For Grist's 15th anniversary, we asked green movers and shakers for the most important lessons they’ve learned in the past 15 years and their hopes going forward. Plus, we tacked on a few curveball questions about their teenage selves.
People power matters. In every campaign I've worked on and won, the big secret that corporations don't want us to realize is that we are more powerful than we ever think.
When my 18-month-old nephew is 16 years old I want to be able to tell him about the great global grassroots movement that stabilized our climate -- and did it in a way that accounted for the rights of communities and people.
"Playaz Club" by Rappin' 4-Tay. This was before I had a constant feminist analysis running through my head.
Not to assume that we are powerless as individuals to make change and demand action. In fact, that is really the preliminary requirement -- that people give a damn and share those thoughts with each other with all these amazing tools and technologies we now have at our disposal -- for a powerful and game-changing movement.
An even bigger shift in the balance of power away from companies who make bad decisions that jeopardize our environment for the sake of profits. More transparency, more accountability, more holistic thinking.
“Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters.
Our leaders need to hear from everyone, not just environmental groups. We need people from all walks of life to take action to protect our air, water, and wild places and to demand the same from our government.
We tackle climate change by finally transforming our power sector. That means dramatically scaling up renewable power, energy efficiency, and other low-carbon solutions.
Prude. Wish I were a prankster!
photo by Colin Pattison
In the battle between bioregion and corporation, the execs -- while preparing their next quarterly report -- are happy with the biblical flood, their offices in dirigibles above the acidified brine.
The Occupy movement plants vertical gardens up the sides of Chase Bank's 60 stories, and Jamie Dimon lives in a Zuccotti Park tent far below.
The entire Rubber Soul album by the Beatles.
Agriculture is the most important activity in the world: health, climate change, nutrition, energy, you name it. It all meets in agriculture. Or you could say, simply, "food."
I don't want to wait 15 years. I want to see an end to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production now. Then we'll figure out the next step.
I was not a prude. But we're talking 50 years ago. It's almost irrelevant.
Anything is possible. Ten years ago, none of the so-called experts predicted clean energy would be this competitive this soon. They didn’t predict solar panels would drop so quickly in price. They didn’t predict we’d defeat hundreds of coal plants or build a movement this powerful either. Clean energy victories are irreversible.
A fossil fuel-free power sector by 2030.
Springsteen's “Thunder Road.”
It’s important to create a grassroots movement, but unless we can get politicians lined up to do the right thing, all the grassroots organizations in the world won’t change anything. We need to have better actors in Congress to enact good plans, good laws for the environment. If you have half of Congress that can sit there and deny that there’s climate change, we’re never gonna get anywhere.
As a country, we have to own up to the fact that we have problems. Look at the way we’re producing food. We need to address the amount of antibiotics that we’re using and finally, once and for all, get a better handle on labeling GMOs.
I was absolutely a prankster. One of my first jobs cooking was right around that time. I was a short-order cook dressed in a pair of cutoffs, no shoes, and no socks. Sometimes I wore a shirt.
I’ve realized that a lot of the climate change and environmental variables are too abstract to resonate emotionally with most people. It is important to find ways to crystallize ideas with images and messages that are easy to comprehend and are emotionally potent.
My hope is that the tangible results of climate change seen in extreme weather will motivate people to make the smaller compromises in the short run that will prevent disaster in the long run. I hope that this will also translate to the dynamics of supply and demand within capitalism, meaning that things like electric cars will become more successful financially and therefore will evolve and innovate even more quickly.
I’ve always been a prankster. By the time I was 15, I had been arrested for shooting bottle rockets at cars and had my BB gun confiscated by the police. But in other ways I was a prude. Skateboarding and punk rock were my only drugs.
We are all one. We are part of the ecosystem. We heal the planet, we heal ourselves.
Plastic will be biodegradable. No nuclear disasters. Food will heal us not just fill us and kill us.
I was the shit.
That duality is the cause of the problems we face. “We” and “them” polemics will not solve problems, no matter how invidious or odious the action may be by a company or person.
What we need is fearlessness, not hopefulness.
Prankster is too kind. I was a semi-truant, always playing hooky, and racing motorcycles on weekends with a forged ID that said I was 18. That I am alive is testament to a kindly universe.
More collaboration is happening. Unlikely groups of people from a diverse range of experiences are coming together like never before to co-create sustainable solutions for how we are going to live on the planet.
The elimination of (or at least the proper labeling of) GMO foods.
The banning of all plastics and petroleum products.
The end of the privatization of water.
A complete redesign of every major city in the world that includes new mass transit systems, more bike lanes, and walkable communities -- all constructed by local workers.
Affordable housing built with local, organic materials.
Hyperlocal food production and distribution systems that incentivize organic farmers.
All cities are powered by large-scale alternative energy grids.
That is an easy one! “93 ‘Til Infinity,” Souls of Mischief.
The weird animal and earth lovers have now banded together to form our own little team to stick up for the animals and the earth. It's pretty great how it worked out like that.
That all the hard work of innovators now will tip to the mainstream and set new standards in how production is done in fashion, food, and business in general. In the words of Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
I ended up dating my first kiss for five years, so I guess that makes me a prude?
Environmental progress requires innovation. Leadership means going beyond what is required to focus on what is possible.
I’d like to see a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to the low-carbon clean energy of the future.
The battle to slow down climate change will be won or lost the at the polls, on Capitol Hill, and in the White House.
That we band together as a country and wean ourselves off of dirty coal and embrace clean energy.
When the polluters attacked the concept of green jobs, we should have fought back more tenaciously and ferociously. Green enterprise can fight both poverty and pollution.
The green economy offers more work, more wealth, and better health than the poison and pollution–based economy. But the polluters will not go quietly. Until we can get America's government on the side of the planet, we must use technology to green the economy at the personal, community, local, state, and tribal levels.
photo by Chase Jarvis
To spur action on climate change, I thought we just had to get the message out. Fifteen years later, I understand idealism alone does not make change
I hope no one eats junk food! Also, I am excited that clean energy is getting cheaper and going mainstream. In 15 years, I hope fossil fuels are far too expensive to use.
Although my friends were pranksters I, alas, was a prude.
Harnessing the power of markets drives environmental progress -- [like] cutting CO2 in California and the EU and restoring fisheries in the Pacific and Gulf.
Prices and limits on carbon sharply reduce global emissions.
“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.
If we want to battle climate change and feed the world, a massive investment in agroecological solutions is key -- and the hype around GMOs is hollow.
Please people, can we see some rational action to fix climate change? If not, my inland house will be beachfront property, and I'll miss starfish, orangutans, and predictable weather.
When I was 15, I was dying my hair purple, rocking out to the Cure, and in general rebelling in teenage-appropriate ways against adult culture.
Can I say two? We're not going to solve these environmental issues one at a time, issue by issue, unless we also begin to address some of the deeper problems, which have to do with the foundation of our economy. For all practical purposes, we have to push control-alt-delete.
The other thing that I’ve learned is that we are not some fringe minority. I feel like environmentalists tend to feel that we are, partly because we don’t see our values reflected back to us by the mainstream media. But we are most people in that most people want the planet to stay within the temperature range in which human life can survive. When I shifted that thinking, the sense of possibility and movement just exploded.
My biggest hope is around citizen engagement. I hope that the vast majority of people who feel some level of concern for the planet move from being isolated and concerned to being active.
Prankster, totally. Oh god. Just ask my mother.
To get big things done in a diverse society, focus on outcomes, not motives.
Energy and efficiency revolutions continue to deepen. Some incumbents make the leap. The same transition begins in ag, forestry, and water. Most big and necessary changes now proclaimed to be costly (starting with climate protection and nuclear nonproliferation) are widely realized to be profitable.
Mendelssohn’s G-minor piano concerto as performed by Emil Gilels and the Moscow State Symphony under Kiril Kondrashin.
That reason alone won't prevail. Having won the argument over climate change we're losing the fight -- which is why we're trying to build a movement that can match the fossil fuel industry's money with people power.
A movement big enough to change the balance of power, so that Exxon has to worry about its future instead of the rest of us worrying about the planet's survival.
When I was 15, I was Chip Giller's babysitter.
It takes a collaborative initiative to bring about change. To truly impact our world and our communities, it’s not a black thing, it’s not a white thing, it’s an us and we thing.
We want Detroit to be a vibrant community, to be an example. We’ve run through some pretty hard times, but we want to see more sustainability involved in the urban setting, like more energy-efficient buildings, and we’d like to see our recycling initiative triple from today.
I would also love to see more jobs created, and a huge shift with job creativity and sustainability. Socially, by the time kindergarteners, first, and second graders are the ones running corporations, I hope sustainability will be second nature to them, that it’ll be part of their lifestyle.
I listened to Nas, Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G. in high school.
Change comes by surprise, out of nowhere, often when it seems most implausible. It's not mostly a continuous process, but a discontinuous one -- "punctuated equilibrium," as the evolutionary biologists say, with short spurts of massive change and long periods of depressing plateau. In other words, past results don't guarantee future ones -- which in climate change prevention terms, has to be a good thing.
We actually figure out sustainable, large-scale systems for keeping people aware of what they're doing to/with/in the environment.
Easy: “Beds are Burning,” Midnight Oil.
To meet people where they are and offer opportunities to engage on climate in ways that benefit them.
That the world is powered by 100 percent clean energy (see recent great piece about the growth of solar power).
“Song to Woody,” Bob Dylan.
Try stuff. The world is chaotic. Don’t overthink. Talk less. Do more.
Increasingly I think that hope is for religious people, which I am not. I’ll stick with fishing and hunting more and trying to do good work one day at a time.
Definitely a prankster. One night some friends and I dumped 20 50-gallon drums on somebody’s lawn. Two mornings later, I found an airplane wing in my trees.
We can't solve the world's environmental problems without collaborating with labor and business -- but that it's rarely worth collaborating with business before they've been pressured by the power of people to take a principled, science-based stance on environmental issues. Organizing people to pressure companies, and then having organized people and companies push for legislation, has proven to be powerful.
Emerging clean energy jobs are the foundation for a new middle class that includes everyone. That mothers and others rise up to demand that our kids -- from womb to the world -- are safe in a healthy environment.
“Epic” by Faith No More.
It sounds pedantic, but people need nature. Even in today’s industrial and urbanized society, everything we have, we need, we use ultimately comes from nature.
Also: empathy is sorely missing from our discourse as conservationists. If we can’t honestly hear and understand the needs and wants of people -- especially those not like us, economically, socially, or culturally -- then how can we expect them to understand our message? As environmentalists we need a little less smug and a lot more empathy.
I want a planet where governments value nature and natural capital. Where businesses understand that sustainability is what consumers want. I want a planet where we can have the opportunity to have a slightly better life without exhausting the resources we need to thrive. And I want big predators -- sharks, tuna, whales, bears, big cats -- to still be around in numbers. It means we MUST be doing something right.
I was a careful prankster -- a prankster who didn’t get caught.
The issue must be explained in terms a given audience can understand and care (deeply) about.
America puts policies in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent -- at least -- by 2050 and leads the world to stability with less than 2 degrees C temperature rise.
Don McLean's “American Pie.”
photo by Paige Green
More than appealing to people’s intellect, making a delicious vegan meal is the most powerful way to shift their habits, attitudes, and politics around food, health, and sustainability.
That more people will commit to a plant-strong diet and buy most of their food from local growers, artisans, and the like.
"Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest.
I continue to learn how important it is to listen.
That the United States will finally take the global lead in reducing carbon emissions at home and move away from fossil fuels toward alternative sources of energy.
That environmental issues are widely seen as social issues, as economic issues, as issues of love and justice.
That we see the environmental crisis as a spiritual crisis, a crisis of moral imperative.
That we begin to see the wilderness not as "a human construct" but as a human necessity.
That a Declaration of Interdependence be envisioned alongside our Declaration of Independence.
That we stop killing wolves and grizzlies and prairie dogs in the American West.
That public lands are embraced as our public commons.
That green becomes the color of our blood.
That joy infuses our rhetoric, not fear.
“Imagine” by John Lennon tied with "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed.