Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and a former UN high commissioner, has spent the past three decades traveling the globe, trying to find solutions to human rights issues. During those travels, in places like Sudan and Syria, she noticed that women in those countries were the most impacted by climate change—and the most impactful in trying to find ways to counter the creep of sea-level rise, drought, and man-made disasters. They were addressing problems that trickle into everything from economics to education.
Robinson didn’t think people were talking about it enough, so she teamed up with Irish comedian Maeve Higgins, who also has a podcast about U.S. immigration, to start a new conversation. Together, they host Mothers of Invention, a biweekly podcast that launched at the end of July about women working for climate justice.
The women’s back-and-forth is as charming as their accents, but the real glory is in their storytelling. Robinson and Higgins show the history, scope, and scale of the climate movement, with each episode focusing on one topic and weaving together interviews with multiple women. Guests have included 350.org executive director May Boeve, Native American environmental rights activist Tara Houska, and Australian-Bangladeshi human rights lawyer Tessa Kahn, co-founder of the Climate Litigation Network.
Higgins told us about going on the air with the woman who became her president in 1990, when Higgins was eight, and their mission to spotlight women in the world of climate justice.
On podcasting with your former president: “[Mary Robinson] feels such an urgency around pushing the facts about people on the ground countering climate change, so she went to a production company to try to make a movie. They told her, ‘We could do a movie, but it’ll take two years, or we could do a podcast right away.’ She was like, ‘Great! What’s a podcast?’ So that’s where I came in. She is infectious, to the point where our whole team has made changes. A lot of us have stopped eating meat. I just divested from Chase Bank—they hung up the phone on me. I don’t have a lot of money, but it does make a difference.”
On looking at the bright side: “As a surface-level consumer of news about climate, I had been paralyzed. I felt like it was hopeless until I met all these people. Now I think there are absolutely things I can do. Ninety-eight percent of coverage of climate is negative, and I don’t think that’s fair. The time for lamenting is over. Let’s focus on people who are actually making changes for the better.”
On listening to women: “Our tagline is that climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution. It’s quite a provocative statement, but I think it’s totally true. We’ve all been living in these patriarchal societies. Mary really understands how power works, and through her work on human rights, she saw that women are first and worst affected by climate change. Women tend to die more in forest fires and floods or monsoons. They’re the ones that it’s happening to the most, but on the ground, in her experience, they’re the ones coming up with the solutions. We’ve gotten some blowback, but I think everyone can be a feminist. Please, you’re welcome.”
On learning on the job: “This was my ignorance from being a white person who grew up in the global north, but I saw people in Bangladesh or Australia and thought, ‘They’re the victims of climate change, it’s not me.’ But they’re also the heroes; they’re the ones who know what to do and are coming up with the solutions.”
On intersectionality: “We talked to Sarra Teakola, who is getting a PhD in climate science but who is also a Black Lives Matter protester. Now the intersection is so obvious to me, but she had to spell it out at first. For instance, you’re more likely to die in a heat wave in Los Angeles if you’re black.
“The women’s movement doesn’t always talk about climate, and climate justice itself isn’t a widely known term, so we want to bring that to the forefront. It touches on so many things. So much of human migration is driven by climate change.”
On amplification: “Women have to be told to toot their own horns. No one is going to toot it for you. Meanwhile, there are men out there with air horns on their cars.”