard dream job for a 5-year-old, but I stuck with it that I realized that learning about ocean science was an opportunity to contribute to human welfare and the future of life on this planet.

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to develop a career deeply grounded in science, working on policy, and deeply passionate about the justice issues surrounding the ocean and climate. I refused to choose a narrow career, and I’ve fought to be a generalist and help build teams of profound expertise needed to do this work.

In my work, the people I’ve been inspired by the most have been women and women of color, but not enough other people follow their lead. As a result, the work I’ve undertaken in the past few years has been uplifting the voices of leaders that I think should have the resources to ensure their work’s impact. One of the forms that I have taken is All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, this anthology that I’ve had the honor of co-curating, co-editing with Dr. Katharine Wilkinson. This book is an anthology of 41 essays, 17 poems, and original illustrations.

All We Can Save symbolized the loss we’ve already experienced and the endurance to not give up on what is left. We must have the courage to face the truth of what science is saying we should expect to come to move forward. This book calls for and identifies what we call a “Feminist Climate Renaissance,” referring to the leadership that women are exhibiting in the climate space.

First, focus on making change rather than being in charge to move beyond ego, competition, and control. Second, commit to responding in ways that heal systemic injustices instead of deepening them. Third, learn to appreciate heart-centered leadership and not just head-centered leadership. Fourth, and most importantly, building community is a requisite foundation for building a better world. We see women and girls engaging in deeply relational, collaborative, and supportive ways, taking the necessary time to invest in the weft and weave between us.

In the book, we describe the climate crisis as a leadership crisis. To transform society, we need feminist climate leadership open to people of any gender. The possibility of moving toward a life-giving future for all depends on this new approach to leadership. This is not about women having all the answers or men getting out of the way. It’s about rebalancing decision-making. We need everybody, so we must figure out how to welcome the leadership of half of the planet who identifies as women. Leaving women out of the leadership will help determine our success in addressing the climate crisis. 

We divide the book into eight sections, starting with Root, these foundational principles of climate justice, biomimicry, Indigenous wisdom, atmospheric science, emergent strategy and community, and how we got into this mess.

We want this book to welcome everyone into climate work and show different ways people can contribute, regardless of professional or geographic background.

If this book does the most significant thing that it can do, it will change the gender balance in decision-making regarding climate justice; it will center the community to deepen the understanding of the many different aspects of the climate crisis. Fundamentally, the climate crisis is about the way we live on this planet and interact with each other, which either heals ecosystems and gives us a chance to thrive or continues to tear them apart. It feels ridiculous to say such grandiose things about one book. However, I think this is a moment going into a new decade in which we know how little time we have left, and we desperately need a shift in perspective about how we approach the problems we’re facing and then whom we look to guide us.


Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, policy expert, and Brooklyn, NY-based community-building activist, is one of the nation’s most innovative thought leaders in ocean and coastal conservation. She is founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a consultancy dedicated to conservation solutions grounded in social justice; of Urban Ocean Lab, a think-tank for the future of coastal cities; and recent co-creator of the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. She is also a passionate advocate for women’s leadership and is the co-editor of a groundbreaking new anthology of wisdom from a range of women climate leaders: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. To learn more about Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, visit her website.

Ocean Collectiv designs, builds, and implements creative and practical solutions for a healthy ocean. Check out Ocean Collectiv’s resources to get informed and contribute to a healthy ocean for all.

All We Can Save

Provocative and illuminating essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement who are harnessing truth, courage, and solutions to lead humanity forward. Visit allwecansave.earth to purchase the book, join a reading circle, and learn about the All We Can Save Project, which aims to accelerate the success of the climate movement by providing focused support and community building for women climate leaders.

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