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.
Sierra CAMP, a program of Sierra Business Council, is currently undertaking a regional vulnerability assessment to examine how Sierra Nevada communities will be affected by projected climate changes. We have already seen the massive impact that climate change can have in its multiple forms on our communities in the mountains. Climate change leaves our homes and businesses vulnerable to wildfire and floods, it impacts the clarity of our lakes and rivers, and challenges our recreation patterns as we navigate the changes in snow and temperature year round. The goal of the vulnerability assessment is to better understand and measure the impacts of climate change on our social and economic systems that are inextricably linked to our natural environment.
Over the course of the last year, the impact of COVID-19 has snowballed into a deep recession and shifted the course of life as we know it. Over the course of the last year, the impact of COVID-19 has snowballed into a deep recession and shifted the course of life as we know it.
I’m wearing my RBG T-shirt and staring at my RBG action figure, gifts from my daughter, a true social justice warrior. Like me, she was raised to revere and honor women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It is a family tradition that follows at least four generations that I know of and we hold closely a favorite RBG quote, “What is the difference between a bookkeeper in the Garment District and a Supreme Court justice? … One generation.”