Conversations with Jessica Kleczka on Hope, Healing and Her Journey to Sustainable Activism

Conversations with Jessica Kleczka on Hope, Healing and Her Journey to Sustainable Activism

Imagine a life dedicated to both environmental activism and personal growth. This is the world of Jessica Kleczka, a climate psychologist, activist, and communicator who believes in the power of collective action while navigating the complexities of individual well-being in the face of the climate crisis. Jessica’s journey, from her early connection with nature in a bustling city with limited green spaces to her current work as a climate communicator and climate activist, is a testament to the multifaceted ways we can engage with environmental issues.

Driven by a passion for both environmental justice and mental health, Jessica has carved a unique path in the field of climate activism. Her work delves into the intersection of psychology and environmentalism, exploring how our environment shapes our mental well-being and vice versa. In this insightful interview, she sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of communicating climate issues effectively, emphasizing the importance of fostering hope and agency amidst the complexities of the crisis. Jessica also shares her personal experiences with burnout and her ongoing commitment to sustainable living, offering practical tips, and strategies by embracing imperfect environmentalism for individuals seeking to make a positive impact.

Photo of Jessica Kleczka standing in the sunlight

Join us as we delve into Jessica’s unique perspective and discover how you too can contribute to a more sustainable future. As Jessica aptly reminds us, “We need millions of imperfect environmentalists rather than a handful of perfect ones.”

To start, could you share a bit about your journey – what moment sparked your personal passion for climate activism or environmentalism?

Growing up, I wasn’t really aware of the climate crisis – my parents were Polish immigrants in Germany and we lived in a tower block at the edge of a very polluted city. I did however have an intimate connection with the natural world – although my area was quite deprived, our housing estate was surrounded by wetlands, and I spent many happy hours playing outside with my friends. I used to collect many nature memorabilia – differently sized cones, shells, pressed leaves, and the like. And whenever we returned to Poland, we would spend weeks at a time in a cabin in the woods, foraging buckets of mushrooms and blueberries.

In my early teens, the wetlands around our home started to be drained and developed into housing for the growing working population – I lost what little access to nature I had, and I believe that this contributed to the many mental health struggles I experienced as a teenager. Most of my youth was too turbulent to even think about bigger issues like climate change – that started when I moved to London to go to university. I felt a lot of anger about the state of the world back then. I had gone vegan in my early twenties, mostly for health reasons, but it sent me on a path to caring about the bigger picture too. In 2019, I joined my local climate group and became a full-time campaigner alongside my university degree. It was a wild time!

Your work sits at the intersection of psychology and environmentalism. How do you see these two realms influencing each other, and what led you to bridge these disciplines?

Our mental health has everything to do with our environment, and vice versa. The state of our environment has a lot to do with how we function psychologically.

I originally planned to become a clinical psychologist after my degree, but decided against it when I learned how mental health care functions in our society. We’re quick to point to faults within the individual or their relationships with loved ones, but often neglect what’s around them. Do they live in a polluted neighbourhood? Is their housing situation secure? Can they buy fresh healthy produce? Do they have access to green spaces nearby? All of those things significantly impact our mental wellbeing, but are often forgotten about in mental health practice. As someone who grew up working class and lives with a disability, I’m particularly passionate about access to nature and how marginalised communities in particular often don’t have green spaces near them. 

Photo of Jessica Kleczka sitting and meditating in front of a river
Photo by Johanna Makowski

There is also growing awareness that our disconnect from the natural world – starting with the early industrial period – is a major contributor to the environmental crises we’re dealing with now. Add to the mix that we haven’t evolved to sense excess carbon dioxide, and therefore don’t intuitively perceive it as a threat, and you’ve got yourself an issue that feels psychologically distant to many of us. Of course, many people are now waking up to the reality of the climate crisis, as it’s now happening on most people’s doorsteps – wherever you are in the world.

But the simple reason I’m doing the work I do today is because I didn’t want my job to compromise my advocacy work – I had to connect them somehow. After finishing my Psychology degree, I did another degree in climate change, and through a lot of introspection, I arrived at climate psychology and communication science. I owe a lot to my supervisors at university who gave me a lot of freedom to explore different aspects of these issues, and I absolutely love the work I get to do now.

One of your key areas is helping individuals overcome climate anxiety. How do you approach this challenge, and what advice do you have for those grappling with the emotional toll of the climate crisis?

Photo of Jessica Kleczka standing holding a leaf on her face
Photo by Angharad Bache

The most important thing to know is that if you experience climate anxiety, there is nothing wrong with you. Psychologists don’t see climate anxiety as a mental illness – it’s a normal and even healthy response to the unhealthy state of our world and the ecosystems we so fundamentally rely on. But there is some alarming data – one study by the University of Bath found that almost half of young people feel that the climate crisis is affecting their everyday life and functioning. And once an issue starts affecting us on that level, there is a risk of it developing into a serious mental health issue.

I’m not a mental health professional myself as I went down the research route, so my work has been focusing on finding out more about how young people are affected by the climate crisis. I published a paper with Imperial College looking at young people’s experiences of climate anxiety around the world, and last year I worked on research examining climate anxiety and understanding in early childhood. There is still some work to be done to understand how we can best support young people, but one thing is clear – a lot of our anxiety is caused by government inaction rather than personal failure, and so climate action is the best way we can stem suffering caused by climate anxiety.

Photo of Jessica Kleczka standing on the road campaigning for climate action
Photo by Andrea Domeniconi

A lot of this is also connected to how we communicate – we see a lot of doom and gloom in the media, and while we are in a dire situation, this kind of messaging will leave people desensitised over time, or lead to news avoidance altogether. It’s crucial that we find a balance between conveying the urgency of the situation, whilst communicating reasons to have hope and actions people can take in their own lives and communities.

Effective communication is a crucial aspect of your work. How can we employ more creative and impactful ways to communicate climate issues, especially to diverse audiences?

Early in my career when I worked in climate policy, our team used to create a daily climate news roundup with the headlines and team-specific topics like nature, waste or energy. What I realised during this time was that there is a lot of good stuff happening, but we rarely see it in main news outlets. The reason for this is that often small steps are not sensational enough, although over time, they help build momentum and the foundations for wider system-level change. But our brains have also evolved to pay more attention to negative information as a survival mechanism – media outlets know this and relentlessly exploit this information for clicks. But ultimately, while fear-based messaging gets our attention, sustained negative messaging on climate change will make most people feel overwhelmed and powerless. This is why I started the “Positive Climate News” series on Instagram in collaboration with Earthly Education, reporting on all those small wins we often never hear about. The series has reached millions of people around the world and inspired thousands to take action or keep going.

Last year, I was the Director of Research on “A New Era In Climate Communication” – a huge resource that is now freely available online. It reinforced what I already believed to be true – that hope is a crucial factor in inspiring action. But it also hugely depends on the audience. If someone doesn’t know a huge amount about climate change, they probably need to feel a little bit scared before being exposed to solutions-focused narratives – but I believe that the reason we see so much emphasis on hope and solution these days is because climate change has risen to be a top issue of concern around the world in the last five years. Most people are aware of it, and are at least a little bit concerned – so it becomes crucial to communicate that it’s not too late to avert the worst impacts, and that all the solutions we need are already out there – but what we need is action, all the way from the individual to the systemic level.

Your research delves into the mental health impacts of the climate crisis. Could you share some insights from your work, and what coping strategies do you find most effective?

Mental health is a big topic in the climate community. Every day we’re dealing with something that’s, frankly, quite depressing – but it’s also an incredibly exciting time to be alive. 

Activist burnout is one of the biggest risks I encounter – I experienced it myself several times, and every time I had to take a big step back and allow myself to heal. Many of us are so passionate about our planet and its people that we take on way too much, and forget to look after ourselves in the process. Part of my work consists of training activists in how to recognise symptoms of burnout and take steps to ensure we stay healthy while fighting for a better future.

Some of the things I do in my life to avoid burnout are – spending at least an hour a day in nature with no distractions, setting firm work boundaries, and balancing the kind of work I do to ensure it feels meaningful and fulfilling. A big part of overcoming burnout was also to reconnect with the things that bring me joy and make time for them! Every morning after I wake up, I keep my phone switched off for a bit while I read a book and witness the world around me.

What role do you think climate storytelling can play in amplifying the voices and experiences of those most impacted by the crisis?

Stories are one of the fundamental ways humans have learned to connect and share information. Studies show that our brains retain a lot more information if it is presented in a story format, and they’re also an excellent way of communicating radical ideas whilst circumnavigating political polarisation. After my work as a climate communications researcher, I decided to take a step back from academia – both to recover from burn-out and put my learnings into practice. So this year I’m focusing primarily on my campaigning and creative work, utilising storytelling techniques to engage more people with environmental issues and getting them involved in building a better future.

At the moment, my partner and I are working on “Road to the Future” – a project documenting sustainable projects around Europe as a way to give back to the communities we visit in our home on wheels. The series will be hosted on @earthly.explore on Instagram and cover Spain, France, and the UK to start – if all goes well, we will continue in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe later this year! The vision behind this project is to spotlight environmental issues around the continent and what everyday people are doing to fix them, to inspire the next generation of change-makers. Climate action can look like many different things, so we want to show people practical things they can get involved in.

Empowering individuals is a key aspect of your advocacy. What, in your view, are some impactful yet practical steps that individuals can take in their daily lives to contribute to a more sustainable future?

Activism will always be the most impactful thing to do, because policy change comes with ripple effects that make living sustainably the default, or at least easier, for many. But I also recognise that activism is not for everyone. Personally, I’m also very passionate about sustainable living – it’s quite an exciting challenge to live with as little of a footprint as possible while still living your best life! I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for the last eight years, buying seasonal produce in whatever country I’m in, avoiding flying wherever possible, and taking the train when travelling between European countries. I live in a tiny space with my partner, we don’t buy anything new and are very mindful about driving. But I’ve also gone through periods of time when I was working a lot and had to prioritise campaigning over buying plastic-free all the time, for example. Sustainable living is tied to time privilege – and yes, it’s sometimes also more expensive. So if you find yourself struggling to be the perfect environmentalist in your own home, channel that energy into wider-scale systemic change instead!

Photo of Jessica Kleczka standing in the garden foraging vegetables and fruits

Another thing I often say is that the most powerful thing we can do is to talk about climate. There’s still a phenomenon in our society called “climate silence” – because climate change has been politicised so much, many people feel awkward just talking about it. We need to normalise climate conversations as well as our difficult emotions the issue can evoke in us. And by sharing about the small things we do in our own lives to make a difference, we can normalise activism and dismantle the stigma that media narratives have woven to discredit our movement.

This one is our personal favorite – What inspired your decision to transition to a van life, and how do you envision incorporating sustainable practices into your mobile lifestyle?

My partner and I are both minimalists, and van life was a natural progression in our journey towards living a simple and sustainable lifestyle. I used to be a hoarder and really struggled to declutter my belongings at first – it took me about a year to get to the point where we could fit everything in the van, and we’re still selling and giving away some of our things here and there! But the process of emotionally detaching myself from my stuff was very liberating.

Part of my motivation was also the fact that I couldn’t work full time due to health reasons – I wanted a lifestyle that allowed a lot of freedom while working less and being close to nature. We lived in a small apartment for a year, working multiple jobs to save up for our tiny home on wheels – and we’re so grateful that we’ve made it a reality!

There are a lot of ways we live more sustainably on the road – the main aspect is that we’re not heating an apartment anymore! We did some maths and were surprised to learn that the driving we’re planning to do over the course of the year emits about a third less than heating the average home in the UK. Overall, our lifestyle emits roughly half of the average UK footprint. I’m not a big fan of how much we focus on individual carbon footprints nowadays, especially given that the concept was popularised by a fossil fuel company, but we’re both passionate about living small so it can be a useful metric.

Our plan is to spend the winters in southern Europe so we don’t need to heat our van, and summers in northern Europe. This also allows us to have plenty of electricity from our solar panel, which means we can cook without using gas. We try to limit our driving to one or trips a week, which we usually do for grocery shopping or changing our location. We have a 96-litre water tank which we fill up once a week – in comparison, that’s less than what the average person in the UK uses in a day. While we have a shower in the van we also sometimes wash in the sea or a river instead to conserve water. We have a compost toilet, only use natural products for cleaning and self-care, and we hold onto our trash, which we separate and recycle whenever we do a town run. We also buy package-free, organic, local, and seasonal produce as much as we can, which we’ve found to be a lot easier in Europe. Van life definitely comes with its own challenges, but it teaches you to be appreciative of resources – and waking up surrounded by nature most days is everything I ever wanted and more.

What advice would you give to individuals who want to make a positive impact but are unsure of where to start?

Start as small or big as you want! I’ve met a lot of people who found it easier to explore sustainable behaviour change first, making changes in their own lives, and then went on to become campaigners. But others will find it harder to change things in their own lives but prefer to advocate for policy changes. Some people do both. Some people prefer to go into a climate job and set firm boundaries between work and private life. I love the notion that we need millions of imperfect environmentalists rather than a handful of perfect ones – so I tend to encourage people to engage in whatever way is accessible to them, and not worry about the image they have in their head of what an activist, advocate or change maker should look like. I firmly believe that perfectionism is one of the biggest threats to our movement – we’re all fallible humans and doing the best we can. And so we should celebrate every little action that people do – be that a litter pick on the weekend, joining a protest, or introducing more plant-based foods into your diet.

How do you envision your future?

For a long time, I was really career-focused – until I was lucky enough to get into my dream career, and realised it wasn’t what made me truly happy. I feel incredibly privileged to have come to this realisation, but it also means that my life is going through some big changes right now. For the next few years, I want to travel, meet like-minded people who are working to change the world, read lots of good books, and go on long hikes. I want to live life to the fullest while causing the least amount of harm possible. And who knows, maybe the next step is to move on a sailboat, or buy a small cottage in the mountains…

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?

Living in a van means that a lot of my hobbies are quite outdoorsy and related to my love for nature. My days usually start with reading a book, back doors open looking out on the sea, a forest, or the mountains. I enjoy walking and running as I often find myself in different landscapes, and when we’re near the sea my partner and I do quite a bit of paddleboarding and freediving together. I’ve been playing music since I was a child, and my partner and I are planning to learn sword fighting, which will probably be our most unusual hobby!

What’s your mantra for life?

Change the things you can do something about, and make peace with things beyond your control! 

Click to learn more about Jessica Kleczka and follow her journey.

This is part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place

Catalyzing Climate Action: A Dialogue with Activist Katharina Maier

Catalyzing Climate Action: A Dialogue with Activist Katharina Maier

Katharina Maier: A Journey in Climate Activism

Katharina Maier, a prominent figure in the climate activism movement, shares her remarkable journey and insights into the challenges and triumphs of her path. As a dedicated lead organizer for the Climate Initiative: Fridays for Future USA, Katharina delves into the diverse landscape of climate activism and the necessity of international collaboration. She addresses the significance of engaging young people, offers advice for those looking to take action, and discusses her strategies for maintaining hope and resilience.

Join us as we explore her impactful journey and the avenues she’s paving for a more sustainable future.

Can you tell us more about your background and how you became involved in climate activism?

When the Fridays for Future wave swept across Europe and the rest of the world in the summer of 2018, a group came together at the university in Berlin, Germany I was studying at. I was working as a freelance event manager at the time and though I didn’t know much about the climate crisis, I offered my skillset to help organize the strikes – which turned out to be my first unintended step into the world of activism I had no idea existed up until then.

From there, it quickly moved from organizing strikes to organizing the group, to organizing the groups in the area, to organizing the groups in the country, to organizing groups across the world. When I moved back to the US, it put me in a position to be able to reignite the FFF US Network, which is now going strong.

You don’t know what opportunities exist until you get started.

I never would have been able to plan this journey or even imagine myself doing any of what I do today when I got started. The most important part is taking that very first step and keeping an open eye and an open mind for what you see next.

As a lead organizer for the Climate Initiative: Fridays for Future, what are some of the key challenges you have faced, and how have you overcome them?

The youth climate movement comprises diverse groups and individuals with varying priorities, strategies, and levels of engagement. This diversity can sometimes lead to divisions and fragmentation, making it harder to achieve unified goals.

Being able to engage in activism is often a privilege. It is exactly those most affected communities that have been robbed of or denied access to the resources needed to change the circumstances causing this harm. As a result, marginalized communities, especially in the Global South, may feel excluded or underrepresented in the movement, despite being disproportionately affected by climate change.

General statements like these can be hard to fully understand without examples, so I here are a few examples:

Activism-Infographics

These are ongoing challenges and require constant attention. Individuals must learn how to build awareness in themselves and work together to build structures in which these systems and divisions are intentionally counteracted. It takes people with resources understanding how to use them to uplift those that do not, and those people that need the resources to speak up and help direct those resources to where they should be used.

Activism can be emotionally and mentally draining at any age. Especially young activists have not had the chance to learn to set boundaries and self-regulate, and thus face burnout from the constant struggle for climate action in addition to the normal struggles of growing up. We are, in most cases, not taught how to build supportive work environments and celebrate each other rather than the work we can each contribute – but that is exactly how we keep going and allow each other to take breaks, knowing that others can step in and support me when I need it.

Can you share some of the most memorable moments or milestones in your climate activism journey so far?


The Global Climate Strike in September 2019 was a defining moment in the climate movement. Millions of people participated in actions across the world that day and it catalyzed many climate conversations and campaigns. The strike in Berlin had over 600,000 participants – far more than we organizers had dared to hope for. We had been working so hard and, as is in the nature of creating change, were being attacked in the media, meeting skepticism among friends, and starting to doubt the feasibility of our goals. That day was an inflection point for many of us organizers and encouraged many people who were on the fence to engage. The energy of that time still gives me strength to this day.

When we decided to rebuild the Fridays for Future US network, the world was in a global pandemic and the US was in lockdown. Activism the way we had known it was not possible and our future had an additional element of uncertainty. The growth of FFF US from a handful of people on unending zoom calls to a network that spans across the country rethinking how young people can engage in climate action is a momentous milestone in all of our journeys.

How do you envision the role of international collaboration and cooperation in tackling the climate crisis?


Climate change doesn’t care about borders. It is a global issue that transcends national boundaries and its impacts require collective action from all countries. There are many ways in which we need to work together internationally to address climate change. Concretely looking at the youth’s role in this though: as the generation most affected by the long-term consequences of climate change, young people have a vested interest in ensuring a sustainable and livable planet for their future. Youth activists have been instrumental in raising awareness about climate change and its impacts. Through protests, social media, and other advocacy efforts, we have drawn attention to the urgency of the issue and put it on the global agenda.

Now as time runs out and those in positions of power continue to delay action, the youth are essential in increasing the pressure on political leaders and decision-makers to take bold action on climate change, from local councils to global institutions.

What is often criticized as “naivety” is actually the youth’s advantage. Our thinking isn’t stuck in the “way things have always been done” and we can bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and creativity – leading to novel solutions and approaches to tackling the crisis. Youth from around the world are connecting and collaborating across borders, forming a global network of climate activists as has never existed before. This solidarity helps in sharing knowledge, experiences, and strategies, strengthening the collective push for climate action.

Our advocacy, energy, and commitment are driving transformative change and pushing for a sustainable, equitable, and climate-resilient future for the entire planet. Our involvement is essential to ensure that global efforts to address the climate crisis are inclusive, ambitious, and effective.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to take action on climate change but may not know where to start?

Just start with the first thing you see. Know that you will make a difference by making changes to your own life, but that you will have the most impact by working together with others. Google for climate groups, go to the next event that comes across your radar, reach out to groups doing work you admire. My activism journey is a testament to the fact that you don’t know what opportunities exist until you get started. I never would have been able to plan this journey or even imagine myself doing any of what I do today when I got started. The most important part is taking that very first step and keeping an open eye and an open mind for what you see next.

Activism comes in many forms and is often not publicly visible. Especially in the beginning, actions may feel small and inconsequential. And if you’re doing something you like doing anyway, it may not even feel like activism at all! Especially in grassroots organizations like Fridays for Future, individuals with initiative can make all the difference and no action is too small to help. Every skillset, every type of individual, every bit of knowledge is needed. If you know how to project manage or wade through spreadsheets, if you like to build or paint or code, if you like to design graphics or post on social media, if you like to research or write or teach, if you understand what your community needs or have a compelling personal story, if you’re a powerful speaker or like to talk to others, if you’re down to try new things – all those ifs and so many more – we need you in the movement. Whether that’s with Fridays for Future or a different organization, we’re all in the movement together and getting started with the one most accessible to you however you can will open up opportunities to try new things, work with different organizations, and meet amazing people.

Each of us should be living as environmentally and socially consciously as we can in our own lives. Simple actions like using public transport, reducing energy consumption, eating less meat, voting in all elections, supporting sustainable businesses, and minimizing waste need to be the default and the minimum we all do. So start with making the changes you can in your own life, but don’t let that be where you stop. What is going to make these individual actions have an outsized impact is turning them into collective action. Talk about what you’re doing so that others feel such actions are more normal and possible. If a change is hard to make in your own life, ask yourself why and what blockers there are and how those can be changed and who needs to be involved to make that happen. Ask others to help you and find groups already working on related issues. Building community and finding fulfillment in making the world a better place are some of the most important building blocks you can set into your life’s foundation.

Remember, every small action adds up, and the more people who take part in climate action and the more we work together, the greater the impact we can collectively achieve. Start with small steps and gradually build up your involvement. Together, we can work towards a more sustainable and resilient future for our planet.

How do you maintain hope and resilience in the face of the daunting challenges posed by the climate crisis?


For me, it is not about maintaining hope and resilience, but that nothing is achieved by giving them up. Staying optimistic is an ongoing struggle. But the difference for me between optimism and hope is action. The challenge will only be more daunting and hope harder to find if I do not act. Many things seem impossible until someone makes them possible. History is full of examples of seemingly insurmountable challenges that were overcome through collective action and perseverance. For climate issues, the urgency and scale of the crisis can sometimes be overwhelming, but they also mean that there’s no other choice than to keep going. There’s nothing to lose by continuing to fight and everything to lose by stopping.

When I feel like we’re not making any progress, I look back to when I started my activism. Just within those 5 years, climate has become a mainstream issue, a significant policy platform, an ever-growing movement across the globe. We need to do much more and at a much faster pace, but I am optimistic that action will accelerate as more and more people are affected and engaged and technological breakthroughs are achieved.

It can feel like a guilty pleasure to rest when there’s so much to do. But you can’t fight if you’re exhausted and you can’t give if you’re empty – and we need you in this for the long haul.

It sounds like any Instagram post, but base-line self-care like taking breaks, getting exercise, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep are the foundations to any sustainable activism. Find something that brings you joy and put time aside to enjoy it without guilt or multitasking.

Find a community. No one can do this work by themselves. Having a network of support can provide encouragement, inspiration, and a sense of belonging.

Celebrate successes! Activism can be a long and challenging journey, so it’s important to celebrate successes along the way.

How do you engage and mobilize young people to participate in climate activism and create a meaningful impact?

Young people are already increasingly and acutely aware of the climate crisis and the need for urgent action. The challenge is ever more not about alerting youth to the climate crisis, but creating avenues for us to act. What Fridays for Future tries to do is lower the barriers to entry into climate action: to make information and resources easier to access, to create networks for individuals to tap into collective action, to validate youth’s climate fears and confusion about societal inaction, to encourage them to speak up and take action despite those, and to leverage the privileges mentioned in question 2 to break down the blockers for those without them.

Most people don’t want to be part of the problem causing the climate crisis and want to make the world a better place – but it’s often hard to see how or that our actions are having an impact. By coming together in networks across the globe, individuals can be part of the collective solution and see the impacts of their actions.

How has your involvement in climate activism influenced your personal lifestyle choices and daily habits?

I try to follow my own advice from question 5 and do the best that I can, while remembering it’s not all or nothing. I don’t have to do everything to be a climate activist or a good person. I do as much as I can and try to make that possible for others.

How do you envision your future?

I never could have envisioned doing what I do today, so I find it hard to envision my future. All I know is that I will keep the initiative and openness that has brought me to where I am today, and will see where life takes me.

How can others join you in the climate movement?


Go to fridaysforfutureusa.org and find or start a local group. Whether it’s attending the events and participating in the actions, helping spread the word on social media and in the community, co-organizing the group and its actions, or making connections between groups and opportunities, there’s many ways to get involved and no help is too small to make a difference.

Learn more about Katharina Maier through her Instagram.

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Unveiling Links: Tania Roa on Climate, Social Justice, and Wildlife

Unveiling Links: Tania Roa on Climate, Social Justice, and Wildlife

In a world where the delicate balance of nature teeters on the edge of collapse, Tania Roa, a passionate advocate for wildlife, environmental preservation, and social justice has emerged as a strong voice for change. With an unwavering commitment to highlighting the interconnectedness of the climate and biodiversity crises, she sheds light on the exploitation of marginalized communities and animals. Through her work, Tania emphasizes the urgent need for change and invites us to join her in the fight for a more just and sustainable world.

In this exclusive interview, we delve deep into Tania Roa’s remarkable journey, exploring her insights on the interplay between climate change, social justice, and biodiversity conservation. Get ready to be inspired and enlightened as Tania shares her vision for a future where the protection of our planet and all its inhabitants reigns supreme.

Tell us about your backstory. How did you join the climate movement?

During one of my classes in graduate school, I learned about the harmful consequences of factory farming in the U.S. for people, animals, and the environment. Migrant workers are treated as disposable and unfairly paid for their hard labor. Workers and animals often get sick or even die from the widespread use of unhygienic practices that prioritize profit over well-being. The air, water, and soil pollution that results from these practices degrades the environment and, therefore, contributes to climate change. When I learned about these connections, I realized I had found my calling: climate justice for all people and for all living beings.

As an environmental writer and speaker, you talk about biodiversity, climate change, social justice, intersectionality, and wildlife conservation. Can you please explain how all them are interrelated?

When land is destroyed for extracting natural resources, everything in the area is impacted. It’s a chain reaction that begins in the ground. The loss of soil microorganisms reduces the number of plants, which harms herbivores, and fewer herbivores signify fewer predators. This process also diminishes our ability to grow food or filter air and water. That’s why large corporations extract natural resources near historically marginalized neighborhoods – they know it’s wrong, so they strategize with the goal that it will go unnoticed. For true climate justice, we need to regenerate the Earth AND protect marginalized people.

Why do you think it is important for us to reconnect with nature?

For decades, Western conservation efforts have separated humans from nature. This mindset only leads to partial protection of the Earth, in parks or reserves that we ‘set aside’ for conservation. When we see ourselves as part of nature, this perspective shifts towards one that calls for the protection of the entire planet. Many Indigenous cultures view plants and nonhuman animals as relatives, and these are the cultures that protect 80% of today’s biodiversity. It’s not a coincidence that the way we relate to the natural world influences how we treat it, so it’s time we find our way back to nature as we did before overconsumption and over-extraction practices.

In your TEDx Talk, you discuss The Ego and The Eco mindset. For our readers, can you please explain what they are and why we need to shift to Eco from Ego?

Thank you! Ego stands for Egotistical, and it’s illustrated by a pyramid that depicts a hierarchy. Systems built on superiority are founded upon the idea that the living beings on the bottom of the pyramid are replaceable and therefore disposable. Ego includes systems that place certain humans over others based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. or systems that place people over other species.

On the other hand, Eco stands for Ecological, and it’s illustrated by a circle. When we place ourselves on the same level as all other people and living beings, we move towards collaboration. Circles are representative of cycles, and by placing ourselves in the circle of life, we recognize that what we do to others we do to ourselves. In that case, why wouldn’t we want to live in ways that are rooted in love, care, and coexistence?

Being a Colombian-American, tell us about a practice(s) in your culture that are actually very sustainable and good for the planet.

Colombians tend to be less wasteful than Americans. In Colombia, they serve you one napkin with your meal (if they give you one at all), while in the U.S. I’ll get five napkins with my meal even if I don’t ask for any. My parents grew up learning to appreciate what you have and taking care of it so it lasts. For example, we put covers on our couches so they don’t stain as easily. I also still have the same furniture in my room as when I was ten years old, which is one way we save money.

What is your favorite Colombian food? Does climate change have any impact on it?

Colombian fruits are delicious. Lulo, Granadilla, and Mora are some of my favorites.

As a nation in the tropical region, Colombia’s agriculture is severely impacted by climate change. Increasing heat waves, more intense and frequent storms including cyclones, and glacier loss threaten water sources which can lead to degraded soil. One way to minimize these adverse effects is to return to Indigenous agricultural practices.

How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?

I reduce my use of single-use items by opting for reusable face wipes, a menstrual cup, and rags instead of paper towels. My mom taught me to make kitchen rags out of old towels by cutting them up. Now I adopted that mindset to my wardrobe, too, by cutting dresses I don’t wear anymore to make skirts and tank tops. My mom also taught me how to not waste food. If you ever need any ideas for how to use the last three ingredients in your fridge, I got you!

Tell us about your podcast, Closing the Gap. When and why did you start that journey?

I started Closing the Gap: a social justice podcast in February of 2022 with my best friend from high school, Adriana Medina. We’ve protested together, participated in community events, and encouraged each other to take action by signing petitions or emailing our representatives. We decided to share the resources we come across with others in a way that’s accessible and relatable, and that’s when the podcast was born. The podcast doesn’t focus only on climate, but as all of my work emphasizes – everything is connected, including social justice and the climate crisis.

What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?

Be careful where you get your news. I don’t watch the news. Instead, I stay updated with current events by following climate justice-oriented organizations, activists, or platforms that specialize in creating action items. On Instagram, Environment and The Slow Factory are great accounts to follow for ways to take action. The action item reminds me of my ability to do something – whether it’s signing a petition, donating, or calling a legislator – and that makes a difference in our world and for my mental health.

How do you envision your future?

Protecting the natural world and all species that are a part of it, including humans, is my life’s work. There is no ‘finish line,’ and I don’t want there to be one. Collaborating with plants, other animals, and fungi is never-ending because our relationships with them constantly evolve – that’s the best part. I’ll continue to spread love for all living beings and speak up whenever any individual or group is disrespected.

Do you have an idol?

There’s not one person I look up to, but I am inspired by the many climate justice advocates and activists in this movement. From Francisco Activista, a young Colombian activist who encourages others to Catherine C. Flowers, author and activist who is dedicated to speaking up for poor, rural communities who are neglected by regional and national government agencies, there are people all over the world of all ages giving back to their community. Together, all of our actions add up.

What’s your mantra for life?

“When you know better, you do better.”

Maya Angelou

I love this quote because it highlights how we should all have grace for ourselves and each other. I didn’t learn about the severity of climate change until my 20s. While I wish I had begun this journey at a younger age, I didn’t know any better back then. Now that I know the problems and their solutions, I act and I ‘do better.’

How can others join you in the climate movement?

Everyone has a role in the movement for a more equitable, regenerative future. My favorite resource for those who aren’t sure where to begin is Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s Venn Diagram. Bottom line: choose something you love, and feel free to add on or change it as you grow and learn.

Find and connect with Tania on Instagram or LinkedIn.

This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Conversation with Rahmina Paullete, young activist on a mission to save Africa’s largest lake

Conversation with Rahmina Paullete, young activist on a mission to save Africa’s largest lake

Growing up in Kenya, Rahmina Paullete, young climate activist, environmentalist, and wildlife conservationist started her own organization called Kisumu Environmental Champs to bring together environmentally conscious youth to inspire collective action for the planet back in 2020 while she also runs her own sustainable business. Looking at all the sufferings that her people are facing in the Lake Victoria region, Rahmina decided to speak up and take action to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa.

Tell us about your backstory. How did you join the climate movement and become a climate activist?

I have been an environmentalist almost all my life since I was 5 years old, but I have now become a climate activist because I realized that the actions that we are demanding are not being taken seriously by the government, the community, and especially by the private sector – the multinational companies.

So, back in 2021, I started demanding change for us, for our future, especially in the Lake Victoria region. This was mainly inspired by the climate crisis impacts that we have faced for the past years – like the rising of the water level of lake Victoria and how it has affected the community and the biodiversity.

Source: www.rahminapaullete.com

What motivated you to start Kisumu Environmental Champs?

I started Kisumu Environmental Champs back in 2020 during the outbreak of Covid-19. So I came up with the idea of having a group of environmentally conscious people, especially young people, mainly students. I thought, maybe at this time, when schools are closed, students can take the time to bring in the changes in the community and act with the purpose of enlightening people on environmental conservation and the urgent need of creating climate solutions. Now we have many students, youths, and also parents in the organization.

Besides being a climate activist and an entrepreneur, you also focus on sustainable living. So how can anyone start living sustainably? What’s the formula?

Well for me, I believe in small steps. I mostly buy second-hand clothes. I know that people from all parts of the continent of Africa buy second-hand clothes very often. Apart from that, to reduce plastic waste, I always carry my water hyacinth bag. Also in our house, we have a little kitchen garden where we usually use our food waste as compost. So, in a nutshell, I always keep emissions of greenhouse gas and pollution in my mind and I try to act accordingly, no matter what I do.

Tell us about your sustainable business. Do you plan to give it a more formal outlook in the future?

It’s a funny story that actually made me come up with this sustainable project. So the story is from back in 2016. I had just come back home from the lake where I went with my mom for boat riding – because I love boat riding. But sadly, that day we were told by one of the boatmen that we could not go on a boat ride. So I was really sad when I got back home as I had nothing to do. So, then I just had an urge to look up water hyacinths and found out that they can be reused and beautiful products can be made from them.

So it started off as a project where we were making papers and cards, but then, we actually realized that we were just limiting the production so we expanded into a small business called “Rahmina Paullete Eco-Products”. So that is when we started making eco-friendly products from that. Right now, we’re looking towards expanding the business, in terms of increasing the production, and having more machines. So I guess I can say that the outlook towards the future for the business is to bring more sustainable products.

Source: www.rahminapaullete.com

Tell us about some sustainable practices in your culture.

In my culture, we normally eat indigenous vegetables – which not only has medicinal properties but is also very sustainable and climate-friendly. Then, originally before our culture became vastly westernized, we used to wear clothes made from nature, like cow leather – just creative wears made from things like animal skins and plants like Sisal. Although it is something that we still occasionally do, most people do not wear that normally anymore. So that was actually one of the ways for us to live sustainably. We also used to have bags made of Sisal. These practices have been passed from generations to generations and that’s how the knowledge was preserved.

How do you keep yourself motivated and keep doing what you do while dealing with negative emotions like eco-anxiety?

I do suffer from climate anxiety due to the impacts of the climate crisis like floods, the environmental degradation and pollution. But these things also motivate me to see a vision for my people from the Lake Victoria region where they can swim in the lake without facing any irritation to their skin, where there are plenty of indigenous fishes in our lake, where there is no pollution, how our ancestors saw it. These are the things that make me want to take action to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria.

Normally when I face negative emotions, I like to visit places that are peaceful that can help me to connect with nature. Sometimes I go to Kisumu Impala Park to look at wild animals. Also, music helps me a lot to overcome my negative-emotions.

What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?

Well, I would advise them to continue their work. I know it can be tough but it’s important to know that the combined result of our efforts, no matter how small they are, can create bigger impacts towards restoring ecosystems and make our planet a better place.

Do you have an idol?

For me, I can’t say that I have an idol. I’m not really looking up to anyone, but I am currently following the steps of people such as the late Wangari Maathai. I also follow the steps of my mentor, Paulene who is actually an agronomist and a specialist in climate change adaptation. I also have someone who I look up to who is called Kevin Mtai, who is the founder of Kenya Environmental Action Network (KEAN) and also a climate activist.

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?

For my hobby, I love going on boat rides. Apart from that, I love listening to music and also singing this song called “Save The World” by Jarvis Smith. That’s my favorite song.

What’s your mantra for life?

Change starts with us, for us and by us. We can make a change in a span of five minutes and it should reflect on the future to come.

How can others join you in the climate movement?

Well, it could be in different ways. One, someone can join the movement through Kisumu Environmental Champions. Or even by supporting our campaign that we are running to restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria which is #LetLakeVictoriaBreatheAgain.

So people can join the campaign by sharing a one minute video talking about Lake Victoria and the urgent need of restoring its ecosystem. That will really empower the indigenous community. People can also join the campaign by doing cleanups and they could help us financially which will help us bring resources since we need a boat for the Lake Victoria cleanups and removing the water hyacinths – because boats can be quite expensive. If we have our own boats, we can go from Kenya to Uganda and Tanzania for advocacy. Apart from that, I think financial support will really help in terms of getting us tools for cleanups and transportation for people. So, I think that would be amazing but in case they also want to join Kisumu Environmental Champions, we are open and glad to welcome anyone to join us.

Where can people find you if they want to get in touch with you or follow what you’re doing?

You can follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram and I also have a website. For Kisumu Environmental Champions, you can just search ‘Kisumu Environmental Champions’ on all social media platforms and find us. You can also follow our campaign Let Lake Victoria Breathe Again on Instagram.

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