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True Climate Advocacy in Adult Work Life: Kamille Lang and Environmental Justice

Updated: Jun 2

As a junior in high school pursuing environmental advocacy, I often get comments from friends, acquaintances, and strangers who claim that climate advocacy, especially at the youth level, is superficial. I recently had a conversation with a peer at school who said that the aspects of the climate movement that she had witnessed seemed superficial and artificial. She had comments about demonstrations she had witnessed: “Signs that say ‘Love Mother Earth’ don’t do anything” “So many activists are only in it for the aesthetics” and “Being an environmentalist is popular and trendy.” She said my effort should be aimed to help another movement, one that could “actually make a difference.”

Unfortunately, I understood where she was coming from. I had similar thoughts to hers when I witnessed aesthetic nature photos posted on social media titled “Happy Earth Day” in bubbly font. It felt like a performance.

Thoughts and questions raced through my head about the impact of environmental advocacy. Is it about the “looks” of it rather than working on modifying and reforming how we treat the planet?

I thought back to a recent BAYCS workshop, where environmentalists shared with us the stories of how they started their careers and implemented climate work into them. Each panelist had a personal and specific passion for why they were invested in this work (independent and self-lead art, upholding Indigenous traditions, beach preservation, etc). I realized that true (and realistic) climate advocacy isn’t pretty, but is based on the effort, persistence, and goals of its advocates. It’s also incredibly broad, multi-faceted, complex, and challenging. Inspired again, I reached out to Kamille Lang, who works at a nonprofit called Climate Resilient Communities (and was one of the panelists at our event), to understand her story and gain a sense of humanity in the work of environmental activists. Climate Resilient Communities focuses on environmental justice, funding home safety projects, climate education, and tangible infrastructure projects.

What got you into your work?

I got into this work in such a funny and odd way. My degree and what I hoped to do with my career was to work in environmental education. I really loved being outside and sharing the experiences of being outdoors with people younger than me…[After witnessing the concrete effects of climate change on the ecosystems I love], I started exploring how to incorporate climate change information into my work and ended up finding a job at the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability that empowers youth to learn about climate change locally and cultivate the leadership skills for those youth to begin their own climate movement in the places they grew up. And now I am at the environmental justice and grassroots nonprofit called Climate Resilient Communities because I continued to see more affluence be associated with climate action. I wanted to help people that are at the frontlines of climate change's impact locally and make sure their voices are heard in how the government and other organizations like ours at CRC actively support underserved and under-resourced communities to see the climate action they need before it is too late.

What do you believe environmentalism is all about? What is its significance (besides trying to counter climate change)?

Environmentalism is the reframing of priorities so that humans, plants, animals and all natural beings are prioritized equally and at the same urgency. Environmentalism is about operationalized equity so that we cease participation in systems of oppression and over extraction assuming that white folks deserve all the attention, safety and natural resources and abusing the planet's resources while allowing others to live without dignity. Environmentalism is about breaking down the boundaries so that there are shared priorities to address climate change's impact in a way that makes sense for people and the planet. It is understanding that we are all alive, we are natural beings, and we need to work better together so that we don't lose lives senselessly and to the benefit of the few that have always had the system on their side. It includes multi-generational approaches so that we don't leave it to the next generation again and again while the planet is literally burning around us. We need to do this together, all hands on deck and as collaboratively as possible so that it addresses the systemic approach to climate action that is so long overdue at this point. Environmentalism is advocating for people and the planet in the same breath, with an empathetic heart that can hold space for those that have had a different experience and with a mind that knows the history of inequities and the climate data that demonstrates the absolute urgency of bringing this to communities and ensuring action happens.

What does social justice within the climate movement mean to you? What does it look like?

Social justice looks like acknowledging the historical injustices that continue to put some folks' priorities above others either because of the language barrier, the digital divide in resource sharing, the socio-economic situations that hinder folks from joining public meetings, or a lack of previous public participation that makes folks weary to share what they think and feel with strangers, and the combination of all that that perpetuates systems of oppression. Social justice looks like bringing folks across racial, language and economic boundaries together to explore solutions that work for the most people. It also looks like ensuring that we are being culturally relevant and responsive to the folks we are serving in these settings. We are making sure people are paid for their time in our workshop settings, they have a meal and childcare for those meetings, and they are heard completely in these settings. We don't spend a lot of time talking but rather spend time listening so that we can understand the experiences of historical social and environmental injustices. We validate what has been done poorly and/or against folks with the intention to leave them behind or out of conversations and it must be addressed now so that we do not allow those systems to continue in the future.

What is the most meaningful part of your work to you?

The most meaningful part of my work currently is getting to create and facilitate spaces where communities can come together and share their lived experiences so that now they are sharing, they can come up with solutions that support the entire community being more resilient against climate change. I love knowing that the biggest lift is introducing everyone to each other so that they are connected and sharing their experiences and ideas for the future so that they can actually get to those plans for long term sustainability and resilience as a unified community. Bringing people together and helping me explore what has happened in their community and what they need for the future is so, so exciting. I love meeting new people, hearing their perspective, and aiding in combining and unifying their efforts is so awesome.

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