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Know the West

Women pioneers

  -We must elect more women - yes. But we must transform those structures to which we elect women to accomplish our goals, because present institutions will not do ... In my heart I believe that women will change the nature of power rather than power change the nature of women."

* Bella Abzug,

quoted in

Women Pioneers for the Environment

Some say the Clinton scandal could have at least one positive outcome: Voters will be more than ready to put a woman in the White House. If the 42 profiles in Women Pioneers for the Environment are any indication, Al Gore and the Bush brothers could face some serious competition.

The women Mary Joy Breton describes - professors, politicians, journalists, grassroots activists and many others - employ strategies as wide-ranging as the environmental movement itself. We get to know the late Judi Bari of Earth First!'s Redwood Summer, Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner, Love Canal activist Lois Gibbs, and pioneering water-quality scientist Ellen Swallow, the first woman to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Particularly welcome are profiles of women from developing countries, such as Indian forest defender Amrita Devi and Dai Qing, a journalist jailed for her criticism of the Three Gorges Dam on China's Yangtze River.

The book has its shortcomings: The pieces are not always gracefully written, and personal interviews are in short supply. The profiles are also frustratingly brief, although a few longer chapters provide more detail about better-known figures. Still, Women Pioneers for the Environment is an inspiring read, and it reminds us that environmental "housework" needs everyone - including, of course, Madam President.

* Michelle Nijhuis