Carolyn Raffensperger

Carolyn was raised in the central Midwest and largely influenced by the tall grass prairie and the large river systems that define that landscape. Her education—indeed her life—is driven by questions posed by the circumstances of the day.

An archaeologist and anthropologist by training, Carolyn began her work in the desert Southwest. One of the themes of that training was a deep grounding in the scientific method and the philosophy of science. This training later proved valuable in exploring the decision-making tool of the precautionary principle. Another theme that runs through anthropology and archaeology is that cultures all have to solve some of the same environmental problems: How do you live in a place and not destroy it? How do you say no to things that threaten precious places? How do you evaluate the consequences to the future?  

Understanding the ethical dimension of the precautionary principle took her on a journey to a deep understanding of the rights of future generations and our responsibilities to them. During the mid-2000s she saw a trend that women’s voices were excluded from policy arenas. As a response to this trend, Carolyn co-convened the first Women’s Congress for Future Generations that was held in 2012 in Moab, UT and the second Women’s Congress in 2014 in Minneapolis, MN.

Carolyn is executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network. As an environmental lawyer, she has a knack for discovering and distilling game-changing principles in law and policy. Throughout her years at SEHN, as part of SEHN’s mission to equip grassroots groups with legal and scientific tools, Carolyn has provided legal analysis and legal ideas to struggles in various communities. Most recently she’s been a member of the Steering Team of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition actively resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“I do this work with the Future First Women’s Congress because I hope to look future generations in the eye and say ‘we did everything we could to give you a sporting chance. We did everything we could to tend the Tree of Life on your behalf.”

– Carolyn Raffensperger