You currently work as Director of Advocacy & Engagement for the Nature Conservancy WA and recently finished serving as Co-Chair of the Environmental Justice Task Force. Could you describe the local environmental work that the Nature Conservancy does and your role in the organization?
Over the 50 year history of the WA Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, we have helped protect over 800,000 acres in Washington and currently own 107,00 acres that we manage to preserve wildlife, reduce flood risks and sequester carbon through our management of forest land.
I recently started at TNC WA as the Director of Advocacy and Engagement in which I manage our state and federal lobbyists and communications staff. Our team leads our advocacy efforts securing funding and working towards passing laws that ensure our rapidly growing state has the programs, projects and laws which allow us to have ample wildlife habitat, water and land to grow food, places to escape and enjoy nature, and an urban environment that maintains the critical connection between people and nature.
Last fall I finished serving as a Co-Chair the WA State Environmental Justice Taskforce, where I represented Front & Centered, a statewide coalition of communities of color working on environmental and climate justice issues. We traveled (when we could) and listened to communities across the state to understand the issues of pollution and toxics they are facing. In October, we issued recommendations to the Governor and legislature that are aimed at improving government community engagement and identifying equitable policies and processes that would center overburdened communities and help reduce health disparities which communities urban, rural and suburban across the state are facing.
What are some of the critical environmental justice issues in Seattle and Washington? What actions can individuals take to move these issues forward?
Addressing climate change looms large on the agenda for advocates, legislators and the governor for this year’s virtual legislative session that goes until April 25th. Due to covid, it is a virtual session and allows for an unprecedented opportunity for the public to contact our legislators and testify on legislation. There is a range legislation that is attempting to address the magnitude of the crisis including:
- The Clean Fuels Act (HB 1091) - this would reduce the carbon intensity of our transportation fuels by 20%
- The HEAL Act (SB 5141) - Incorporates recommendations from the Environmental Justice Taskforce and would require state agencies to develop new tools and methodologies to ensure overburdened communities needs are centered and addressed to reduce health disparities.
- The Wildfire Response, Forest Restoration and Community Resilience Act (HB 1168) - would implement and fund vital investments in forest management to reduce the risk of wildfires, ensure we have the equipment to fight fires and improve how communities prepare for and recover from the impacts of wildfires.
When you look back at the last ten years, what gives you hope and what gives you pause when it comes to climate justice and/or climate action?
What has been encouraging to see over the last decade is the growing consensus that the climate crisis requires collective action. For the first time, I am seeing deep commitment and action from all levels of government - local, state and federal to enact laws, manage our lands, improve transportation and change how we build and power our buildings. To be clear, we are only at the beginning of what needs to be done and too much of what has been done are goals with plans yet to be developed and implemented. However, what encourages me most is the consistent and creative youth-led activism from organizations like Sunrise Movement that have helped create the sense of urgency and persistent call to move our country and world away from fossil fuels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
What role can/should a higher education institution such as SU play in addressing environmental and climate justice? What responsibility do we have as a campus community?
The academic work, activism of students and faculty and institutional resources of a university are critical to this work. Science is a pivotal and underutilized aspect of advocacy and policy. Just recently, TNC scientists found that the Latina/o community faces twice the risk of flooding due to climate change in WA State. I am going to be using that new research to educate legislators and help them understand the needed investments we need in infrastructure and other systems to address the concern. However, just as important as data are the experts themselves. I’ve seen first-hand elected officials change their minds due to a conversation with an expert, whether a professor or graduate student, who carefully and skillfully provided detailed information on the root of a problem their work identified which in turn motivated the legislator to action.
In the past I’ve also worked with law school clinics whose students were able to conduct research and draft memos that helped articulate how an idea in another state could be adapted to our state. In fact, a project from a couple of years ago is now being integrated into legislation that is attempting to integrate environmental justice considerations in the WA Growth Management Act.
Colleges and universities themselves are key players in addressing climate change in how they run their institutions, invest the funds and support their students. Working to invest in sustainable practices, efficient buildings and divesting from fossil fuel companies are all ways a university can address climate change. Just as important is providing the academic and personal support to students that allows them to gain the skills to be the activists and professionals our state needs to achieve the vision of a carbon-free future in WA state.
How can university students engage in the work of The Nature Conservancy and local environmental causes?
In my experience, Seattle University students have always sought out ways to support causes they care about. There are so many ways to support this work. With the Conservancy, we hire recent grads for fieldwork across the state, work with professors and their students on research and, as a proud 2007 alum, I will be looking for ways to engage and work with law students on policy development and advocacy.