Climate Week NYC: When Women Lead

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The Persistent Acts series continues its synthesis of Climate Week NYC, focusing on this recent week of events around solutions, optimism, and positive stories.

Last week, I recapped the Drawdown event presented as part of the tenth anniversary of Climate Week NYC. Drawdown kicked off a week of panels, concerts, exhibitions, and beyond, running concurrently to the UN General Assembly, all to encourage climate action across sectors. Another galvanizing event I attended was Women in Sustainability.

Organized by Women in Global Affairs (WIGA) and hosted at CUNY Graduate Center, Women in Sustainability brought together women from myriad disciplines to explore the challenges and opportunities within the field of sustainability. WIGA, whose mission is “to assist in bringing intelligent young women together both with their counterparts from across the country and with role models who wish to help mentor a generation of up and coming leaders,” curated panels about sustainability in academic and professional fields.

On the academic front, three women spoke to the institution of academia at large, and presented on their specific areas of research. Laxmi Ramasubramanian, Associate Professor, CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College, discussed how women have been kept out of leadership positions in traditional academic settings, in part because of the limited scope of the career ladder metaphor. She offered an alternative mode of thinking, replacing the ladder with a more nimble trellis, broadening institutional notions of how to build a career.

Sara Perl Egendorf, PhD Student, CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, shared her process for mitigating lead exposure through soil, and her ongoing research with participating New York City Housing Authority residents. Sara outlined the scientific and social components of her research, indicating how community members can become more involved in their local green spaces after lead-free soil from other parts of the city has been mixed into the contaminated soil in an area.

Jennifer Cherrier, Professor, CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, also discussed science in action, through her expertise on waterways. In the age of climate change, as rain storms become more frequent and severe, Jennifer is researching how the city may better handle rainwater, especially when it surges during storms. She is working not only on how to better the gray infrastructure of New York City’s water system (the pipes and pumps), but also on how to incorporate green infrastructure into the way the city manages rain water (through existing and new green spaces).


WIGA hosted Women in Sustainability on September 27 as part of Climate Week NYC.

The second part of the evening focused on a panel of women in the field of sustainability, moderated by Laetitia De Marez, Director of the New York City branch of Climate Analytics. Laetitia posed questions about success and career trajectories to an all-star panel: Sarabeth Brockley, Partnerships Coordinator at Business for Social Responsibility; Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development; Vlada Kenniff, Director of Sustainability at the New York City Housing Authority; and Bhakti Mirchandani, Managing Director at FCLT Global.

The conversation covered instances of sustainability in both public and private sectors, and in the fields of business, agriculture, and public interest. The women spoke about their mentors and career paths – why women must continue to be more and more a part of scientific, political, and financial decisions locally and around the globe – and instances of positive change when women ascend to leadership roles within various companies.

The tone that resonated with me throughout the evening was realistic optimism. As an artist, I felt the power of positivity in the room, especially since there are so many negative forces in our country right now. These scientists, and business and public sector leaders, know the weight and urgency of the climate crisis, and they tackle systems of oppression in various ways through their jobs. In spite of this (and because of it), they continue to do their work toward a more sustainable existence for us all. I spend so much time in my own silo of theatre, I don’t often hear the sustainability accomplishments in other sectors. We need to hear more about these positive outcomes across disciplines. This evening was an instance of palpable collaboration and camaraderie, which I try to emanate in my own creative endeavors.

The evening was broad, covering topics related to each woman’s expertise, and also went deep in connecting the issues to the roots of our problems – namely, colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, and individualism. These systems of oppression will not self-destruct. With this Climate Week event as an example, when women come together, we proliferate alternative ways of being, and collectively pave more pathways for each other – that is a power which oppressive systems cannot take away.


Lift Eachother Up illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

There’s More
Among many other change-making folks at the WIGA event, I met Jordana Vasquez, who runs the blog Urban On Site, for “exploring, exposing and experimenting with sustainability” – Check it out!
(Re)Visit the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Peruse the candidates for the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change’s 2018 Best Climate Solutions Award.
Visit Chantal’s post Exorcising Harveys about tackling gender equity onstage in the Arctic.

This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.


Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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