Return to site

How I Became An Environmentalist

In the past year, I have lost most of my self-consciousness around identifying myself as a "green", become more outspoken about how important I see climate change as an issue, and realized that being in the outdoors ranks as my first choice recreational activity. I wasn't always this way. Back in high school and before, I identified pretty strongly as pro-development and preferred to stay indoors. I distinctly remember in high school studying US history, and the debates between Gifford Pinchot and John Muir. At the time, I sympathized more with Pinchot and the conservationists, rather than preservationism.
Today, I wanted to offer some thoughts of how I got here. As far as i can remember, these are the main events that fundamentally changed how I view the environment and my role in it.
  1. Listening to Episode 495 of This American Life, Hot In My Backyard. Although they begin by saying the conversation on climate change has been stuck for so long, my takeaway from it was that the conversation is finally starting to shift. Extreme weather is becoming more common so people are being forced to talk about it. Some Republicans, albeit outside of Congress, are recognizing climate change is an issue. At universities across the world, students are pressuring endowments to divest from fossil fuels. Since the show aired, some major victories were scored. Stanford divested from coal, and the Rockefeller foundation divested from fossil fuels completely.
  2. Bill McKibben's article Global Warming's Terrifying New Math. My major takeaway was this: 80% of the fossil fuel reserves that have been currently discovered have to stay in the ground to avoid exceeding the 2 degrees limit.
  3. On a flight from Vancouver to San Francisco, I happened to bump into a colleague from work. During his visit, he had spent some time with a friend's child and was worried that the latest science forecast temperatures and weather that was unprecedented in human history and that this child would be growing up in that highly uncertain time. It made him feel guilty about flying so much. I believe the article he was referring to was this one. For myself, it made me very conscious of how my own casual attitude towards travel was exacerbating the problem.
  4. In April 2012, I made my first journey to Yosemite as an adult, and I fell in love with the landscapes and the waterfalls. In that year, I made more than 10 trips to the park, and every year since, I have gone more than 5 times for camping, backpacking, and hiking. Since 2012, California has also been in a terrible drought, and I see evidence of the drought everywhere. While NOAA claims the drought is probably not due to climate change specifically, climate change will increase the probability of such droughts occurring more in the future. It hit home that climate change will irrevocably transform the beautiful landscapes that captured the imaginations of John Muir and Ansel Adams into shells of what they once were: no more glaciers, trickles instead of waterfalls, and brown, dead meadows
I have always believed climate change was real and that we needed to do the something about it, but the culmination of each of these events finally convinced me that this was the important issue I could talk about or do something about. I decided I wanted to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. These stories also showed me that I was not alone. People and groups were out there organizing and educating and having some success at putting the issue front-and-center in the national consciousness.
I went to my first climate rally some time in 2014. It was some time in January and it was a demonstration against the Keystone XL pipeline in New York City, where I just happened to be. I had found out about the demonstration over Twitter, I think, and I later found out that the rallies were in-part organized by, which became one of my more significant charitable contributions in 2014. When Bill McKibben issued a call to march in New York City in September 2014, I decided I could not fly out for it, but convinced others to go. Not that my own involvement would have made much of a difference since over 300,000 people turned out! At the end of last year, I went to meetups like Net Impact, 350SF, and CleanwebSF to learn what others were already doing in the fight against climate change.
An issue as large as climate change may seem far too large to make any headway against, but my conclusion from the past year is that is ample reason for hope. There are thousands of people who care about the issue and want governments to take more drastic steps to curb fossil fuel emissions and develop clean energy. In the private sector, large and small companies are making big investments in renewable energy. In Oakland, Sfuncube is an incubator dedicated to launching just solar startups!
I acknowledge that stopping climate change will require nothing less than a complete revolution in how we power our homes and businesses, grow food, and move ourselves and our goods around the planet. Such a transformation would be pretty exciting if it happened. Wouldn't you want to be part of that? I know I would.