When I was in high school I was flipping through the channels one night when I ran across the beginning of a documentary on ABC. It was called “Earth 2100.” I was intrigued and decided to watch the film. When it was over I was completely distraught by what I saw. The documentary followed the life of a young girl, Lucy, as she was forced to adapt her life because of climate change. As challenges appeared, corporations and individuals continued business as usual–exploiting natural resources for fuel, overgrowing farmland, expanding the population and over consuming. Toward the end of the film Lucy and her family were forced to leave their apartment in New York City because dangerous storms become so regular and flooding destroyed their belongings too many times. This isn’t the most popular documentary about climate change, but it impacted me so greatly. The changes I saw were frightening and I realized that this is a future we might face.
When I came into college as a freshman I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew that I loved talking to people and I wanted to preserve the Earth. So I became a public relations major and I began taking environmental studies class (which I later declared as my minor). After talking to a professor my freshman year about my passions, he encouraged me to think about environmental lobbying. In that moment it made perfect sense-convince the politicians that change is necessary and it will happen! I wanted to go to law school and move to D.C. I was ready to conquer the world.
That was until I started working with the lobbyist at the Conservation Voters of South Carolina during my sophomore year. Our lobbyist would plan meetings and gather tons of research and put so much effort into stopping certain bills or encouraging representatives to support another, but the long days of work and long days in session would often end without success for conservation issues. I was so discouraged. South Carolina is not the ideal state to push for environmental issues and build a strong network of environmentalists. I became scared that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill this dream I’d been working so diligently toward. I became scared that we would never see change in my lifetime, and all I wanted at that point was to get out and be near people that actually cared.
That summer I traveled to Denmark to study renewable energy and it was the best decision of my life. Not only was the country beautiful, but I was surrounded by people that had passions similar to mine and were determined to make a difference in the world. I got to interview the founders of Copenhagen 2025 (plan to make the city carbon neutral by 2025), I climbed to the top of a wind turbine, I got to run the same simulations of the 2009 IPCC delegates, but most importantly I saw first hand that change is possible. I had the chance to visit a wind turbine farm in Germany during the summer and the owner told us that it all started with one group of 12 farmers that invested their money into one turbine to power all 12 of their farms. After the investment was paid and the farmers gained clean, free energy people began to notice. Co-op wind farms began to pop up all throughout the country side. Now Germany is one of the largest producers of wind energy in the entire world. That story is what encouraged me to continue my journey as an environmentalist and advocate.
After I returned home I knew that I was much more interested in working with people directly, and I wanted to know how to convince individuals to care about the environment–how to convince farmers in the U.S. to invest in a wind turbine or solar panels. So I started to do research with a philosophy professor on campus. Over the course of the semester I read over 1,000 pages on environmental philosophy, anthropology and sociology to find the answer to the ultimate question. How do you convince people to care about the environment? I’m very happy with our conclusion, but it is hard to admit that there is no one and definite answer. We created a framework to find discover an individual’s environmental consciousness (how much they know about environmental issues and how they choose to act on what they know) and then appeal to them based on their specific level of consciousness using basic motivational factors.
This research is something that I’ve shared with others and I think it can be helpful in the most basic settings, but it was much more important to me, because it is something that I can apply to my daily conversations as well as my future pursuits in the field.
At the moment I’m trying to decide exactly how I want to transfer this overwhelming passion that I have for environmental issues. I know that I want to travel the world and convince as many people the Earth is worth caring about. Maybe I’ll return to Denmark. Maybe I’ll end up in D.C. lobbying or maybe I’ll stay in the Southeast and work to convince the individuals here that they can make a difference.
Whatever it is that I do, I want desperately to be able to impact people’s lives. I want to help sustain our planet and I want to help ensure a healthy and happy future.