Climate change is an issue that impacts all of us. But not everyone is included in conversations about the topic. In November 2021, FiveThirtyEight released a study that the American public grossly underestimates what percentage of Black Americans care about the environment. According to the Los Angeles Times, people of color represent less than 16% of employees at environmentally focused institutions within the United States. Despite these unideal statistics, there are brilliant minds from all backgrounds who are champions for the environment and relevant policies. Michaela Stith represents this reality. She has dedicated career to addressing environmental issues through an intersectional lens. In 2021, Michaela wrote a book called “Welp: Climate Change and Arctic Identities”, which features her experiences combating climate change while navigating new cultures and collaborating with different communities. Reflecting on her experience, Michaela sat down with BAUCE to discuss her journey in the environmental movement, advice for other young advocates, and the lessons that inspired book.
Bring Your First hand Experience to Your Environmental Advocacy Work
Having a personal connection can help you feel more passionate about your efforts. Michaela drew from her childhood watching the weather become warmer and warmer in Alaska. Throughout her childhood, Michaela witnessed snow coming later and the glaciers melting. But you don’t need to live in Alaska to understand how much the environment is changing. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021 was the sixth hottest year on record. The change in weather patterns has been disruptive to everyone, so you can use this reality to drive your environmental activism.
Reflect on the Role of History in the Current State of Affairs
When describing the relationship between Black Americans and the outdoors, Michaela acknowledges, “There is a lot of history with land ownership and land stewardship. In America it’s been unsafe for Black people to be on the land. Reconstruction had lynchings in the woods. A lot of laws were created to prevent Black people from hunting and of course there are negative memories attached with working the land. So many structures have been set up to separate us from the land.” While history has not been kind to Black outdoor adventurists, that should not prevent people from advocating for and engaging with the environment.
Embrace the Diversity Within the Environmental Movement
It’s no secret that the media surrounding the environmental movement tends to focus on white American and European activists. In January 2020, the Associated Press cropped out Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate from a picture featuring young activists at the Davos Agenda Conference. As a result, the four remaining women were all white. Sharing her insight, Michaela states, “The environmental movement is much more diverse than people seem to believe.” Organizations such as Generation Green, Intersectional Environmentalist, and Climate Justice Alliance are all helpful resources for young activists as they are comprised of diverse and engaged groups of people.
Collaborate with a Broader Community and Learn from Other Cultures
Within the United States, there are numerous ways that climate change activism manifests. There are climate rallies in cities. Small suburban communities may have local gardens to promote sustainability. There is much to explore within the country’s borders. At the same time there is much to learn about environmentalism and sustainability from other cultures. Spending time in Zambia, Zimbabwe, China could bring enlightening insight around desertification. To better understand the impact of the Arctic, you could go to Scandinavia like Michaela did. Different regions can bring you different types of knowledge.
Keep a Journal for Mental Health and Record-Keeping Purposes
A 2019 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Boston concluded that journaling can help with self reflection and processing information. Self-care is an essential component to any form of activism, so environmental activists should find ways to decompress amidst their work. While working and living in Scandinavia Michaela maintained a journal. Eventually these entries formed the basis of her book about her journey as an environmental advocate and researcher.
The environmental movement has room for everyone. Given how disruptive and swift climate change has been, time is of the essence. This journey can take you to all corners of the world. As you immerse yourself in the movement and learn more about the issues at hand, you may also be able to learn more about yourself.