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.

Empowering Change: Reflecting on Plastic Free July 2023

Empowering Change: Reflecting on Plastic Free July 2023

As the Plastic Free July campaign comes to a close, we find ourselves filled with inspiration and gratitude for the incredible community of climate activists, sustainable lifestyle enthusiasts, and eco-conscious individuals who came together to make a difference. Throughout this transformative month, we’ve had the privilege of hearing from a diverse group of inspiring individuals, including climate activists, sustainable lifestyle content creators, conscious entrepreneurs, and more. Their valuable insights have shed light on the importance of reducing plastic consumption and the positive impact it can have on our planet and our lives. It’s now time to recollect what we’ve learned throughout the month, so we can continue to make conscious choices every day to protect our planet and create a greener, healthier future for generations to come.

The Impact of Plastic Pollution

Tania Roa, a passionate climate activist, reminds us of the undeniable truth that plastic pollution is a result of the overuse of fossil fuels. From production to consumption, the entire lifecycle of plastic generates excessive pollution that our planet struggles to bear. Plastic waste infiltrates waterways, endangers wildlife, and even finds its way into our bodies. However, Tania also instills hope, urging us to remember that humans once lived without plastic and that we can reclaim our lives from plastic’s grip. She advocates for reuse, upcycling, and opting for plant-based materials whenever possible to make a positive difference.

Long-Term Thinking for Sustainable Change

Inanna, a musician and climate advocate, sheds light on the urgency of long-term thinking in tackling plastic pollution. She sees plastic as a symbol of a throwaway culture that prioritizes short-term convenience over the planet’s well-being. Recognizing that the Earth’s resources are finite, Inanna calls for a collective shift towards sustainable, ecological, reusable, and compostable alternatives to single-use plastics. By embracing change and questioning our habits, we can drive a vital transformation toward a greener, cleaner future.

The Multi-Faceted Importance of Reducing Plastic Consumption

Winnie Cheche, a dedicated climate activist, articulates the multiple benefits of reducing plastic consumption. By minimizing plastic waste, we protect our environment, preserve resources, and combat climate change. Plastic pollution has far-reaching consequences, affecting human health, wildlife, and the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Winnie’s call to action is an urgent reminder that protecting our planet is a collective responsibility.

Taking Charge of Our Health and Environment

Natalie Chung, a passionate climate advocate, eloquently highlights the suffocating reality of plastic pollution on our planet. From microplastics in Antarctica to the farthest reaches of our oceans, plastic waste knows no boundaries. Natalie’s message is clear: we must take control of our plastic addiction before it takes control of us. By reducing plastic consumption, we secure a safer, healthier environment for current and future generations.

Addressing Climate Change and Promoting Conservation

Lamech Opiyo, a driven climate activist, stresses the crucial role of reducing plastic consumption in mitigating climate change. The life cycle of plastic, from fossil fuel extraction to disposal, contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing our plastic footprint, we can champion sustainable waste management and conserve valuable resources. Lamech’s message resonates strongly with the idea that a safe and healthy environment is essential for our well-being and that of our planet.

Holding Corporations Accountable and Creating Ripple Effects

Niha Elety, an influential climate advocate and eco-entrepreneur, calls for collective action to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their plastic waste. By driving demand for eco-friendly materials and reusable alternatives, individuals can inspire systemic change and transition towards a circular economy. Her powerful message is that, as a collective force, we can challenge corporate practices and spark a wave of sustainable innovation.

Puja Mishra, an eco and slow-fashion advocate also emphasizes the power of individual actions in creating a ripple effect for positive change. Each small step we take towards a plastic-free lifestyle contributes to a monumental shift in behavior, ultimately leading to a more sustainable world. Puja’s lesson reminds us that every eco-conscious choice matters and inspires us to be catalysts for collective change.

Empowering Change Through Education and Advocacy

Margarita Samsonova, an influential eco-advocate and eco-entrepreneur, emphasizes the power of education and community engagement. By sharing our plastic-free journey and advocating for sustainable choices, we can inspire others and drive the collective change needed to protect our planet.

Celebrating Sustainable Fashion and Empowering Change

Clementina Martinez, a multifaceted sustainable fashion designer, and filmmaker, passionately advocates for reducing plastic consumption. She reminds us that the harmful impact of plastic waste goes beyond environmental damage; it affects our DNA, infiltrating our unborn babies and jeopardizing future generations. Embracing history as our guide, Clementina encourages us to reject the notion that we need plastic in our lives and instead, pave the way for a plastic-free future.

Alex Standley, a sustainable fashion stylist, also sheds light on the importance of making fashion more sustainable to combat plastic waste. By supporting eco-friendly and ethical fashion choices, we can significantly reduce the fashion industry’s plastic footprint. Alex’s lesson shows us that embracing sustainable fashion can be a powerful way to protect the environment.

Tackling Microplastics and Minimalism

Monica Richards, an eco-advocate and TV personality focuses on two crucial aspects of a plastic-free lifestyle: tackling microplastics and embracing minimalism. By switching to laundry and dishwasher pods, she ensures that microplastics do not leach into the water system. Additionally, adopting a minimalist mindset allows us to avoid unnecessary plastic consumption. Monica’s lesson shows that conscious choices can have a significant impact on reducing plastic pollution.

Embracing Imperfect Environmentalism and Meaningful Changes

Anne Therese Gennari, an eco-advocate and climate writer, invites us to view Plastic Free July as an opportunity for transformation. Rather than aiming for perfection, she encourages us to recognize our habits and seek sustainable alternatives. Embracing this challenge with transparency, patience, and understanding, we can embark on a journey of meaningful change.

Kate, an eco-advocate, encourages us to avoid overwhelm when transitioning to a plastic-free lifestyle. Her advice is simple but powerful: focus on one change at a time, allowing for gradual progress. By being patient with ourselves, we can build sustainable habits that last.

Linna, a passionate eco-advocate, promotes the idea of imperfect environmentalism. She reminds us that embracing sustainable practices, even in small steps, contributes to a monumental shift in the collective mindset. By upcycling and reusing items at home, we can reduce waste and make a positive impact.

Embracing Sustainable Swaps and Mindful Choices

Kate Hall, a dedicated eco-advocate, shares her favorite tip for avoiding plastic – utilizing beauty bar concentrates. By transitioning to reusable and home-compostable packaging, Kate eliminates plastic bottles from her shower and skincare routine. Her sustainable choices not only benefit the planet but also prove that satisfaction can coexist with eco-consciousness.

Michelle Sabado, an eco-advocate, encourages us to adopt a conscious approach to consumption. By considering the resources used in the production and disposal of products, we can make informed choices that prioritize sustainability and ethics.

Hannah Tizedes, an artivist, exemplifies the power of preparedness. Armed with a reusable bag, water bottle, and other essentials, she demonstrates how simple swaps can significantly reduce plastic consumption in our daily lives.

Laura Raffin offers sustainable solutions for the kitchen and home, highlighting the impact of replacing cling wrap with reusable wax wraps and silicone lids. By making these simple swaps, Laura significantly reduces plastic waste in her daily routines. Her lesson encourages us to seek out practical alternatives that align with our commitment to a plastic-free lifestyle.

Bulk Buying for a Greener Future

Taylor Ganis, a climate activist advocates for bulk buying as a means to reduce plastic packaging and overall environmental impact. Making bulk purchases replaces numerous small packages, resulting in less plastic waste. Taylor’s lesson encourages us to make mindful choices in our consumption patterns to minimize plastic use and waste.

Abdy, an eco-advocate, advocates for buying items in bulk, reducing the product-to-packaging ratio, and ultimately saving on plastic waste. Taylor Ganis, another climate advocate, echoes Abdy’s sentiment, urging us to make mindful choices by opting for bulk purchases to reduce plastic consumption.

Creative Solutions and Sustainable Habits

Karen Maurice, an eco-advocate, shares the impact of shopping at a more affordable zero-waste shop. By refilling household products with reusable and refillable containers, Karen significantly reduces her plastic waste output. Her journey towards a sustainable lifestyle serves as an inspiration to others.

Lacie Wever, an eco-advocate and busy mom, showcases the power of creative solutions. By cloth diapering her children and making mindful choices in daily life, she exemplifies how small changes can lead to significant impacts in reducing plastic waste.

Sara Docarmo, an eco-advocate and content creator, leads by example in her plastic-free journey. From using a menstrual cup to natural deodorant and shampoo bars, Sara shows that adopting sustainable swaps can lead to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Her lesson inspires us to take actionable steps and lead the way toward a plastic-free future.

The Plastic Free July Campaign brought together all these inspiring voices united against plastic pollution. From climate activists and eco-entrepreneurs to sustainable fashion designers and eco-advocates, these individuals showcased the power of individual actions and collective efforts in reducing plastic consumption. Their stories and favorite tips demonstrated that small steps when combined, create a powerful force for change. By collectively embracing sustainable practices, holding corporations accountable, and being mindful of our plastic consumption, we can pave the way toward a cleaner, greener, and plastic-free world. Together, we can turn the tide against plastic pollution and create a cleaner, greener planet for generations to come.

Giovanna Capovilla: An Inspiring Scientist Bridging the Gap Between Art and Climate Change

Giovanna Capovilla: An Inspiring Scientist Bridging the Gap Between Art and Climate Change

Meet Giovanna Capovilla, a remarkable scientist with a passion for unraveling the mysteries of photosynthetic organisms and their resilience to environmental challenges. From her Ph.D. research in Germany to her postdoctoral work at MIT, she has delved into the intricate world of plant biology and ecology. But Giovanna’s journey goes beyond the confines of laboratories; she is also a dedicated science communicator, driven by the desire to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the wider public.

Through her captivating initiative, Black Board 4 Science, Giovanna uses her artistic flair to communicate complex scientific concepts, especially those related to climate change. As a climate optimist, she believes in the power of collective action and strives to inspire others to take steps towards a more sustainable future. In this interview, Giovanna shares her insights on the importance of scientific communication, her sustainability practices, and the profound impact of being kind and relentless in life. Get ready to be inspired by this dynamic scientist and compassionate human being.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a Scientist. My overarching interests in my research are to understand how photosynthetic organisms evolve and interact with their environment. During my Ph.D. at the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany, I have been working with Arabidopsis, a model vascular plant. I was interested in studying how specific regulatory mechanisms that control plant morphology and flowering time cope with temperature fluctuations. For my postdoctoral studies at MIT, I directed my work toward unicellular photosynthetic organisms, leveraging my expertise in Molecular Biology while learning about Ecology. I have since worked with the most abundant cyanobacteria in the oceans.

I will soon move with my family to London, joining UCL as a lecturer. I will keep working toward unraveling the mechanisms that helped plants evolve from water to land, coping with harsh temperature fluctuations, which are only getting more abrupt with climate change. I am also blessed to be the mom of my wonderful 3-year-old son and of the sweetest fluffy dog. What else? I am Italian, born and raised.

You have a very unique style of creating educational content. Can you tell us a bit about Black Board 4 Science? What inspired you to start this initiative?

When a scientist is married to another scientist, what happens is that most of their friends are scientists too. And then, without realizing it, dinner conversations turn a bit (or a lot) nerdy. This is classic, and our family is like that. In our job, we need to go deep into finding out the smallest details of a small part of a big-picture project. So much so that the ‘big picture’ is not even mentioned but given for granted. That’s how scientific progress works; it’s like adding a new piece to a gigantic puzzle (one we don’t have a box for), adding up to answering the question of ‘What is life and how does it work?’

That’s obvious, except during my academic journey, I figured talking with ‘regular’ people, family members, and acquaintances curious about my work that to them, what I did was not clear at all. I have seen puzzled faces, blank stares, and questions like “But why do you care?” “What is that you do?”. I have seen people feeling defensive, telling me that “all evil characters are scientists” or that “Scientists think they know it all.” I figured that the scientific process and divulgation are two separate worlds, each needing a different set of tools. One is very formal (rigid, in a way) detailed oriented, and full of constructive criticism (and to us, so familiar!); the other is more accessible to the untrained public, it should be catchy, entertaining, and short, or people get bored and switch off their brains. I felt like I needed to learn more about scientific communication for the large public.

How to get people excited about science is a gift some scientific communicators have, but I think all scientists should cultivate it. I think it’s important because science is a job people do for passion and is mostly publicly funded. I believe taxpayers should benefit from it as much as possible and enjoy it too. When we moved to Boston, my now husband bought a blackboard on our first trip to IKEA. It became one of the few decorations in our house for a while. I used it to describe our first adventures in the big city, and I found it fun to deliver a message with illustrations and just a few words. Chalks are bulky and crumble all apart, making it less obvious that my drawing talent is average at best. I found it fun, so I thought I could talk about science this way! Then I wondered what was the most important topic to discuss first, and climate change, given the emergency, had to get priority. A friend talked me into using Instagram for this project, and here we are.

As a scientist and an artist, why did you feel it was important to create educational content on climate change?

Thank you for the ‘artist’; you are very kind.
When it comes to climate change, we are literally all in the same boat, and we need each other. People need to be informed and access accurate content to make informed decisions. While scientists can alert about the problem (they have been doing it for decades) and find potential and creative solutions, we need a global and structural change in our lifestyle, and to do this, we need governments to be involved and people to be interested.
Change requires a lot of energy and consensus. Scientists should really keep talking about this to the public. Public debates are out of our comfort zone because we weigh each word we say, and if we are not documented enough on something, we can’t respond on the spot in a debate. We are also typically interested in finding solutions rather than winning arguments, so I figure I could contribute to offering accurate content. People can then think and choose for themselves, but the more accessible and accurate content is available, the better.

We can see lots of misinformation about the science of climate change on social media as well as in real life. There are climate change deniers too. As a scientist, what do you think is the reason(s) behind denying climate change or spreading misinformation?

Facing the climate emergency is hard. Fear of the unknown brings up overwhelming feelings. It is terrifying. So denial is often a solid first response. Possibly one of the quickest ways the human brain reacts to unbearable bad news. I think it’s human, and it’s understandable. But it is not helpful.

What is your take on climate optimism?

Climate optimism is the healthiest and bravest way to contrast inaction due to climate anxiety. It means finding the motivation to keep fighting and transitioning to a more sustainable life one step at a time, ideally inspiring people around us to do the same. It means acknowledging the issues, facing reality, and deciding to look at achievable solutions instead of pointing fingers and being judgemental. Meaningful change is challenging to achieve, and it requires connecting with others at a human level, focusing on opportunities to be part of those brave individuals who try in bigger and smaller ways to build a better future, one step at a time. Nobody has all the answers, and everyone who is not in denial is worried about the future, but we can find resilience and creative solutions as a collective. A positive mindset allows creativity to flow, and we definitely need more of that. I hope I’ll be able to contribute to inspiring at least someone.

As a scientist, you continuously have to deal with the latest facts, and the climate crisis is getting intensified with every passing day. How do you keep yourself motivated and keep doing what you do?

Every new report is terrifying. But there is also news on all the new initiatives and on how increasingly more people take action manifesting, talking about it, and demanding change with urgency. For example, our new MIT President spoke about climate change in her inaugural speech a month ago or so. Actually, a whole new degree program has been created at MIT to address climate change and find solutions. I find all that refreshing.

I keep myself busy, which is not hard, being a working mom, and I keep educating myself about this topic. I am particularly interested in learning more about proposed solutions and progress. It is increasingly clear that we need a plan forward. In tackling a big problem, it is useful to divide it into smaller tasks and assign the tasks to people with the right skills. We need to be able to use the technology we have available and start using that to reduce our CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, we need funds for research and development of new and clever solutions to obtain 0 emissions and capture CO2 efficiently. Climate change is not something a single person can take on, but something everybody should keep in mind always.

Do you have an idol?

I have too many! There are so many inspiring people…

To name just a few women in Science, I’d say Madame Curie, Rosalind Franklin, and being Italian myself, Rita Levi Montalcini and Margherita Hack come to mind because, yes, representation matters. Among Italian scientific communicators, I am a big fan of Piero and Alberto Angela, who brought science to prime time on major Italian TV channels in an elegant and eloquent way. I grew up watching their shows.

But the truth is I am a big fan of each and every kind and compassionate human being. I am blessed to know many wonderful people in real life who have been inspiring and tangible on a day-to-day basis, friends, advisors, and family members.

How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?

In a household where both parents work full time, like ours, time is very limited. I look at what I can do with the time and bandwidth I have, trying to add to our routines more and more sustainable choices. For example, when my son was a baby, we used cloth diapers rented through a local company. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to add that amount of laundry to my life, but this way, I got to avoid commercial diaper use, and we supported a small and local business. Babies need a lot of gear and only use those for a few months at best. Luckily, there is a florid network of parents in the neighborhood I could turn to get and return baby books and gear, making the process less wasteful. I also pay attention to details, bringing my own bags to the supermarket, choosing the laundry detergent that comes in carton boxes, shopping second-hand when possible, choosing public transport or carpooling whenever possible, carrying my reusable water bottle around, and so on.

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies/passions besides Black Board 4 Science?

As I mentioned, I am a mom, and we have a very high-energy dog. So spending time with my family is where my free time goes. I also have many passions and try to blend them into my mom’s life. I love photography, climbing, and running, for example (although I’ll admit I am a little out of shape at the moment). My 3yo climbs everywhere, and my niece is interested in climbing too, so I will soon resume climbing and enjoy it with them.

How do you define success?

When your job is interesting, creative, and worthwhile, you are basically paid to have fun. I call that a win.

What’s your mantra for life?

I go by “Be kind always and relentless as needed.”

Learn more about Giovanna Capovilla and connect with her on 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.

Waste Colonialism: Modern Day Imperialism 

Waste Colonialism: Modern Day Imperialism 

Waste colonialism hasn’t been a new topic of discussion. With the term itself coined in 1989, waste colonialism remains very much alive in our modern age. Post COP-27, with the establishment of the loss and damage fund, it begs the question of whether waste colonialism is to have its own talks and implementations.

What is waste colonialism?

Dumpsite

Waste colonialism refers to the movement of waste past sovereign borders, particularly from privileged and influential countries to lesser privileged and influential countries. The term “colonialism” is used to signify historical colonial relationship dynamics, and some argue that waste colonialism is considered as an extension of imperial colonialism. According to Lamech Opiyo, a Kenyan environmentalist, waste colonialism usually stems from “developed countries with huge multinational industries” with high rates of production, and exploit developing countries with these exports.

This is because the key concepts of colonialism are reinforced: (a) forced entry into a territory and its population (b) alteration or destruction of the indigenous culture and patterns of social organisation (c) domination of the indigenous population by representatives of the invading society and (d) justification of such activities with highly prejudicial, racist beliefs, and stereotypes.

Plastic waste colonialism is the output of plastic waste being moved to borders outside of its manufacturing site. Opiyo added that plastic waste colonialism is when “developed countries are trying to downpour and exploit developing countries by their waste – in this case, plastic waste.” According to the UN, 400 million tons of plastic is being produced annually. Plastic has been identified as the fastest growing material since the 1970s, and most of the plastic waste found in oceans and landfills is single use. 85% of plastic packaging ends up in landfills, which leads to the concept of plastic waste colonialism. Incidents of plastic waste colonialism have been no secret over the past two decades. Statistics from Eurostat showcase that the EU alone has exported 1.1 million tons of plastic waste in 2021. The European Parliament stated that around half of all the collected plastic for recycling is shipped elsewhere, with Turkey being the number one receiver.

A mountain of waste in a waste dumping site

Why does waste colonialism happen?

It became evident that the reasons as to why waste colonialism occurs is because of the benefits involved in partaking in it. “Most of these developed countries find it very cheap.” Opiyo stated, with respect as to how plastic waste colonialism is cheaper to execute than to regulate domestically. It was also found that there are economic benefits to importing waste – which outweighs the societal and environmental harm it causes. Developing nations willingly – and at times unwillingly – get foreign waste across their borders for monetary compensation. A study by the World Bank has found that the amount of urban solid waste has increased by 70% and is expected to go from 1.3 billion tons/year to 2.2 billion tons by 2025. This would raise global annual costs to $375 billion from $205 billion.

This global increase in cost will happen most severely in cities of low-income countries. Plastic waste colonialism has made the movement of plastic from developed nations to developing nations a “business” that allows for the cheapest method of waste management with the highest consequence for nations that accept that waste. African and Asian countries are the ones that receive plastic waste from the Global North, with an exception to China. After the Chinese decision to no longer accept foreign waste, developed nations dumped approximately 1 billion tons of plastic waste into Senegal and Kenya a year after that decision.

It is no secret that it’s “relatively poor and marginalised” groups of people who suffer the most because of plastic waste colonialism, as said by Opiyo. According to Green Peace, plastic industries persuaded developing countries that the dumping of plastics could be an attempt to solve the present unemployment. However, it fails to be a sustainable solution to unemployment, and has more severe consequences – one of which correlates to environmental justice.

Photo of an african marginalized child

Plastic waste colonialism only adds to the issue of plastic waste that developing countries are already trying to combat. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, generates over 2,400 tonnes of waste – a fifth of which is plastic, as reported by The Guardian. With the massive amounts of plastic waste that need to be regulated, it has introduced end-of-pipe technological solutions, which often have more negative consequences than positive ones. According to Gaia, an international environmental organisation, these solutions create severe health implications for workers, communities, and citizens by releasing exponential amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic air pollutants, dangerous ashes, and other hazardous materials. This excess plastic waste can negatively affect countries with regards to public health, economy, and sustainability – which is precisely why multiple policies have been introduced to combat plastic waste colonialism.

What has been done officially to combat plastic waste colonialism?

The Basel Convention – formally known as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal – is an international treaty signed in 1989. It was done to reduce the transfer of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries. The intention of the convention was to improve the socio-environmental aspects of the waste transferred, and to assist developing countries in the management of these wastes. As of May 2023, there are 191 parties within the convention; however, Hati and the USA have signed the convention without ratifying it.

In May of 2019, multiple countries have amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste. This was done in wake of the discovery of 100 million metric tons of plastic found in the world’s ocean. The USA opposed this amendment; however, export shipment from the US is considered as “criminal traffic as soon as the ships get on high seas,” as stated by the Basel Action Network (BAN), with the shipments being subject to liability. Opiyo mentioned how there are so many policies and regulations present against plastic waste colonialism, but aren’t being implemented. Opiyo reiterates that policies are required to regulate the amount of waste that is being exported to developing countries, and the gap that is present between the actualisation of these regulations sets them back.

What can you do to combat waste colonialism?

Dumpsite in sunset

Awareness is a key factor in the fight against plastic waste colonialism. As simple as it sounds, regular citizens need to be aware that the recycling of plastic that they think they are participating in isn’t as straightforward as it seems. German citizens in 2019 were shocked to find their recycled plastic waste all the way in Turkey in 2020, as reported by The Guardian.

Opiyo emphasises that efforts in raising awareness towards waste colonialism should be consistent, and in the scope of an individual. Individual households should start prioritising their waste management, and move towards implementing a circular economic lifestyle. A circular economy refers to a model of production and consumption that revolves around using and reusing existing materials for as long as possible. The decision to become more sustainable should root from an individualistic level, with the priorities being set in line with that. Opiyo mentioned how awareness campaigns – even on social media – could impact different policies with regards to waste colonialism, considering that the biggest impacts start with the accumulation of small actions.

The attempt at being eco-friendly directly affects the products that are present within a household, which reinforces the idea that sustainability starts at home. The ability to influence other individuals to be eco-friendly can create a collective effort – consisting of the government, NGOs, international organisations, businesses etc. – to promote waste management practices. Opiyo states that awareness is key to creating a more “equitable and eco-friendly environment towards managing waste.”

Lensational Climate Warriors: Maasai Women Inspiring Change through Art

Lensational Climate Warriors: Maasai Women Inspiring Change through Art

In the heart of Kenya, nestled in the foothills of the majestic Mount Kenya, live the Maasai people, a Nilotic ethnic community, members of the Nilo-Saharan family of languages related to the Nuer, Kalenjin, and Dinka. For generations, they have called the land of Kenya their home, relying on its fertile soil and abundant water resources to sustain their way of life. But over the years, the pastoralist community that relies so heavily on livestock rearing and agriculture has seen their way of life and their livelihoods threatened by the changing climate. The once-abundant water resources are drying up, and the land is becoming increasingly arid, making it difficult for the Maasai people to sustain their way of life. Recognizing this issue, international social enterprise, Lensational, along with The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Global Network partnered up to empower the Maasai women through photography and digital storytelling.

Collaboration for Empowerment: Lensational and NAP Global Network’s Partnership

Through the program, these women were trained in photography and digital storytelling, empowering them to share their stories with the world. They were provided with the skills and tools they need to share their stories and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on their community. 

Through this initiative, six Maasai women came together to tell their stories about how climate change has affected them and their communities. Through the lens of these skilled photographers, we gain a unique perspective on the profound transformations unfolding in the Maasai community. Each photograph tells a story, offering glimpses into the everyday struggles, remarkable resilience, and inspiring adaptation efforts of the Maasai people, with a particular focus on the experiences and perspectives of women.

The Six Maasai Photographers

Picturing Resilience: Lensational and the Maasai Women’s Fight against Climate Change

As we embark on this visual journey, we are reminded of the urgent need to address climate change and its disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. Through the artistry and storytelling of the Maasai women, we are compelled to listen, learn, and take action to support these communities as they navigate the uncharted waters of a warming planet. So, let us immerse ourselves in the photographs and stories that unveil the Maasai community’s experiences with climate change, and let their voices guide us towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

1. The shoulders shielding the effects of climate change, by Catherine Pilalei:

A collage of beautiful photographs with the photographer's photo on the upper left corner of the collage
Copyright © lensational.org

Meet Catherine Pilalei, a remarkable Maasai photographer and devoted mother of two. Through her lens, she discovered the power of independence and self-reliance. In this project, Catherine and her community of Maasai women learned that embracing their own capabilities is essential, even when men migrate with cattle. Witness the captivating photographs that showcase their resilience, highlighting the importance of women’s empowerment in the face of a changing world. Join us as we delve into their inspiring journey, where visual storytelling transforms lives and paves the way for a brighter future.

2. Rebuilding after the storm, by Grace Ntesio

A collage of beautiful photographs with the photographer's photo on the upper left corner of the collage
Copyright © lensational.org

Introducing Grace Ntesio, a remarkable photographer and devoted mother to a young boy, whose lens captures the strength and resilience of women in the face of adversity. Through this project, Grace has discovered the indomitable spirit within women, a spirit that refuses to surrender in the face of challenges caused by climate change. Witness their determination as they navigate tough times, defying helplessness and finding innovative solutions to overcome the hurdles presented by a changing climate. Join us as we delve into Grace’s powerful series, celebrating the unwavering resilience and inspiring ingenuity of women in the face of climate-related difficulties. Together, let’s honor their remarkable journey and draw inspiration from their resourcefulness in building a brighter future.

3. Changing lifestyles in the face of drought, by Irene Naneu

A collage of beautiful photographs with the photographer's photo on the upper left corner of the collage
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Enter the world of Irene Nanue, hailing from the vibrant Narok North Melili area. Through her participation in this project, Irene discovered the hidden struggles endured by their community under the weight of climate change. Yet, amidst the challenges, she witnessed the remarkable resilience and innovative adaptation efforts of her fellow community members. With a newfound understanding, Irene recognized that climate change is a global issue, far from a mere occurrence, and that the first step in combatting it is through education and awareness. Join us as we delve into Irene’s enlightening perspective, unveiling the silent hardships and inspiring initiatives within her community. Together, let’s embrace the power of knowledge and unite in the fight against climate change.

4. The search for a good harvest, by Esther Tinayo

A collage of beautiful photographs with the photographer's photo on the upper left corner of the collage
Copyright © lensational.org

Allow us to introduce Esther Tinayo, a visionary photographer and devoted mother of three, who unveils the truth behind their experiences in this captivating series. Through her lens, Esther sheds light on the realization that the challenges they have faced for so long are not merely natural climate patterns but are, in fact, linked to climate change. In the face of drought, Esther discovered the importance of managing a smaller, healthier herd rather than struggling to care for a larger, weakened one. As a community, they have learned to seize the precious moments of rainfall, preserving and preparing water resources for the inevitable dry spells. Join us on this visual expedition as Esther’s photographs reveal the wisdom gained from their experiences, highlighting the significance of adaptation and sustainable practices. Together, let’s embrace their journey and draw inspiration from their resilience, as they navigate the ever-changing climate for the sake of their families and future generations.

5. Navigating drought in the highlands and plains of Loita, by Immaculate Pisoi

A collage of beautiful photographs with the photographer's photo on the upper left corner of the collage
Copyright © lensational.org

Meet Immaculate, the visionary photographer behind this captivating series. As a homestead manager in the drought-stricken region of Loita, Immaculate intimately understands the profound impact of water scarcity on her daily life and the lives of her community members, particularly the women. Through her lens, Immaculate fearlessly explores the far-reaching consequences of the prevailing drought, shedding light on its effects on households, communities, and the resilience of women. Join us as we embark on a visual odyssey, guided by Immaculate’s keen eye, to witness the struggles and triumphs of those grappling with the harsh realities of water scarcity. Together, let’s uncover the power of visual storytelling in illuminating the untold stories and rallying for change in Loita and beyond.

6. An odd contest for a better future, by Claire Metito

A collage of beautiful photographs with the photographer's photo on the upper left corner of the collage
Copyright © lensational.org

Introducing Claire Metito, an extraordinary photographer and devoted mother of four, who brings her unique perspective to this series. In Esiteti, their community had long endured drought without fully understanding the underlying force of climate change. But now, as women, they have gained awareness and embraced their vital role in shaping a better future for their children. Join us as we embark on a visual journey, guided by Claire’s lens, to witness their determination, resilience, and unwavering commitment to securing a brighter tomorrow. Together, let’s explore the profound impact of their storytelling and the power of mothers in shaping a sustainable legacy.

Igniting Change through Art and Empowered Voices

Person in a jungle Holding Camera Leaning on Wood Plank

In the resounding echoes of their photographs and digital narratives, the Maasai women have shattered the silence and given a resolute voice to their community’s struggles in the face of climate change. Their impactful work has transcended boundaries, resonating with audiences across the globe and igniting a vital conversation about the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities like the Maasai people.

Lensational’s partnership with the Maasai women, training and empowering them in the realms of photography and digital storytelling, stands as a testament to the organization’s unwavering commitment to fostering empowerment and promoting social and environmental justice. By equipping these women with the tools and skills to tell their stories, Lensational has created a powerful platform for their voices to soar and their narratives to reach far and wide.

Through the lens of this initiative, we witness the transformative power of art, as the Maasai women’s images and words ignite empathy, challenge perspectives, and spur collective action. Their stories have been captured, shared, and celebrated, raising awareness and inspiring individuals and communities to confront the urgent realities of climate change.

Embracing Resilience and Empowering Change

Sunset tree in Kenya Safari, Africa

The Maasai women’s journey encapsulates the resilience, strength, and unwavering spirit of communities facing the ravages of climate change. It reminds us that within every challenge lies the potential for change and the capacity for individuals to rise, unite, and champion a sustainable future.

As we bid farewell to this visual expedition, let us carry the stories of the Maasai women within our hearts, nurturing their flame of resilience and empowering their calls for justice. Together, we can weave a tapestry of hope, embracing the collective responsibility to safeguard our planet and create a world where every voice is heard and cherished.

Natalie Chung’s Antarctic Odyssey: A Journey to The Frontlines of Climate Change With Dr. Sylvia Earle

Natalie Chung’s Antarctic Odyssey: A Journey to The Frontlines of Climate Change With Dr. Sylvia Earle

Natalie Chung, a young and dynamic social entrepreneur and sustainability leader from Hong Kong, has returned from the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023, alongside the legendary oceanographer and environmentalist, Dr Sylvia Earle. As the only representative from her country, Natalie had a rare opportunity to explore one of the most remote and fragile ecosystems on earth, while also witnessing the devastating effects of climate change on this pristine environment.

In our previous interview, we shared Natalie’s excitement and anticipation for her journey to the end of the world, and now, we’re thrilled to present a captivating and exclusive glimpse into her post-expedition experience. Join us as we dive deep into Natalie’s thrilling journey to Antarctica – from breathtaking vistas to heart-stopping adventures, we’ve got all the details. But that’s not all; we’ll also delve into the remarkable insights she gained, and how her experience has shaped her work as a sustainability leader. Natalie’s incredible journey to Antarctica is not only a testament to her unwavering passion for environmentalism but also a shining example of her commitment to creating a better world for all. So, sit back, relax, and indulge in this inspiring and empowering interview with the unstoppable Natalie Chung – a true visionary and trailblazer in the world of sustainability.

Tell me about how your 9-day Voyage went. 

Photo of the participants of the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition on a cruise in the Antarctic

First of all, it extended from nine days to around 12 days due to the changing climate, because it was very difficult for us to take a flight from the South Georgia Island of Antarctica back to Chile, the mainland. So we were kind of stuck on the ship for three extra days. It was a very special experience but it also allowed us to kind of realize how insignificant mankind is when compared with the ever-changing climate and the force of nature. Some of the people on the ship were very influential policymakers and experts but none of us could or ever can overcome these kinds of natural conditions. So it’s a reminder to us how insignificant we can be and how much we should pay respect to nature as we’re all part of the system. 

So I think the whole of the voyage was very fruitful. We had 110 experts joining from different backgrounds over 19 countries and regions and the ages ranged from 12 to 88. The oldest person is Dr. Sylvia Earle, who’s 88 years old. It was such a great pleasure and inspiring experience to meet Sylvia in person and to spend almost 12 days together with her. We had a few meals with her as well, and she shared with us how she feels about the ocean, her life journey, and her ambitions. 

The journey started with us, all being in Ushuaia, gathering before we set sail to Antarctica. There, we had a full-day conference to discuss, initially, the 23 resolutions for 2023 to accelerate Net Zero by 2035. In the meeting, we were divided into different groups. And each group focused on a specific topic – my group focused on plastic. We had some plastic experts such as Joanna Ruxton, she’s the producer and filmmaker of A Plastic Ocean, a very famous documentary on Netflix about microplastic and the whole plastic life cycle in the ocean. There was also Esther An who is the Chief Sustainability Officer of CDL, one of the major property developers in Singapore. So it was a very comprehensive and fruitful dialogue, where we got to pinpoint which of those resolutions was the most important because we had this previous conversation in which we already developed a rough list of resolutions. 

The purpose of the expedition was to nail it down further with everyone’s input. Some points were raised such as how we should focus on the entire circular economy instead of just talking about ocean plastic as the production and manufacturing of plastic can also infer how we produce other products using a life cycle approach. So we believe that embracing a circular economy is a key resolution for protecting the ocean. Given that, a lot of consumer products may draw resources from the seabed or sea floor, it is important to install that mindset of sustainable consumption – the consumption behavior shifts to include in the resolution.

On the second day, we boarded the Dr. Sylvia Earle ship, it was a very unique experience because it was the first time for the ship to sail too. So we had this christening ceremony of the ship to celebrate a good start of the journey but it was postponed due to weather again. We also started the day with a lot of lectures about understanding the sustainable tourism conventions of Antarctica. This was unique to me because when speaking with some of the expedition guides on the ship, we understood that Antarctica has one of the most stringent sustainable tourism rules around the world. So it’s governed by an agency called IAATO and they have a set of guidelines on what tourists can or cannot do, and researchers can do on the grounds. For instance, for Penguins, we need to keep a distance of five meters, and then for whales, I think it was 15 meters – on a boat. So I think it’s a great reference for how to do tourism – ecotourism around the world, especially in regions with high ecological sensitivity.

One main point that they mentioned is how one virus can even lead to the dying out of the whole penguin colony. Because when we’re doing the continental endings, we will be seeing maybe 10,000 penguins all at once. And these penguins have not developed the immunity against foreign diseases that we may bring to them. So it’s very important for us to keep these diseases out of reach of the species there. Because Antarctica is the only place on earth, the Last Frontier, where no humans happen to inhabit and we need to keep preserving, then observing these rules to ensure their safety.

Photo of penguins in the Antarctic

And so before we do all the landings, we have to change into the proper disinfectant boots provided by the ship and we step into a sanitizing liquid to disinfect everything – not just the boots, but also the tip of, for example, your hiking pole, you need to dip the tip into it as well. We also needed to step into it again before going into the ship. So it’s like a safety protocol. And before everyone goes down we also need to do a very special vacuuming process which I didn’t know it’s so important. So basically, it’s because we don’t want to bring any exotic species or invasive species into Antarctica. So we need to use the normal vacuum to vacuum all our clothes and bags –  everything that’s exterior that we are wearing and bringing with us – because we don’t want to bring any tiny seed that probably got stuck onto our clothes and drop it there.  So, just to ensure that we’re not bringing any exotic species into there. 

I think I’ve learned quite a lot from these. We were taught to respect all lives in nature in this very unique part of the world. So, yeah, on the second day, we did the first landing, which was approximately at 4 A.M. It was a very surreal experience because we woke up so early and everyone was very tired but it was all worth it. Because we saw the sunrise and it was the perfect sunlight to see the Penguins. The first species we saw is the Chinstrap Penguin. We saw three species of penguins out of a total of seven in Antarctica. Chinstrap penguins have a line of their chins, so they’re called Chinstraps. They are abundant but their numbers have been decreasing because the majority of them feed on Antarctic krills, a type of very small shrimp that have declined by 80% over the past 40 – 50 years. The main reason is that they’re sensitive to water temperature, and warming oceans lead to the dying out of these shrimps and also overfishing. So it’s very astonishing to know how important krill is to the entire Antarctic ecosystem. 

Photo of Antarctic krills

One of the resolutions also focuses on protecting the krills. Because apart from penguins, seals and whales also consume krill as the basis of the food chain. For example, a typical whale consumes four tons of krill per day to survive. So, it’s a massive amount of krills. So I think it’s interesting how this small creature is playing such an important role in the ecosystem system and ignorance of protecting them in the past has led to disasters. I think a lot of the products, for example, Salmon sold in Europe used to be fat on krill because we used to think that krills were very abundant and we allowed for krill farming in Antarctica – when there were no ocean treaties governing them. 

But since the countries have signed the Antarctic treaty to protect Antarctica, it has improved a bit but we still need to raise awareness around it to stop purchasing any krill-based products because there are products like krill oil – like essential oils, that are extracted from krills. Also fish products, fat of krills. But they may not be explicitly stated on the product. So maybe when you’re buying it, you don’t know that it’s from Antarctica and you don’t know how detrimental the impact can be on their ecosystem. So that’s one major lesson I learned from this whole penguin and krill ecosystem. 

In the next few days, we also did more landings on different parts of Antarctica. I joined the microplastic team. So we collected water samples from the surface. And on the ship, because this is a new ship that celebrates scientific research and exploration, we have a special laboratory dedicated to Dr. Sylvia Earle that’s equipped with some simple gadgets, like electronic microscopes. So we were able to analyze the microscopic samples to find out whether there was any plastic in them. And indeed, we saw a lot of microplastic in the samples. In all 10 samples, we found traces of microplastic, which was bad, but also sort of expected because there is human intervention. We found some small red filaments which are supposedly from the clothes that people wear. So I think that one of the major takeaways for me is how Antarctic tourism is expanding, and how the industry is starting to become more unsustainable. Although we have all these rules governing, like minimal level of protection for penguins and other species, still for example, some of the belongings of our passengers were lost so they just left it there unintentionally, some of their face masks got blown away because the wind was crazy. So things like the mask definitely disintegrated into the ice and made huge chunks of microplastic. So how do we govern them? Is there a better way? Or should we set a limit on the number of people that can enter at least for scientific research purposes, or maybe allow a quota for leisure tourism? Also for leisure tourism, can we have even stricter guidelines, for example, not allowing polyester clothing to be worn on land, we need to ensure that the clothing would not fall into microplastic pieces in case some filaments get thrown onto the ice. 

Photo of the participants of the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition on a cruise in the Antarctic

Apart from microplastic, we also did some whale research. I followed the whale zodiac with one whale scientist called Dr.Olaf. It was super exciting, he brought us on the zodiac and we went further from the ship to identify if there are any whales around and also observe their behavior. We also used a hydrophone which is like an underwater device that helps capture underwater noises and sound waves to listen to the whale. Although maybe sometimes we don’t see the whales swimming on the surface, after we analyzed the sounds, we realized that there are several whales in the area that we explored. By aggregating these different data points, we were able to map out how many whales we saw. And I think throughout the whole expedition, there was a sighting of around 100 whales. Also, we were using drones to take sensory images. Through the drone, it was very clear where the whales were because the water was very clear there. I think that’s another interesting observation. 

Photo of a whale's tail in the Antarctic

Personally, as I’m the only one from Hong Kong on that trip and I also want to raise my voice for Asia, I did personal interviews with different stakeholders, like one-on-one with Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Olaf, the whale expert, and other renowned personalities like Hollywood star Christina Ochoa to ask them – why they came on this expedition and what they think about what people in Asia can also do to protect Antarctica. I think I’ll be publishing those as a YouTube series on my channel to spread the word.

Additionally, I’m also working with several museums in Hong Kong to see if we can showcase an exhibition to bring the impact of Antarctica closer to Asia focusing on, for example, some of the whale species there and how it leads to increasing the marine protected area of the world. One delightful piece of news is that the UN signed the high seas treaty to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030. This is a great target and also what we were demanding for.

So in the end, we screened down the list to eight specific resolutions on ocean conservation and climate protection.

What were your preparations like for this trip?

I think the main preparation was to actually identify the right partners to work with me on the impact and amplify the work afterward. Because as a sustainability advocate, I think I had mixed feelings because I didn’t want to go on a high-emissions expedition if I don’t have a clear purpose for going there. So I kind of tried to really understand my objective. I was invited by the organizer back in 2021, and I’ve been reflecting on whether it is useful for me or for my advocacy. And then after I was convinced that I could do something about it, I started to reach out to different partners, to see how we could co-create impact. After all, we want to bring it as a relevant topic, as a relevant issue that can generate enough media attention to raise public awareness. So that was the main part of the preparation for me. 

Photo of sustainability advocate Natalie Chung in the Antarctic on Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition

I guess the second part is to take time to research and understand Antarctica. I spoke with several of the experts from the trip before coming, to understand their objectives and whether we can collaborate on several initiatives. So one of the people I spoke with is James Barnes, he was part of the negotiation team for the Antarctic treaty. He’s a lawyer based in the US and now he’s living in France. So it was very interesting to learn more about the Antarctic Treaty, how important it is, and what we can do in the coming years to ensure that it’s being safeguarded because in the past few years, there have been more geopolitical conflicts. And some countries are kind of eyeing the Antarctic resources to do mining for minerals or deep sea mining. So, how do we keep up the public’s attention to scrutinize the implementation of the Antarctic treaty, and how is the treaty evolving, what countries are cooperating or are not – I understood it from James.   

What was it like sailing to the Arctic? Did you get to see climate change firsthand in the Arctic?

Sailing to the Antarctic was I guess it was quite difficult for someone because we needed to pass through the Drake Passage which is one of the most unstable and dangerous passages in the world. The waves can go up to 10 meters in the worst kind of weather. Although we weren’t experiencing that, still it was quite shaky and it was for over two days. Some people were super seasick and they were not even able to join the other activities. But luckily I survived, as I had this patch under my ear to stabilize myself, and that worked well for me.

Witnessing the impact firsthand was a unique experience for me. I think, in particular, it’s the temperature. I figured that I didn’t realize this because I felt the temperature was kind of bearable, and I was okay with not wearing so many heavy clothes when I went outdoors. But once I got back, I shared some photos with my friends and they were like, “Oh wow. Is this hotter than it should be?” And I realized what it looks like. My parents were like, “Oh, from your photos, I bet it’s not that cold!” And indeed, it wasn’t super cold. I think, one of the days it was even like six degrees Celsius which was one of the highest, and 2022 is one of the hottest years in Antarctica over the past 50 years. So, it was shocking for me to see how warm Antarctica has become. Some of the expedition members who had been there around 20 years ago, witnessed the changing of the ice. We also saw a lot of green algae on the ice, so those are Antarctic algae. The reason for these algae to bloom is because of the warming temperature that also affects the habitats of penguins and other species. So it’s also another abnormal thing that we saw. In terms of the wind, there are also more frequent intense storms that gust extreme weather than before, which was unfavorable for penguins’ survival. Also, I think we weren’t able to see a lot of Ice cover, I guess it was partly because of the rapid rate of melting. So my perception is that it didn’t feel like I was in Antarctica, I felt like I was in another rocky mountain which is not ideal. 

Photo of sustainability advocate Natalie Chung snorkeling in the Antarctic on Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition

I also did a bit of snorkeling. So I got to get relatively closer to the wildlife to observe the behavior. I personally didn’t see a lot of behavioral changes, but our expedition guys mentioned to us how the penguin colonies are changing a lot. Like they used to see a lot of penguins in this colony, but this time we did the landing there and there were only a few left. so their habitats are changing quicker than we can predict. And it’s worrying and disheartening for us on the ship. But I guess what also struck us was how beautiful Antarctica can be with the other changes in landscape and scenery. The majority of it is still very beautiful and well-preserved. This is how we think Antarctica is might impact how we see the ocean in general and what can be done to revive the oceans if we’re able to implement, for example, the UN high seas treaty was able to protect the whole of the high sea, ban deep sea mining and establish as many actions as possible to cover the rest of the oceans. 

Because Antarctica is like the Global Commons, and everyone can get a part of it. Countries can come together to sign such a treaty, like the Antarctic treaty to protect this place with us. We can use this as a positive case study to see what our land could look like without human intervention and what kind of similar mechanisms can be applied to the rest of the oceans. 

Tell us about the goals that you were supposed to finalize during the expedition.

We had initially planned on 23 goals, which later became 8 goals. I think after the discussions, we realized that in order to communicate messages effectively, we need to be more focused. So instead of having the headline of 23 solutions, it was more like 8 generic broader umbrellas. And under each of the eight umbrellas, we have two to three action points. 

One of the resolutions is to protect and implement a treaty and climate-smart approach to protecting marine resources, which is related to the goal of 30 by 30, i.e. 30% of the ocean protected by 2030, demanding for that to happen. And then another resolution was to demand fossil fuel-free oceans to prevent the extraction in the oceans because obviously, there are still a lot of Mining and extraction activities happening related to fossil fuels in the ocean. So, generically, we agreed on doing that. Another resolution is embracing a full and comprehensive circular economy at all scales and levels which includes resources like plastic and other materials that are extracted from or abandoned in the ocean. 

I think we had around 17 members that were youth representatives in the expedition. So, for the youth part, our resolution is to promote an inclusive culture and to support them to become climate and ocean leaders. The last thing is including and respecting the voices of different cultures, including the indigenous communities. A lot of indigenous communities rely on fishing and aquaculture as their livelihood for survival and their major source of protein. So, learning from how indigenous people are operating the smallholder fish farms would shed light on how we create smallholders’ sustainable scale fishery systems. Because we are championing against industrial fishing due to the impact that it creates on ecosystems, essentially wiping out the whole marine ecosystem. So it’s crucial to learn from the traditional wisdom of indigenous people on how to manage and protect Marine Resources. 

What was it like meeting Dr. Sylvia Earle personally and being a part of her expedition team?

Photo of sustainability advocate Natalie Chung with Dr Sylvia Earle on a cruise in the Antarctic on Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition

Meeting Sylvia Earle was very inspiring, as cliche as it sounds. First of all, I really admire her passion and energy. Even though she’s quite old already, she is so energetic and she attended almost every lecture. She’s even more energetic than all of us. 

She not only attended my lecture, but she also really paid close attention and gave her feedback to me. And every time she makes a remark, it’s deeply thought through and involves her past experience aligned with the future. What I respect the most is that she doesn’t only talk about the past – while she does talk about it, she will link it back to a future outlook. I feel like she’s continually engaged with the latest research related to the ocean in order to keep herself most updated and she still has all these crazy ideas on what can be done in the future. And another point is about the idea of exploration. So she thinks that a major part of her talk on the ship is about her latest projects on the deep sea. She was the kind of the first generation of manufacturers of submarines to go as deep as 1000 meters, and she continues to do that. Because she thinks that going into the deep sea is like going to outer space as it’s so unexplored that we don’t realize how many species are out there and she discovers something new every time. She showed us some very strangely beautiful marine animals in the deep sea all lit up. It’s like a jungle down there. 

She was very generous with her time. Even though she was super packed, she gave me like 20 minutes of her time for an interview, and the most memorable scene was when we were called for a concluding remark by her, which couldn’t have started without her presence. But she insisted on finishing the interview with me first before she went. And when the admin person came in to call her because they needed her, and saw that she was doing the interview with me, the person stared at me for holding her. (chuckles)

Her whole narrative of how we should keep exploring and keep understanding more and respecting the blue heart of our planet. And she’s also super optimistic, she always says that she believes now is the best chance for us to make a difference, and to transform all the tipping points into turning points. This was a quote that I kept close to my mind and heart because I believe that there’s still a chance of creating the change that we need. And I think her optimism lit up a lot of us to continue pursuing climate and ocean advocacy.

Photo of sustainability advocate Natalie Chung with Dr Sylvia Earle on a cruise in the Antarctic on Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition

What was it like being surrounded by so many renowned people in the field like Jenifer Hayes and David Doubilet? What did you learn from this experience?

Yes, we did meet some other really cool people. Jen Hayes and David Doubilet were like the stars of the expedition. David actually took a photo for us and it was like a big deal because we were under David’s camera which is such a great pleasure. I think Jen and David shared a very personal story with us about their journey featuring harp seals in the Arctic. So they started to kind of understand the harp seals 10 years ago and they realized how they are being threatened by rising sea levels and warming seawater. So they kept following this story for 10 years. They go there twice a year to witness the breeding because each of the harp seals can only breed 1 to 2 times and then in the end, maybe all of them die. So, in recent years, almost all of the babies couldn’t survive because of the very bad weather conditions and extreme weather events. So it’s very disheartening for them. 

I appreciate how they told this story by sharing their authentic experiences and how they fought for the funding to get this story covered. And now it’s been elevated on National Geographic. While they work for Nat Geo, they need to continually keep hunting for juicy stories as they work on contracts. So even though this Harp seal issue wasn’t very prominent 10 years ago, they persistently pushed it as a top issue and now it’s become elevated. This has taught me how to stay focused on a particular subject matter and use my creativity to frame a story in a way that is appealing to the audience and to institutions so that it can gather more effort to fight for a certain subject. 

Meeting other people, I guess, I got exposed to different ways of life. So there are some people who are explorers; they just keep on going on different kinds of expeditions. I met a lot of people from the Explorers Club and it was eye-opening to see how to join the Explorers Club, you need to make sure that your expedition experience can contribute positively to the advancement of science, humanity, and the environment. There was Josh Bernstein. He is a storyteller. He used to go to all these unexplored places to discover new history or mysteries of myths, archaeology, and human nature. And now he’s working with NASA on communicating science to students like space science, and small stem experiments. So I can see how this can be involved with the agenda. 

Photo of the participants of the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition on a cruise in the Antarctic

And there are a lot of people working in the film industry, like documentary filmmakers, this guy called Craig Leeson. I knew him already in Hong Kong because he worked in Hong Kong for like 20 plus years and they made a documentary called The Last Glaciers. I watched it when it was premiering in Hong Kong and I was very glad to meet him again on the expedition. He talked about tackling greenwashing and his hopes to use documentaries as a force of change. I really respect his work and I thought maybe this is something that I can do in the future because I think being a documentary filmmaker, you’re really an agent of telling a story to a wider audience. He was also involved in the making of A Plastic Ocean. And he mentioned how after making this movie about plastic pollution, he really understood a lot more about microplastic from all the stakeholders that he interviewed and how much plastic we’re consuming from eating seafood. So, after this documentary, he actually completely stopped eating seafood.

All in all, I realized there are lots of possibilities for advocacy. Currently, I’m focusing more on the education policy side, but I also see a lot of potential in collaborating with these people and exploring multimedia and multi-disciplinary fields to enable change to happen in a quicker manner.

What are your key takeaways as the Key Opinion Ambassador of the expedition?

Photo of sustainability advocate Natalie Chung delivering a speech at the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition

It fills me with both disappointment and hope. The fear comes from how rapidly these environmental changes are happening right in front of me. And I fear that continuous exploitation and the spreading of things like tourism culture and exploitative consumerism is encroaching into Antarctica quicker than I’ve imagined. 

So while our ship was still like a typical cruise ship, even though we ensured all the operations were as low carbon as possible, we had buffet meals every day which was definitely not good because of all the food waste that we were creating. Of course, they get disposed of properly, but it’s just that the culture of cruising is so deeply rooted in a way that we can imagine Antarctic tourism to be one thing but it should be something more impactful, something more authentic and genuine. So that is the fear. 

I was overwhelmed with a thought during and after the expedition, like, how much impact have we created? How much footprint? How do we actually offset it or can we really offset these events? And I feel like it’s also irreversible or hard, given the microplastic that we’re seeing falling from the clothes that we wear. And then in terms of hope, I think it filled me with hope, seeing how hundreds of people can come together to discuss resolutions that are meaningful to the planet and everyone is working so hard in their respective disciplines to add funds to change and to advocate for their own communities. And I wish that we can continue working together as a coalition, as a platform to drive further changes.

I also think that youth have an important role to play to disrupt power hierarchies and to really use movement to transform our society. And I think also like a constant reminder for myself, is that when I get into a position of power, I should always keep this euphemism, this genuine and authentic solid mindset. Instead of just trying to stabilize my own power, I should decentralize my power to everyone so that we can listen to the most effective solutions that come from the communities, from the grassroots.

How do you plan to further implement the high-level goals from the expedition?

I think I will focus on the first and last goals. The first goal is to protect marine resources. Because we are championing 30 percent of marine parks by 2030, and in Hong Kong, currently less than 5% of the oceans are protected as marine protected areas. So I think there’s a large gap and what we can definitely do within our own communities is to raise awareness and I’ll be joining the Marine Protection Alliance in Hong Kong with the other experts to use my expedition knowledge to add to their research work. 

Another exciting project that I wish to share is that I am currently advising a fund, it’s a global asset management company based in Shanghai, China. It is an Impact Venture Capital fund. We’re hoping to invest in ocean-related startups and technologies to help them scale their businesses. And our focus will be on Asia because we see that there are some ocean funds focused in Europe and the US but actually, over 80% of the fishing population is based in Asia. So I think there’s a huge gap in some simple solutions, like mangrove restoration and enhancing fishing efficiency, so that we don’t have the problem of overfishing, destroying marine ecosystems, and improving ocean data analytics. So I’m now working with a team and we’re actually already talking to a bunch of startups. There are so many new technologies and spaces and we’re just like getting there. So we really hope to support the early-stage ventures to help them scale up. So this is an exciting project that we’re working on, and obviously, feeding into that target of protecting marine resources.

Photo of a penguin in the Antarctic

Find Natalie and learn more about her here.

This is 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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