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.

Young People Urge Climate Action as They Prepare for Historic UN Youth Climate Summit (originally published on The Rising)

The global population has less than 11 years to take action and prevent irreversible damage to the planet, according to the special report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which depicts the impacts of global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. With this looming deadline, world leaders will convene in New York City from 17-30 September for the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to discuss climate action (SDG 13) as one of the key priorities in the upcoming year.

2019 is an inflection point for climate action

In the midst of UNGA, there will be a dedicated summit where leaders in all sectors ranging from “governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organizations” will convene to discuss tangible solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% in the next ten years, with the ultimate goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. These leaders will present solutions in areas including energy transition, climate finance, and carbon pricing, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities and local action, and resilience and action.

Youth are no longer sitting on the sidelines

Youth activists are leading climate movements all over the globe, from Sara Blazevic and Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement and Jamie Margolin of Zero Hour in the United States to 16-year old Greta Thunberg and her school strikes for the climate. They are calling on corporations, lobbying organizations, and governments to take action for a livable future for themselves and the generations that follow.

During a high-level meeting on climate and sustainable development, UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa stated “climate justice is intergenerational justice,” expressing her desire for meaningful youth engagement and collaboration to solve the world’s most pressing issue. UN Secretary-General António Guterres shared similar sentiments in an op-ed for the Guardian, referencing school students who participate in the Friday strikes for the climate.

Young people from around the globe will convene at the Youth Climate Summit this September

Over 7,000 young people between the ages of 18-29 applied to attend the historic Youth Climate Summit which will be held on Saturday, 21 September. Among them, 500 were selected to attend and will participate in a full day of programming, including but not limited to an intergenerational dialogue where they may present their youth-led and youth-focused solutions to the climate crisis. The event will precede the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on Monday, September 23rd.

With 16% of the world’s population consists of young people aged 15-24, according to the World Youth Report, it is increasingly apparent that young people refuse to be just beneficiaries — they are taking charge of their futures, starting with raising their voices on the global climate crisis, taking matters into their own hands and generating solutions.

For more information on attending UNGA events, see the guide here for details.

To participate virtually and share your message on climate action, submit a video with the “My Future, Our Planet” video campaign here.

Influencers Collaborate for the Planet

Unlikely environmental ally Lil Dicky (better known as a rapper and comedian) partnered with nearly 30 artists and celebrities in honor of Earth Day. Together they created “Earth”, a song dedicated to raise awareness about the gravity of climate change and urge the global community to come together to take climate action.

Every stream and view helps to generate profit that will be donated to environmental nonprofit organizations that tackle issues related to climate change, the energy crisis, and sustainable farming.

For more information and to support the cause, check out the website and share the video with your networks!

How a Generation of Young Leaders are Tackling Climate Change through Movements

Following the School Climate Strike that took place earlier this March, students and climate activists are more energized to take on their governments and political leaders to demand for divestments from fossil fuels, an overhaul of their countries’ energy economies to renewables, and a commitment to zero carbon world. Youth-led and -run organizations and movements such as the Zero Hour movement stress the importance of our governments to take action before it is too late, especially for younger generations, to clean up the mess that older generations have bestowed upon them.

Cindy Chung, Co-Head of the Zero Hour NYC Branch, spoke at a Human Impacts Institute and German Consulate General New York co-hosted event on the how to stay motivated when dealing with conservative forces and continue to invest climate action (more on this event here). I had the opportunity to speak to Cindy after the event and connect.

In a summary, the Zero Hour youth have this to say:

“We are frustrated with how special interest politics have stymied legislative progress toward environmental and social justice. Reliance on dirty energy is not only putting people’s future at risk, but also their present. As extreme weather and natural disasters occur more frequently around the world, we are seeing the emergence of a new climate refugee crises and an unprecedented scarcity of resources. Now is not the time for silence; now is the time for action. If lawmakers won’t lead the way on their own, us students are ready to push them. Our demands include a 100% just transition to renewable energy by 2040, to stop the construction of oil/pipeline infrastructure and total divestment from fossil fuel industries.”

As a high school senior, Cindy knows all too well the future she and her generation will inherit if nothing changes, so she joined the Zero Hour movement. In July 2018, the Youth Climate March in NYC was Zero Hour NYC’s kickoff event. Ever since, the organization has collaborated with other environmental justice organizations such as the People’s Climate Movement and 350 Brooklyn at rallies and marches. As the current Co-Head of the Zero Hour NYC Branch, she leads a committee council of youth leaders, as well as dozens of active volunteers youth between the ages of 12-18 years old, speaks at events, recruits young people who are tired of inaction from our government, and organizes Zero Hour events to advocate for climate action at the regional level.

Cindy (right) supporting the People’s Climate March in October

In the coming months, Cindy and the Zero Hour NYC team plan to expand to a wider platform and reach thousands of new individuals through a NYC youth climate festival in the spring/summer. At this large-scale event aimed to target thousands individuals in the city, Zero Hour NYC plans to make their demands heard and let local politicians know that the youth will be a guiding and leading force on the political battlegrounds.

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 Reduce Food Waste this Holiday Season

Food production is the single biggest cause of deforestation, freshwater use, habitat and biodiversity loss. With all of the environmental costs of producing food, you’d think that we as global citizens could be better stewards of the food that ends up in our homes or on our plates at restaurants or on the dinner tables. However, 40% of the food we produce is going to waste in the US.

“Waste is sinful, criminal, and financially foolish.”

Quoted in “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”, food waste costs us approximately $1 trillion dollars per year. That’s about 1.3 billion TONS of food. With nearly one billion people who are hungry in the world, the problem is not about producing more food, it’s about changing the systemic problem that is food waste in our countries.

So how can we waste less food, especially given it’s Thanksgiving this Thursday?

According to the documentary, we can waste less food by:

  • Feeding people.

Many food vendors opt to throw away their food instead of donating their food at the end of the day. I think it’s because they fear that they could get sued for someone getting sick from their day-old food, but here’s a fun fact: the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act basically protects any establishment from civil or criminal liability if someone gets hurt or sick from donated food…so no excuses, food vendors and restaurant owners!

  • Feeding livestock.

There’s a silly standard that the produce that ends up on our grocery store shelves must be perfect, and anything that has the slightest imperfections never even make it off the fields.

Every year 10 million tons of produce are not harvested.

Instead of tossing them, the otherwise produce that would get thrown away could be used to feed livestock instead of inefficiently using half of the corn yields to feed food animals.

  • Using food scraps for renewable energy through anaerobic digestion.

Let’s be real. Fossil fuels is no longer a long-term viable option. They are contributing to climate change; polluting our land, air, and water; and there is no unlimited supply. We need to explore other options for energy, and there have been incredible innovations in the clean energy world, but even more interesting, scientists are exploring creating renewable energy using food waste!

So what are some initiatives happening around the world? The documentary shared some examples:

So we’ve seen some amazing ideas started at the community, organizational, state, and country levels, but what can you do as an individual?

  • Purchase only what you need when you go grocery shopping.

A helpful tip is to make a shopping list before you go shopping, and don’t go on an empty stomach (helps you avoid craving temptations heh)

So you found a bell pepper with an extra bulb or a slight dent, but you’re directly helping prevent this item from ending up getting tossed because you’re gonna make good use of it in your kitchen, right?! 😉

Imperfect Produce is one of the companies working to keep ugly foods out of landfills. You can also check out the farmers’ markets for some perfectly imperfect produce

  • Take home leftovers, and bring your own container if you can to avoid producing plastic waste 🙂

If you know you won’t eat it the next day, you can freeze it so you can eat it another day.

Unless it’s a raw meat or dairy product, other foods typically last longer than their sell-by date, so do the smell test and eyeball your food to see if it still looks good so you don’t throw out perfectly good food!

  • Compost.

We should be avoiding sending food waste to the landfills at all costs. It can take decades for that food to fully decompose. And while that happens, it is releasing methane gas into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Instead, compost these items–apple cores, meat bones, fruit peels, and more! More information about how to compost in NYC can be found here.

  • Upcycle food scraps.

You can also upcycle food scraps and use them for other purposes. Your eggshells can be used as a natural snail or slug repellent for your garden. The vegetable shavings could make for a great vegetable soup stock. The possibilities are endless.

As a society, it is our duty to be responsible for the food we produce and try to not be wasteful. There are plenty of opportunities to prevent food from ending up in the garbage, and all different levels of society are taking part in this #zerowaste movement to eliminate food from the waste stream, because it’s not only the reasonable thing to do, but it’s morally right (for people and for the environment) and because it’s financially the smart thing to do!

I’m keen to hear how your country is tackling food waste. Please leave your comments below so we can share these amazing initiatives!

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.

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!

Crops Are Dying. Forests Are Burning. This Summer’s Heat Wave Has Fueled Natural Disasters Around the World.

Crops Are Dying. Forests Are Burning. This Summer’s Heat Wave Has Fueled Natural Disasters Around the World.

Crops Are Dying. Forests Are Burning. This Summer’s Heat Wave Has Fueled Natural Disasters Around the World.


— Read on www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/07/crops-are-dying-forests-are-burning-this-summers-heat-wave-has-fueled-natural-disasters-around-the-world/

The recent pattern of abnormal weather events around the world and particularly in the US just goes to show that climate change is happening right in front of our eyes and the US government officials still have their heads in the sand. We are reaching a point of no return if we do not take action to scale back our carbon emissions and divest from fossil fuels.