How I Started My Climate Journey

In 2012 the veil from my eyes was lifted and I realized my privilege as someone who lived in NYC, a city that boasts having some of the cleanest water in the world on tap. I spent a month volunteering in Ecuador outside of Quito and stayed with a host family during this period. As an English as a second language (ESL) teacher, I woke up bright and early, matching the morning routine to my host mother, but our routines diverged with one particular action: she had huge vats of water boiling on the stove for the household to use for the day ahead.

It was this experience that revealed one of the many public health issues that people face in this world. Over 2 billion people in the world do not have reliable access to clean water and sanitation services, a statistic that is exacerbated with the global climate crisis.

This issue is intersectional and disproportionately affects girls and women. They are traditionally the household members responsible for fetching water, and face numerous physical and psychosocial stressors related to water and sanitation, including but not limited to safety when accessing the restroom and taking care of their menstrual hygiene.

Public health plays a significant role in my climate story; my volunteer experience in Ecuador propelled me into studying public health. It was through my experiences working abroad that I saw other examples of how the consequences of inadequate infrastructure and climate action could exacerbate the climate crisis:

The lack of free, accessible sanitation services in municipalities force residents to incinerate their trash on their properties, contributing to air pollution and harming their own health.

House in a rural village outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Natural disasters occur more frequently and with increasing strength, and tear through neighborhoods and destroy homes. Low-income community members are hit the hardest, and must resort to creating makeshift roofs using tarps and walls using metal sheets in anticipation of the next storms.

Flooded field outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Rainy seasons extend for longer periods of time, disrupting schedules and routines across many instances. Workers in agriculture must adapt to erratic weather and anticipate impacts to their yields, and people working in office settings barricade their entry points in hopes that their buildings do not get flooded, among other examples.

Right here in NYC, I see the intersection between public health and the climate crisis through the pandemic. The health effects of air pollution combined with contracting COVID-19 can be fatal, disproportionately affecting people living in low-income neighborhoods and Black and Brown communities, who already face the brunt of environmental racism and systemic injustice.

While these examples may paint something bleak, I find hope in knowing there are others out there who are committed to tackling the climate crisis. As a young person, a woman, an Asian American, a feminist, I am emboldened by my peers who share the same ambition and look forward to our collaboration in solving the biggest challenge of our lifetime.

5 Ways to Participate in Earth Day During a Pandemic

Countries around the world are enforcing strict stay home policies to help flatten the curve during the pandemic, but that does not mean we can not celebrate Earth Month, and more specifically Earth Day that’s coming up! Here are five ways to participate while staying safe at home:

Get inspired by participating in virtual convenings during Earth Month.

Many organizations, coalitions, and movements are not missing a beat when it comes to Earth Month, and harnessing the power of technology to mobilize and connect with climate and environmental activists and advocates around the globe.

If there is one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, I think it is the fact that local events are now accessible anyone with an internet connection, and geography no longer poses as a barrier. Here are five events you can tune in to:

Let’s Eat! (Less Meat)
Hosts: Arcadia Earth and Wicked Healthy
Date & Time: Thursday, April 16 7pm EST – Thursday, April 23 7pm EST (an 8-part plant-based cooking class series)

Earth Day 50 Virtual Kick-Off
Hosts: Earth Day Initiative and March for Science NYC
Date & Time: Sunday, April 19 from 4-10pm EST

A Deep Dive into Food
Host: Zero Waste NYC Workshop Series
Date & Time: Monday, April 20 from 7-8:30pm EST

The Future of Reusables after COVID-19
Hosts: Just Salad and Muuse
Date & Time: Monday, April 20 at 8pm EST

People for the Planet Summit
Host: Pela Case
Date & Time: Wednesday, April 22nd starting 4pm EST

Connecting to Nature at Home
Host: Sara Weinreb
Date & Time: Wednesday, April 22nd at 6pm EST

Using AI to Tackle Waste and Flatten the Curve
Host: Intuitive AI and Just Salad
Date & Time: Wednesday, April 22nd at 8:30pm EST

Climate Decade: Halving Global Emissions by 2030
Host: The Climate Group
Date & Time: Friday, April 24 from 9-10am EST

Get connected to the Earth and grow something of your own.

If you’re like most people who are staying home during what feels like a global quarantine, you might be feeling anxious, bored, scared, antsy, or all of the above. You might have also heard that growing something of your own or raising plants can have benefits, especially when it comes to your mental health. You don’t need to have a yard in order to grow something – your windowsill works great, and so does any other part of your home (as long as you provide a grow light for your plant).

Practice your climate and environmental activism.

Is there a specific environmental issue that you are eager to advocate for, but don’t know how? Make your voice heard by signing petitions, participating in a town hall to raise issues, reaching out to your elected officials, and more! Here are some suggestions for those in NYC:

Pick one habit or item you want to swap for a more sustainable one for 31 days.

There are various articles that tell you how many days it takes to form a new habit, but I think there is no tried and true number. Since May is just around the corner, I challenge you to take one habit or item that might not be the most eco-friendly, and swap it for a more sustainable option, just for 31 days. See if you can do it for 31 days straight, and when May is over, see if you can continue that habit or using that swapped item. Here are some suggested swaps:

  • Swap single-use plastic bottles for a reusable water bottle
  • Instead of leaving the faucet running while you soap your hands or brush your teeth, turn it off until you are ready to rinse
  • Swap cotton swabs (Q-tips) for a reusable ear pick
  • When you buy takeout, remember to say “no utensils or sauce packets, please” – you are eating at home where you have your reusable forks and spoons and bottles of sauces!

Connect with other eco warriors!

It has been wonderful meeting sustainability champs with the power of social media. I have been sharing a series of “back-to-basics” sustainability tips and tricks during Earth Month (search #AHBEarthMonth on Instagram) on my IG and enjoy learning and sharing with such a great community.

Feeling inspired yet? Now go ahead and celebrate Earth Month!

Changing Tactics in the Face of Climate Emergency

Dozens of people convened at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on Thursday night despite below-freezing temperatures to hear from an esteemed panel tackling climate change during an event co-sponsored by 350.org NYC and New York Society for Ethical Culture. As speakers prepared for the event, attendees visited tables to learn more about and get involved with 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Our Children’s Trust, Green Owls, and other organizations mobilizing to take action on climate change.

Once entering the auditorium, the sound of drum beats from an indigenous performer filled the room, setting the tone for the event. To begin, we participated in a prayer to Our Creator, honoring the land and all animals with a continued promise to protect the environment from the effects of climate change.

Indigenous people center the needs of the earth. We must honor them for starting this ecological fight.

Estrella Verenice Castillo, Green Owls

We were then presented with the 21 youth plaintiffs between 11 and 22 years of age taking on the federal government for their “constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as [protection of] essential public trust resources.” The energy in the room was that of passion and determination as we listened to each young person share personal anecdotes of how they have been personally affected by climate change.

The inspiring 21 youth plaintiffs taking the federal government to court for their constitutional rights to climate justice

Moved and energized by their statements, the event transitioned into the panel featuring Thanu Yakupitiyage (US Communications Manager of 350.org), Sara Blazevic (Co-founder and Managing Director of Sunrise Movement), Vic Barrett (one of the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States), and Julia Olson (Founder of Our Children’s Trust and lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case). So much great conversation took place during this panel and I’ve synthesized their thoughts and recommendations.

Climate and human rights are tied together.

An individual’s ability to live in a world free from climate change and global warming is a fundamental human right. According to the UNCHR, over 68 million people are displaced globally, a portion of them due to climate change.

We need to start talking about climate as a community, and build a multi-racial, intersectional movement.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, 350.org

Climate change is affecting every corner of the globe, from the ice melting in Antarctica, heat waves sweeping across Europe, wildfires claiming thousands of acres of trees in the western coast of the US, to tsunamis and earthquakes in Southeast Asia, and more. People of all racial backgrounds and generations are affected by climate change and we need to start talking about it in this light.

There needs to be a complete transformation of the US government and society.

The US is currently facing more frequent natural disasters from coast to coast. Currently our government is not taking the threat of climate change seriously as one of our most pressing issues today, and organizations such as Sunrise Movement are taking action to nudge elected officials to do the right thing. Climate action can be seen as successful on three factors:

  1. People power: we underestimate the power of the people, but when society is active and engaged, we are a force to be reckoned with! Our society needs to continue to make noise about climate change and force our elected officials to listen to us.
  2. Political power: the next ingredient to climate action success is the support and action from our elected officials. Many concerned people are urging members of Congress to form a House Select Committee on a Green New Deal, and some members of Congress have already shown their support.
  3. Political alignment: the last ingredient is for social and political forces to come together for the same goal, which is to mitigate the effects of climate change through transforming the economy and creating green jobs.

Support youth in their fight for climate justice.

Young people know exactly the kind of future they are being dealt because of climate change and past generations’ inaction on curbing the fossil fuel addiction that we see today. It is our job to meaningfully engage youth, continue to amplify their voices, and provide them platforms to speak on issues that matter to them. This includes getting them a seat at the table, even in the courtrooms, to make sure parties are held responsible to comply with the Constitution.

From left to right starting from the second panelist: Thanu, Sara, Vic, Julia

I think I am not the only one who left this event feeling hopeful for the case, hopeful for the future because of fellow young people who are standing up for the environment and earth, and hopeful because of the diverse, intergenerational audience that came together to hear these speakers. I look forward to the coming months to see which new youth environmental activists pop up as the movement for climate justice continues.

How to Talk Climate Change in the Face of Adversity

The Human Impacts Institute and German Consulate General New York co-hosted a “Creating Climate Community through Chaos” event to discuss how people from different sectors are taking climate action and dealing with conservative forces in the government and media. I have captured some of my main takeaways on how to tackle climate change in the face of adversity in three ways.

It was so great to hear the following panelists share their perspectives and insights on a range of topics in a salon-style discussion: 

1. Climate in the Era of Fake News: Defense vs. Offense

It is up to us to correct fake news head-on and be direct (defense); journalists and reporters have have a duty to call out false statements in headlines or titles of articles. The media is also responsible for reporting the latest on climate change and demonstrating the urgency to address this issue (offense) by reporting what is happening in our world. 

When scientists first discovered the existence of climate change, it was also said that “fake news” also made its debut. Heavy lobbying from fossil fuel companies have created a narrative around climate change being false in efforts to protect their interests and businesses, and they have taken and run with this ever since.

Today, the evidence is clear that our predictions were off, and that even if the global temperature rose to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we would see enormous detrimental impacts in many regions around the world. (See the IPCC Report and the fourth National Climate Assessment). 

However, even with data and evidence, conservative forces in the US government and media are denying the existence of climate change and pushing out false information.

Danielle, Courtney, and Meredith in the first panel discuss climate in the era of fake news

Our job is to combat the misinformation about climate change and ensure that the facts continue to be shared. In fact, the Natural Museum of Natural History is doing a great job through its recently reopened climate change exhibit where visitors of all ages can visualize the effects of climate change on an interactive panel.

2. Relate climate to other issues

While climate is not as tangible, everyday items that we take for granted are, and they are a great way to relate climate to something that other parties can grasp.

To many, climate is intangible. You can not see climate directly in front of you the way you can with an object. So how can you get through to people who can not picture what it is like to experience climate change?

Think about what they like. At the HII event, we talked about coffee and beer. Seems random to bring up, but it brought forth some conversation about the possibility of these two beverages disappearing from our local shops and bars in the future. Why?

Because coffee bean plantations and barley crops are feeling the effects of climate change. With reduced yields, drought, rising temperatures, etc., we can soon see that these beverages will be priced up exorbitantly, making them luxury drinks and severely impacting these industries.

What if your friend or family member does not drink either of them? Maybe they like chocolate. Cacao production may also face some of the harsh effects of climate change if we don’t act soon. 

3. Get past judging others who don’t seem to care or believe in climate change

If people do not care about climate change, what do they care about? Health. Health is a good conversation starter if you want to breach the subject of climate change in a way that matters to everyone.

When it comes to people denying climate change, our first instinct is to hit ’em with the facts and drill our point home that it’s real and here already. When they don’t hear us, we usually get frustrated and are in complete disbelief how someone can be completely apathetic to something we are constantly worried about (at least, that is the case for me).

But the problem here is not a knowledge deficit among this group. It is a combination of a motivation deficit and a preference to check out when one does not want to hear something. As human beings, we only have a finite capacity of worry, and usually that capacity is reserved for what is immediate, such as being able to keep the lights on at home and making sure there is food on the table for the family.

One suggestion shared during the panel discussion was to figure out how to connect with these individuals based on the issues that resonate with them. Is it a matter of socioeconomic conditions? Perhaps a community is impacted by a power plant that is emitting smoke that is contributing to air pollution and giving family members asthma, or cities have a tainted water supply so children are essentially drinking lead in their water.

Good health is one of the top priorities in a family, and a great way to reach parties who you originally thought did not care about or believe in climate change. Maybe they do not believe in it, but you can talk about something that matters to them instead.

In the second panel, Steph, Cindy, and Peter share their experiences on how to avoid climate change burnout, get involved, and invest in causes bigger than ourselves.

While the topic of climate change can be pretty daunting and may ruffle some feathers for people who do not want to talk about something so serious or distant into the future, it is important that the conversations continue to happen. Whether it is correcting the false narratives, relating climate to issues that resonate to individuals, or talking about an immediate concern that does have a connection to climate change, there are innumerable ways to bring the attention back to climate change.

How are you discussing climate with your peers? What are some effective ways you have made an impact on difficult-to-reach individuals on this topic?

How You Can Help the California Fire Victims

Since early November, we have been inundated with video footage and coverage of the tragic wildfires happening in northern and southern California that has decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of trees, destroyed animals’ and people’s homes, and taken lives. The severe drought in the state of California is exacerbating these fires and making it extremely difficult to contain. It’s clear that if we do not act soon on mitigating the effects of climate change, we will be seeing more severe droughts and wildfires in California and other drought-prone regions of the world.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

While it seems futile, there are ways to support those affected by the wildfires. Whether it is donating to the firefighters who are bravely risking their lives to save others and contain the flames through the IAFF Disaster Relief Fund, donating to an organization that provides aid to those whose homes are lost to the fires, or donating to a wildlife organization or other wonderful nonprofits that are taking in the creatures whose habitats have been wiped out, you have the ability to contribute in some way, shape, or form.

If you can not make a monetary contribution, that’s okay; you can make a difference in your home, starting with practicing water-saving behaviors:

  1. Fix leaks – the easiest way to save water; imagine how much water is wasted if you let a drip-drip-drip continue over the course of a day, a week, a month?!
  2. Flush with less – fill a 2L bottle or jug and put it in your toilet tank so it fills up with less water after each flush
  3. Take shorter showers – no one has THAT much surface area that they need to be taking 30min-1hr showers…
  4. Turn off the faucet when you’re washing your hands or brushing your teeth – there’s no need to run the water while you’re scrubbing your hands or mid-brush, right?
  5. Reuse pasta cooking liquid – use this water to water your plants, especially the outdoor ones
  6. Go to a car wash – they recycle the water so you don’t have to waste new water to wash your car at home!
  7. Invest in efficient fixtures – many dishwashers are now so efficient that they use less water than if you were to hand-wash your dishes (this is only the case if you run your dishwasher when it’s full though!)
  8. Skip the green lawn – grass sucks up sooooo much water; try xeriscaping instead and embracing plants that do not need much water to stay alive

Lastly, but most importantly, talk about climate change to your friends, family, and colleagues! This should not be a touchy subject, or a partisan issue that people need to dance around. Real people are being affected, real homes are being destroyed, real destruction is happening due to uncontrolled wildfires exacerbated by droughts no thanks to climate change. Your voice is a powerful tool and you should not discount your ability to influence others and enlighten them about the effects of climate change and how we as individuals can address it.

For more tips on how to save water, please check out my previous post here.

When We All Vote, Change Will Happen

Today is National Voter Registration Day. If you aren’t registered to vote, today’s the day! If you care about any of these issues, this midterm election is important now more than ever:

  1. If you’re tired of mass shootings and seeing innocent people and children getting shot and killed in malls, restaurants, churches, schools etc.
  2. If you support affirmative action
  3. If you support gender equality, such as equal pay, ending gender-based violence, marriage equality for LGBTQIA+, women holding leadership positions in office and companies, etc.
  4. If you believe in climate change (and if you still want to be able to call NYC and our coastal cities home and vacation spots and address the rising sea levels)
  5. If you think we need to treat our environment and wildlife better after human-made destruction of ecosystems on land and sea
  6. If you don’t want more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050
  7. If you think workers deserve adequate labor conditions and rights
  8. If you’re tired of elected officials not hearing your concerns or being influenced by lobbyists and corporations
  9. If you think we need police reform and promotion of deescalation techniques to prevent unnecessary fatal shootings
  10. If you champion women’s rights over their own bodies and don’t want Roe v Wade overturned by a conservative Supreme Court Justice nominee

And lastly, If you don’t want Trump to continue getting away with bashing anyone who disagrees with him and trying to discredit all media outlets besides Fox News.

If you didn’t care about politics before, the time is now because our lives and our rights and the future of our planet depends on you. Don’t discount your vote and your voice. This is our chance to vote out the current people in office who are not interested in addressing the pressing problems today.

Follow this link to check if you’re registered and commit to vote this November 6.

New Yorkers Rise for Climate Action

This evening, over 3,000 New Yorkers took to the streets of FiDi for the Rise for Climate March demanding Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other elected officials to denounce fossil fuels, divest from fossil fuel money, and move NYC and NYS in the direction of renewable energy.

Since This is Zero Hour’s Youth Climate March took place in Summer 2018, the momentum for climate action has only been getting stronger. Cities around the country including NYC are organizing to urge elected officials to take action against the looming and ever-present threat of climate change with two key action steps:

1. Divest from fossil fuels

2. Commit to renewable energy

In NYC, New Yorkers implored our elected officials to go the extra (and definitely needed) steps to curb fossil fuels and hold corporate polluters accountable, likely in the form of carbon taxes and reimplementing Obama’s efforts to cap carbon emissions that ex-EPA director Scott Pruitt repealed.

This weekend on September 8, cities around the world are demanding climate action be taken by their governments. Check out 350.org to get involved in your city!

30 Years Have Gone by and We Still Haven’t Tackled Climate Change

_On June 23, 1988, NASA climate scientist James Hansen told the US Senate it was time to acknowledge that climate change was happening and take action to limit its effects._.png

30 years have passed and as a country we have done nothing to mitigate the effects of human activity on the environment. Climate change is real. #ThisIsZeroHour and we need to take steps to reduce our impact on the environment. This includes pushing our elected officials to:
 
We won’t have a future for our future generations at the rate we’re going. We will say goodbye to destination islands, our coastal cities (Florida will be first to go, followed by other cities at low sea levels), our land and ocean animals and ecosystems around the world will fall victim to humans’ activities and lose their homes and their food… They won’t have a quality of life because so much of our planet will be lost to the effects of climate change and global warming.
 
I know some of my friends don’t care, but it’s time to start. Y’all want children or your family/friends have or plan to have children, and they will suffer economically. We each have our parts to play. Measure your carbon footprint now and see what steps you can take to reduce that and take better care of the planet. 

This is Zero Hour

Today, thousands of youth advocates will take the streets of their cities and take part in the Youth Climate March. I recently came across the hashtag Zero Hour, which essentially is a youth-led movement inviting young people to take charge and take action against climate change.

IMG_9542

Since the 2016 election, our earth has been at risk and much of the progress we made in terms of commitments to tackle climate change has been stifled. The EPA was put in the hands of a vocal climate change denier who rolled back environmental protections, its website was scrubbed of information related to climate change and global warming, the US backed out of the Paris Agreement, and a large number of members in office have made their stance against the existence of climate change.

With Zero Hour, young people are calling for climate action and are ready to back up their demands with evidence-based facts about the existence of climate change and global warming. We urge our elected officials to do two main things:

(1) reject monetary donations and influence from Big Oil and the fossil fuel industry and commit to protect our health, climate, and planet

(2) transition away from fossil fuels and to a clean energy economy

Now, more than ever, we need the US and global community to stand together and make noise to put pressure on our governments to pass legislation to help us protect our planet for future generations.

March for Science

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the March for Science in Washington, D.C. with my fellow Johns Hopkins classmates. This demonstration sends a clear message to the Republican Administration that science plays a role in everyone’s lives and has given us so much as a society and in the world. Without science, we wouldn’t have life-saving medicines or vaccines. Without science, we would not be able to discover new cures and treatments for diseases.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world gathered on April 22, 2017, Earth Day, to celebrate science! There were scientists, researchers, doctors of different disciplines, supporters of science (young and old) that came together for the purpose of advocating for science. The March for Science page states:

Science protects the health of our communities, the safety of our families, the education of our children, the foundation of our economy and jobs, and the future we all want to live in and preserve for coming generations. 

We speak up now because all of these values are currently at risk. When science is threatened, so is the society that scientists uphold and protect.

When I was growing up, I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy and ZOOM, and had the chance to create that ever cliche paper mache volcanos that erupts with baking soda and vinegar. I knew I wanted to be involved in helping other people, and ended up in Public Health. It was evident that science and research is paramount to making advances towards innovations that would lead to better health outcomes, even when I was a little girl and to this day.

I hope we continue this open dialogue about science and that my fellow colleagues will continue to fight the fight to promote science and support organizations such as the NIH and EPA to protect our planet and our populations’ health. I hope that PBS continues to get funded so the programs can continue to inspire the younger generation to be inquisitive, eager to learn, and get involved in STEM.

Check out photos from the march here!