09 Aug Soaring Climate Action
Friday, July 14th, 2017. The first time I got to meet any of the other amazing iMatter leaders in person. Also the first day of the National Audubon Society Convention in Park City, Utah. The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation (National Audubon Society, 2017). Audubon also provides community, action, and a haven for nature and bird lovers alike to connect. Some events in our lives shape the rest of our lives, some shape the way we think about issues, and some have the incredible ability to make an impact on both. For me, the Audubon convention had an impact on both.
There were seven of us who attended the Audubon conference on behalf of iMatter. iMatter has an exciting partnership with Audubon in the hopes of passing multiple local climate resolutions across the United States. From the first moment I finally got to meet my friends from across the continent that I’d been working with for over a year in person in the Salt Lake City airport where we ran into a group hug, I knew that it was going to be a meaningful and wonderful weekend. No matter what challenges I have continuously faced in my activism, these people are always here for me. What we found at Audubon, was that our community is not the only community like that. Audubon is one huge, national, diverse big family of bird-lovers who care about each other and the world.
We didn’t get a very good photo of the group hug, but here’s the three of us from the Core Team, Maddie Adkins, Annemarie Manly, and me walking side by side at the beginning of the trip.
And also to give you an idea of how strong our family is, here’s the three of us on zoom with Rebecca Laurent, in Illinois, who wasn’t able to come to Audubon, while in our hotel room.
I think that none of us were quite expecting how incredible of an experience attending the Audubon conference would be, and, quite frankly didn’t really understand why we were partnering with Audubon, thinking that they weren’t really doing that much climate work. We were proven wrong, on so many levels. Audubon approaches climate change from maybe a somewhat different path than some of us do at iMatter, but it is one that has the support and ability to be world-altering. The volunteers at Audubon are doing this work to protect the birds that they love, because they can directly see the impact of our changing climate on their favourite bird populations. However, when they take action, they can also see the positive impact they have in helping to rebound bird populations. Audubon is all local, each local chapter full of people who want to share their love for birds and protect them. They have the resources to support youth doing local work and the right energy to push it forward.
We were initially expecting people to tokenize us as the amazing youth who have this powerful message but aren’t actually doing real work, because most of us have experienced that attitude from adults in the past. However, instead the people at Audubon were ready to start working with us to take local action and listening sincerely to us talk about our experiences and our work. Every single person that spoke to us really seemed to value what we had to say and acknowledge the difficulty of doing our work.
This was the entire group of us from iMatter at Audubon (of course Larry Kraft, our chief Adult Mentor is not a youth). Photo Credits to Camilla Cerea
Another turning point for all of us was during the opening plenary speech by the CEO of Audubon, David Yarnold. This was when we really learned what Audubon was made of. That their efforts to educate youth about nature and birds and provide a safe haven for youth going through a difficult time was genuine, that their efforts to increase diversity and accessibility for minority groups was not just in pictures (although of course as mostly white people from a place of privilege we don’t really have the understanding of the experience of minority groups or the right to make the call on whether the efforts are non-tokenistic and effective), and that they are serious about taking action on climate change with youth. In his speech David Yarnold said that having us youth from iMatter there reminded him that they (the adults) need to do better by us. It was so powerful to hear that from such a powerful and engaged person. I know some of us were literally brought to tears, and pretty much all ready to become the next generation of birders. For older generations, who really have not done well by us younger generations in terms of dealing with climate change and protecting our planet, to acknowledge the fact that we, the youth, are burdened by their lack of action and devoting our entire lives to solving this crisis, means the world. It lets us know that we are not alone, however isolating being a youth climate activist might be. And that was really the impression that we got from all of the Audubon people. We found more of our people, outside iMatter, but also now a part of our iMatter community through this partnership. We could be real with them, one of the Audubon climate change people who we worked with to present our workshop on how local Audubon chapters can work with youth to pass local climate resolutions really became practically a part of our iMatter group hug family as we had discusses our experience with burnout and life and everything with her. The activists at Audubon have been at it a long time, they have seen successes of restoring bird populations to habitat depleted areas, they also have seen a lot of frustration.
I learned a lot of things about our organization and Audubon and how we can improve on areas of diversity and inclusion, and collaborating with other groups. But, I also learned a lot about myself, and that I want to be able to study ecosystems and ecology and work to truly understand the connections between them and climate change and human activity, and be able to make a measurable impact. Maybe someday I would like to be like the Scientist who did the Project Puffin and brought Puffins back to Egg Rock, and do climate work. Really, I still have no idea what I want to do, but I do know that I love nature, and animals and so I decided to change what I’m studying at university from Environmental Science & History of Science and Technology to Environmental Science & Biology. I want to have that passion and drive from love of nature and animals fuel my activism work, because that is so much more fulfilling and energizing than from the place of fear that I have come from for so long. That doesn’t mean climate change isn’t terrifying, of course it is, it’s absolutely terrifying. But if all I think about is how scared I am then nothing I do can really have any measurable impact on lessening my fear. Audubon taught me to focus on the positives, on the local work. Maybe it won’t be restoring the Puffin population to Egg Rock (http://projectpuffin.audubon.org/about/what-project-puffin really cool check it out), maybe it’ll be mobilizing one city in Canada to pass an aggressive climate action plan. But the fact that there’s still a gazillion other issues to solve doesn’t mean that restoring the Puffin population, or passing that plan isn’t a success, that it doesn’t deserve praise and a good feeling about chipping off some tiny piece of the ginormous block of dense molten rock from hell that is climate change. Those small victories are big, and they lead to other larger victories, maybe not all victories that one person will do. The Puffin scientist probably isn’t also lobbying federal governments to adopt a more aggressive stance on climate change, but they’ve restored an entire population of a wonderful bird.
It is still a process that I’m going through, learning that I can’t personally take on every issue tainting our beautiful earth myself, but I’m working on it, and Audubon really helped to open my eyes to the possibilities of success in specialization and fulfillment.
Audubon was a beautiful experience, as was climbing the mountain in Park City, going endlessly on the gondola feeling the wind in our hair and singing about the wonders of nature, and being with my iMatter family. I am very excited to see where our work with Audubon goes, and also what I eventually decide to do with my life.
I thought I’d end with this beautiful photo of Annemarie, Maddie and I under a double Rainbow the first night of the conference. Talk about magical.