I entered college knowing I would major in environmental studies. This interest in the environment was the constant in my ever-changing adolescence (and involved many phases, including when I only wore green, yikes!) and it helped direct me when I arrived on campus as one of the 45,000 students at the University of Washington. I started taking environmental classes right off the bat and didn’t have to flounder around, searching for some deep unstoked passion. It was already there.
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I have grown up with the luxury of beautiful mountains, trails, rivers, and beaches. I spent most of my free time recreating outdoors and waited for any opportunity to venture to new places. Studying the environment seemed like an extension of the things I love. I could learn about the birds, trees, and rocks that I saw. I could learn about the tides and the rivers that I know. I could become an expert on my home.
These things that drew me to the field were all true. I was a TA for the Natural History of the Puget Sound, a class focused on the Pacific Northwest, and I started farming and understanding where my food came from. I became aware of the intricacies of my home and the ecosystems that surrounded me. But along with learning about the beauty of the environment, environmental studies also taught me about the horrors committed by humans. I became filled with anxiety about the gravity of climate change and its imminent and current impact on the places I love. I would get a heavy feeling after particularly rough lectures and considered choosing a career that seemed less depressing. But then I stumbled into the perfect fit, something that fed that deep ever-present passion for wild places and allowed me to remain positive under the weight of the truths I was uncovering.
I took a general American politics class where we learned about party polarization, how the Senate and the House of Representatives work, and the role of government at different levels. It was a crash course on American politics, and it sparked something in me. Before diving into the intersection of politics and the environment, I felt powerless when I stepped back and thought about the world in relation to climate change. When I zoomed in too much, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. But here was the middle ground.
Attacking environmental problems from the source through government policy gave me clarity on my path forward. It felt more feasible than holding the entire world in my hands and attempting to mitigate climate change. Focusing on environmental policy in the United States allowed me to still learn about the environment and feel like I could do something to protect it.
Environmental policy shapes not just the United States, but the entire world. As a leader in our increasingly globalized world, US environmental policy matters. To work on US environmental policy is to zoom in and shape cities and simultaneously zoom out and change global carbon emissions. I ended up taking more political science classes and I interned with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, focusing on environmental policy. I also interned with Seattle King County looking at research and policy for their Wastewater Treatment Division. They may seem like two vastly different scales of policy but it all fits under the umbrella of government change.
Looking back at how I got to where I am now, things seem almost random. I started off farming at the UW and becoming obsessed with change through small scale food production. I ended up here, in the Sierra Nevada working with SBC, obsessed with government-driven change. I still wear both these hats and believe in the power of food. I like to toggle between the small and large scales when I become disenchanted or overwhelmed. But I also know I have found my scale of work, a level where I feel the most inspired and empowered.
Over the next 11 months, I will be working on a vulnerability assessment for the Sierra Nevada with Sierra CAMP as well as with Nevada County on their Energy Action Plan. I am honored to spend 11 months with an incredible, wholistic non-profit that promotes climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Sierra. In the age of COVID, racial injustice, and extreme inequality, I am proud to be a part of an organization that is working towards a solution.
It’s one thing to follow the news reports and social media videos of wildfire damage from afar, mentally preparing yourself for what it might be like to try and identify the skeletal remains of a structure as your own family’s cabin or home. Or see the tornados of fire set ablaze against a hillside you’ve traversed hundreds of times by car or by foot. Or watch a community you know and love evacuate by the thousands, their whole lives crammed into one carload.
It’s another thing entirely when it happens for real.
As we contemplated go-bag contents and watched the relentless advance of the Beckwourth, River, Tamarack, and especially the Dixie fire over the last few weeks, one of our dearest Small Business Development Center counselors, Clint Koble was smack in the middle of the devastation. Clint lives at and manages a resort in Chester along Lake Almanor. Over the course of several days, Clint holed up at the resort, guarded by the command of fire fighters he so graciously hosted. The firefighters instructed him to park his car on the boat ramp and to take refuge in the car should the flames approach – they would protect him.
The ripple effect of COVID-19 is still being felt in the Sierra and beyond. As the following guest blog (written by SBDC Business Advisor, Danielle Marshall) highlights, one area in particular where we’re still reeling from the pandemic is its disproportionate impact on women (especially women of color). We’re excited to announce an upcoming course taught by Danielle later this year that will hopefully help lessen the obstacles women face in reentering the workforce by helping entrepreneurs start in-home childcare businesses.
Photo of working mom by Charles Deluvio via Unsplash
we’d be poor advocates of the region if we failed to acknowledge the history and current role of the original stewards of the Sierra Nevada. From the Maidu to the Miwok, the Niesenan to the Shoshone, the Paiute to the Washoe, and all the other diverse cultures throughout the region, the Indigenous peoples of Sierra Nevada were the original caretakers of this landscape, and they are critical partners that should be respected and involved in this region’s future.
For fear of sounding like a broken record, I will skip over the detailed account of how my fellowship/life is not exactly as I expected it to be, thanks to the pandemic. It’s 2021 but you could also call it December 56th, 2020. It didn’t become a brand new world January 1st, we are still wearing masks, working from home in our sweatpants, and trying to avoid refreshing the news. At the same time, I have been pondering the beauty of my unexpected journey to CivicSpark and SBC.