Dear Graduates: The Environment Needs YOU
Anyone Can Take Environmental Action & Taking Risks Is What We Need Right Now
I liked when she said:
There’s a piece of advice I’m not going to give you. I’m not going to tell you to follow your heart. In part because I have no idea what’s in your heart, so that feels a bit reckless, to be honest. But also because we live in a pivotal time for preserving life on this magnificent planet. So I can’t in good conscience tell you to “follow your passions and then everything will magically fall into place”—I mean, who comes up with that stuff?! Instead, I suggest: go where there is need and where your heart can find a home.
Be tenacious on behalf of life on Earth.
You were made for this moment.
Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, and writer. She is co-founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab, co-editor of the bestselling climate anthology All We Can Save, and author of the forthcoming book What If We Get it Right?
Talk about inspiring! We need more messages like hers right now. We need more people to know that whatever skills you have or are building, you can bring them to environmental advocacy.
I know most graduates have donned their cap and gown by now, but as step into your futures I want to share the 3 L’s that have served me in my career. Whether you graduated this year or 30+ years ago, I think these principles hold up for getting involved with your water or any environmental action.
The Three L’s: Logic, Leverage & Loyalty
Logic. It’s all about common sense. If you see a tornado coming your way, you are not going to take the time to go look at the Weather Channel and find out the category of the storm. Your instinct tells you to run and get to safety as quickly as possible. You can use those same kinds of observation skills when it comes to your water. Something smells funny? That’s a good observation. A lot of common sense came into play in my work in Hinkley, California, because I didn’t have a precedent for what was happening at the time. You can use this tool in your own community too. Did you get a water violation notice in the mail? Don’t just throw it in the junk pile. That’s a big clue that something is wrong with your water and that more investigation is needed. Use your logic and pay attention to what’s happening around you.
Leverage. That’s all about gathering and building community. It involves talking to your neighbors and friends, which I know sounds like a strange concept in our digital world. Start fact-finding and asking questions together. Use the power of different perspectives to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to speak up and check in with one another. It’s not always easy because people may have different opinions, but this step can be a real game changer. Think about the impact of one person going to a city council meeting versus one hundred people showing up. We have strength in numbers, and if each person commits to talking to a neighbor or posting on their social media page, you can easily grow your impact. In Hinkley, we held community meetings and I personally went door-to-door talking with many people about what was happening. It was the first step in organizing and educating them about the issues at stake.
Loyalty. This step is about not giving up and about staying committed to your cause. When you stick with a cause, you will get somewhere. You may have setbacks, but you keep going. People may try to throw you off your game, and you need to remember that drinking brown water (or whatever it is for you) is not normal. Follow that hunch. Loyalty to my cause is what helped me get through long nights of research, talking to hundreds of experts, and keeping at it for years until the case was settled.
Whatever your cause, you need nothing more than your eyes, ears, nose, and a little common sense to get involved.
We Need More Disruptors
Throughout my years in school, I was labeled lazy, dumb, careless, low-attention-span, and was told I needed special classes. I couldn’t comply with the so-called standard of conformance of the education system. It wasn’t until my formative educational years that I received the diagnosis of dyslexia, something experts didn’t know much about at that time.
I was so frustrated by being labeled and judged. Maybe I didn’t learn it the “right” way. But who set these standards and rules? I didn’t know we all had to act and think alike. It felt like I couldn’t catch a break. Just because I was different didn’t mean I was inferior. Even though some people called me disruptive, I didn’t have to see disruption as a bad thing. In fact, some would say I’ve made my career out of disruption.
Most people think of the term “disruptor” as a bad label. It conjures up ideas of being troublesome, rowdy, or chaotic.
In school, any student who talks out of turn might be punished and girls especially are rewarded for obedient behavior, but life doesn’t work this way. You don’t get awards later in life for maintaining the status quo. We need to take risks.
In the business world, being disruptive means being innovative and original. Politically, we are seeing disruption throughout the halls of Congress and in the highest levels of government. The world is transforming faster than we could have ever imagined and so more than ever we need disruptors who can lead the charge.
Dealing with early life challenges pushed me out of my comfort zone and opened me to new ways of expressing myself.
I learned that if I let others define who I was, then I would never be able to succeed in my life. What seemed like my biggest flaw became my superpower. It’s time for you to start looking within to wake up your own superpowers. It’s time to move from feeling confused and frustrated about our environment to being empowered and ready to take action.
I want you to join me in disrupting business as usual and start making much-needed changes to our system. It’s time to become a disruptor to this broken system.
We have a real opportunity right now to create change. Think about some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Google or Uber. These companies were created by looking at how to solve problems. Google’s original mission statement was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Uber wanted to solve the question of how to get a ride at the push of a button.
We need more people working on solutions to our environmental issues, and that means both entrepreneurs who want to create companies and employees working inside companies to help solve these big problems.
I’m here to sound the alarm for you. The EPA isn’t going to save us, and neither are our politicians. We need to rally ourselves.
You might be thinking: I’m not an activist. I don’t understand the science of these chemicals or hold a degree in toxicology. Heck, I’m just trying to stay afloat and do the best I can.
I hear you. At the risk of sounding overly confident in your abilities, I don’t think you need to be anything other than a compassionate, caring individual with integrity, respect, and appreciation for this world. It’s really all you need to get involved.
In a country that seems to be more and more split on the issues we face today, we need to remember how our humanness unites us. Ask anyone what they do to relax, renew, and unwind, and I will bet you that 99.9 percent of people say they go outside. They feel the sun on their face, the wind blow through their hair; they garden; they golf; they go swimming in a nearby lake or at the ocean; they walk with a friend at a nature preserve; or take a weekend away in the great outdoors.
Now imagine for a moment that all that was gone for good. We can’t live without these natural resources—our water, air, or soil. What would happen if that very livelihood, and the most necessary elements to sustain life, were too polluted or simply vanished? I know some people think this scenario could never happen. But more and more we are realizing the huge environmental troubles we face, and that we need to be the ones to save our ourselves.
Now is not the time to fight against one another; it’s a time to come together for a greater good. I’ve seen too much waste, selfishness, greed, hidden agendas, and finger-pointing. Sharing information and working together is our only hope.
The solution lies with people in their communities, and at the local and state level, working for change throughout our great nation. We don’t need to wait for anyone else to come save us. We can start small, start in our neighborhoods, and work to make significant changes that will impact generations to come.
I’ve been inspired to devote my life to this work, and I hope you will join me.
Got advice for recent grads? Add what’s inspiring you right now below!