Meet CCAN’s Northern Virginia Organizer – Zander Pellegrino

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Northern Virginia Organizer, Zander Pellegrino to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to him!

From Harrisonburg, VA Zander has spent the past few years working in climate resiliency and planning. He comes to CCAN with a fresh perspective and a deep commitment to helping people where they are. 

We sat down with Zander to chat about his journey in climate activism and his road to CCAN, his role in the climate movement, and what he sees as his most exciting challenge moving forward!

Check out the full transcript for the episode below:

Charles Olsen  0:04  

Hi, my name is Charlie Olsen and this is upside down the podcast from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

You grew up in Harrisonburg and you have been working in climate stuff. You went to school for biology and policy. Can you tell me about, like, the first time that you can remember ever being worried about climate change? When was it? When did it first pop into your head?

Zander Pellegrino  0:34  

This is probably a pretty relatable story, a familiar story for Virginia to Maryland people who grew up at the time I did, but it was on Tangier island with a Chesapeake Bay foundation trip. That was really the first time that I thought about climate change, in really tangible, impactful ways. Yeah, I remember a lot from that trip. And really credit my high school teacher, Mr. Blosser, and the Chesapeake Bay foundation for making that happen. 

And what I remember in terms of climate change is really the the sense of, the sense of loss for for humans and people that have been living there and the sense of loss for ecosystems. Because when you’re,  when you’re there, you can see, you can see, the island being washed away, so quickly. And it’s a smaller scale than ice caps melting, but it was so much more of an impact, it was so much more close to home, than the ice caps because you can see people pointing 40 feet out into the water and saying, this is where the coastline used to be. And then you can take a night walk and see bioluminescent bacteria on the sand and think that that’s going to be gone in two years.

Charles Olsen  2:07  

So how did you go from that experience to working in climate activism in college? And now being a full time organizer for climate advocacy?

Zander Pellegrino  2:18  

I’m not sure, is the short answer to that.

Charles Olsen  2:22  

Let’s let me frame it another way. Let’s, let’s do what I like to call running down your resume. Can you walk me through the steps, you know, college, first job, first time organizing, and then get build, build the framework that will talk through

Zander Pellegrino  2:43  

When I’m telling this story I want to focus on, really the importance of emergent strategy. I like it a lot, about agent Barry brown and those types of ideas. And I don’t really want to tell my story in a linear, concrete way because it wasn’t planned. And so much of our lives and activism aren’t planned. And so I’ll tell you what happened. But know that it could have gone a lot of different ways. And this is the way that it did go. And in terms of climate, I studied biology as an undergrad because, I’ve told this story before. But I just wanted to know what was underneath my skin. I looked at my skin and just felt Wow. I can’t not I can’t not learn that there’s blood and organelles and bacteria and that potassium channels change electricity currents and make me go. Like I can’t not know that. And then that really shaped why I wanted to study biology and then through that, you move really quickly to courses and wetland delineation and ecosystem services and outside of the classroom really thinking a lot about carbon emissions from, from our school, from William and Mary, I helped with the greenhouse gas audit for a while, for years there. And one of the early stories there was thinking about how we can have some better decisions and better funding for climate action because something that really was exciting that happened years before my time there was students wanted to generate funds for climate action. So they released a survey and said, you know, we want to pay an additional $10- $15 per semester and use those funds to go towards climate action projects. But with some of the professors and AI on the committee, we realized that we didn’t have any the projects were going towards broad research and some on a track and infrastructure improvements which was great but we really needed and kind of some long term endowed funding to do climate action so we started thinking about how we can set up activities that are actually going to allow us to to reduce emissions on meaningful scale long term and that was a lot of what was happening in undergrad it was very ambitious focused and very ecosystems focused and and towards the end of it i started thinking even more about adaptation and the human costs and the disproportionate human costs for, for communities around the world who are going to get hit first versus most by climate change but that really was towards the end of undergrad and thinking about that i applied to jobs throughout the world to work on climate adaptation and community level greening and environmental projects and just went with the first job that that accepted which was in Cairo, Egypt. 

Charles Olsen  6:09  

I’m interested in the path you took from your experience in undergrad- can you tell me a little bit about the work that you did on that school committee and how that work influenced your desire to go into planning for your jobs right out of undergrad and to study planning in your grad program?

Zander Pellegrino  6:36  

I could but I don’t think it did. I think what really influenced that decision was, was looking around my peers and seeing the people that I was interested in were going towards DC to work on things that I was doing- either as like international development subcontractors and I just didn’t want to try and participate in a climate adaptation project- this isn’t necessarily how I think now- but this is what I was thinking about my really the extent of my thinking then was if I’m going to be working on projects related to climate adaptation and environmentalists throughout the world, I don’t want to do it from DC I want to do it where the projects are being implemented and so that’s why i applied on more of the implementation and project management side. On pencil that included some jobs in DC, some jobs around Virginia, and some jobs within international development. 

Charles Olsen  7:36  

I saw that while you were pursuing your graduate degree at Yale you published some papers talking about community resiliency and trust during the planning process and just from listening to you talk for the past couple of minutes I already see how a lot of those values have been instilled in you through your education and like just through your experiences- I’m interested in connecting that to the work you do today. How do you view your experience working in those community resiliency projects to your job currently as an advocate?

Zander Pellegrino  8:14  

Yeah one thing that I think I really took away from, I can talk and give examples of this, but really so much of public participation and community advocacy and community outreach and all these words we use to describe talking to people who are going to be impacted by development at the end of those processes, oftentimes proposals and what actually happens it’s no different than what planners and leaders and often white male architects and engineers propose at the beginning. I was talking to committee members and I saw that in New York City with the east side coastal resiliency project, and get the drawbacks of relying so heavily on contracting to do community outreach work and I saw that in Egypt with some Jazz Edson driven development corporation projects, both focusing on urban greening and within both projects, there was tons of community outreach meetings people had no shortage of opportunities to chat they just weren’t listened to because their comments were either out of scope because they were focusing on the actual lived experiences and issues that they were facing, which in the community in Cairo, were a sewage system which flooded and was so backed up that the NGO couldn’t solve that. That was out of their control and so they just heard what they did and said “hmm I guess we’ll do some urban guards because they couldn’t solve what people wanted them to solve” and then in New York City it was really the current plan is to bury the east river park under 10 feet of topsoil and that’s not at all what people said they wanted. And so the way that that relates to my work is I’m very aware that one way this job could go, could be to bring out community members, get them to public hearings, have them get public comments, share their experiences, their stories, and then at the end of the day, none of that will make a difference. And the planning agencies will be able to say, because we held a public hearing, we are participatory, we are community based, we have committed by it, even as they don’t listen, or rule. community members frustrations as out of scope, economically infeasible, or say that we’ll get to them in further implementation. And that’s something that I’m aware of, as I step into this space.

Charles Olsen  10:48  

I’ve heard a story about your work, organizing at Yale, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Zander Pellegrino  10:54  

Well, you probably heard was that I was one of the participants who shut down the Yale Harvard game, and demanded that those universities divest from both Puerto Rican debt that they’re holding, and from fossil fuel companies. 

Charles Olsen  11:08  

What are some of the takeaways from that experience?

Zander Pellegrino  11:12  

My role in that was very much as a body and as a recruiter. And I feel like that was an appropriate role for me in that space. And something that was really important, I think, was that a lot of the organizers had coordinated with the leadership of the football teams, before they shut down the event. They kind of anticipated the argument of “Oh, yeah, sure. We want to divest from climate, but why are you harming these these young boys future, let them just, let the boys play. And we don’t need to do this here.” But so much of the point of direct action is to make an existing crisis visible. And by reaching out to the leadership of the football teams and having them record pre record comments that say, we support this action, we don’t want our schools to be invested in fossil fuels or holding debt from a colony. Either, it kind of anticipated and prevented some of those arguments, which was, I think, very smart. And kind of interesting takeaway.

Charles Olsen  12:18  

You mentioned before that you wanted to approach your story with an emphasis in emergent strategy. And I know that that is a concept that is really popular in advocacy circles. But can you tell me a little bit about how that informs the work that you hope to do in Nova?

Zander Pellegrino  12:39  

There’s an essay on that subject, and in the collection, or we can say and one thing that I took from that essay was that I want to be like, like, like either migratory board or a monarch who is who is going someplace that their parents came from, but who they’ve never been themselves, and they don’t know that there’s a plan, they just feel a need to go. And that’s what we do is we go where we need to be. And we find our people there. And we connect with them. And we continue to support them on that path. And maybe we know we’re going to Canada, but we probably don’t know where we’re going to stop. And we definitely haven’t been there before. And we won’t go back to our home ever again. That’s the cycle. And and so I think that oftentimes, activists and organizers can obsess about and focus on the most impactful strategy or tactic. And I think that that is a very white idea that we can control the world. And I don’t necessarily think that that’s the case. And that’s not to say that I’m not going to be strategic, and I’m not going to employ strong tactics, but in the back of my mind, and in the forefront of my relationships are going to be a recognition that, that we’re all just one little butterfly, and it’s nice when we can move in the same direction together.

Charles Olsen  14:19  

You mentioned something about, you know, the emphasis on tactics and strategy being a very wide idea, and I want to explore that a second. Can, can you kind of explain your logic behind that?

Zander Pellegrino  14:38  

I think sometimes: That we’re not always going to win. I think that in order for us to imagine a new unjust world, we have to take on fights where we’re not going away. I mean, right, right. Before this, I was I was collaborating with a group Tennant organizers and flushing New York and in Queens and what we were focusing on was, was the fight that was going to be really hard for us to win it was advocating against a rezoning, that was going to rezone an area right along the flushing Creek for to make it able to be developed for luxury apartments that were just going to be there, we’re gonna be somewhat even past the height restriction. And we’re in the pathway of planes applying to LaGuardia, there’s giant towers that did not need to be there, but the developers already own the land. They even if the rezoning failed and we won,  that we could still develop it as of right and do whatever they wanted to do with it, we weren’t. But we organize and we fought, and we held rallies, and we submitted public comments, and we connected with each other and built connections from housing organizers too. We’re focused on displacement and anti gentrification with environmentalists who have done bio blitzes and surveys of flushing Creek and know about the wetlands and about how polluted that area is, and came together to tell a story that says you can’t hold development over people’s heads and hold a clean environment over people’s heads. And say that the court said that a clean environment is the price of, of development that you have to accept this, because they were promising to clean up the creek and provide a prominent and provide a publicly accessible water access, even if it would retain be privately owned by the developers. And that was the argument and we came together to say, That’s not enough, even when there wasn’t a really strong legal or political pathway for us. 

Charles Olsen  16:56  

Do you know in Northern Virginia, suburbs of DC, there are similar patterns of development to parts of New York, can you talk a little bit about what you see as some of the fights on the horizon for you organizing in this area?

Zander Pellegrino  17:14  

I, I imagine they’ll follow similar patterns, but I can’t talk about them in detail yet. I’m still learning, still getting to know the area and I’m continuing to meet with activist members who do you know?

Charles Olsen  17:30  

What are some of the aspects of CCAN that brought you to the organization? Why do you apply? Why do you want to work for us?

Zander Pellegrino  17:42  

When people ask me where I work, I tell them I work at CCAN and the link I send them is not the, like the CCAN homepage, it’s the link to the “Our wins” page. I know this seems a little inconsistent with what I just said about fighting no matter what. But I’m excited and proud of beating the ACP and other work that CCAN has done and a strong coalition of others. And I think that that is something that really enticed me and excited me. And I was coming from an NGO background and really seeing the limits of working on an isolated project and wanted to combine some of that knowledge and some of those community connections and some of that framework with focusing on changing loss.

Charles Olsen  18:27  

Climate advocacy is tough work, working in a nonprofit, there’s a ton a myriad of issues and stuff that we have to face all of the time, and it is tiring. So the question that I like to ask people, when I’m trying to get to know them a little bit more is, how do you deal with it? What are the, what are the things you do to manage the stress of working on such a big and complex issue? I know you love poetry?

Zander Pellegrino  18:59  

I do. I can, I can talk about that in a second. But my girlfriend too, she said that I could mention her name in the interview that we make. We’ve just started growing microgreens and so that’s something that I do is, that we do that together. And that’s been really fun. Oh, she said her full name people.

Charles Olsen  19:20  

Get the shout out.

Zander Pellegrino  19:21  

Yeah. And so we, we have our little microgreens together, but I also I really, I do like poetry. And I like feeling things that I can’t put into words. And that’s one thing that I do. Podcasts isn’t the best way to explain or share that information. But I like, I like it.

Charles Olsen  19:45  

If you could enact one policy to solve a problem at any level B local, federal, international, state level. What policy would you enact and why?

Zander Pellegrino  20:02  

I put an act of fossil fuel moratorium because I’m sick of talking about an area that we need natural gas to talk about it anymore. I’m sick of hearing it as a transition tool and as an integral component of the world, because sure, but that’s the world that we’ve made. And we can change it. And we need to imagine a new one. And I think a fossil fuel moratorium may give us a little bit of oomph to, to stop listening to natural gas enthusiasts and start reading Octavia Butler and start thinking about what this world could be, instead of being constrained by the pipes, and the toxins and the compressed gas that does currently make up part of it.

Charles Olsen  20:45  

What are you excited about moving forward?

Zander Pellegrino  20:49  

I’m really, I’m really excited that what my job is now is to call someone up and listen to them. I think that’s the best. I’m really thrilled about that. And I’m excited and encouraged, because CCAN and our coalition members have participated in so many ways of making a new world, whether it’s whether it’s direct action that is about personal divestment, or whether it’s direct action that is a rally or a blocking of fossil fuels, infrastructure, or just so many different ways to use our minds and our bodies and our friendships.

Charles Olsen  21:37  

Before I let you go, I always like to leave a couple of minutes for my interviewee for any final thoughts that you may have anything that you want the people listening to this to know about you?

Zander Pellegrino  21:54  

Yeah, I want people to know that I, that I don’t have all of the answers and that, and that that’s not a reason that we shouldn’t work together. That’s the reason that we should work together. Because, because we can figure it out together. And that I think that’s one reason I had trouble answering your question before, if one person in human history who I would want to meet or who would surprise people that I admire is because the past couple months, I’ve become maybe too comfortable but even more comfortable with the idea that that we are moving away from the model of just a mover and shaker that influences policy and cuts the backroom deal and galvanizes the masses to lead a protest just as that’s that doesn’t have to be the way things go. It can be, it can be all of us and it can be all of us that I may not even know and that the people that I probably admire in history I may not have heard of and they probably worked with their friends and in Coalition’s and that’s okay.

Charles Olsen  23:03  

 Zander, thank you so much. Your, your worldview is beautiful. I admire it and a lot of it resonates deeply with me. And I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me for this today. I’m super excited to be able to share your story with all of the listeners and CCAN supporters. So glad to have you on the team.

Zander Pellegrino  23:28  

I’m glad to be here. Thanks a lot.

Charles Olsen  23:29  

Thanks for listening to Upside Down. This podcast is produced by me, Charlie Olsen with incredible support from the entire CCAN staff. Check out the show notes for links to all the things discussed in this episode. If you want to know more about how you can get involved with CCAN and the climate fight, check out our website at If you want to get in touch with us, follow us on instagram and twitter @CCAN. And if you enjoy the work we do, why don’t you share us with your friends. Sharing the show is a super easy way to help spread the word about the work we’re doing in the fight for bold climate actions. Thanks again for listening. I’ll see you next time.

The Path to 100% Clean Electricity by 2035 with Leah Stokes

In this episode of Upside Down, On February 24th, CCAN, CCAN Action Fund, and Evergreen Action hosted this all-star panel on the Policy, Politics, Economics, Climate Science, Jobs, and Justice Behind Biden’s Plan for 100% Clean Electricity by 2035. We were joined by author and scientist Michael Mann, Economist Stephanie Kelton, Dr. Leah Stokes, and Johnathan Williams of the Sunrise Movement. 

Check out the full transcript for the episode below!

Check out The New Climate War

Check out The Deficit Myth

Check out Short Circuiting Policy

Charles Olsen  0:01  

My name is Charlie Olsen. And this is Upside Down, the podcast from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Mike Tidwell  0:09  

Welcome to this zoom event called Pathway to 100%. It’s a webinar on the policy politics, economics, climate science and justice behind President Joe Biden’s plan for 100% clean electricity by the year 2035, and how Congress can make this law this year. I’m Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the CCAN Action Fund and until this year, my team here has been mostly state focused on successful clean energy policies in Maryland, Virginia and local DC. So it seemed logical for us to host this webinar from the DC region for all of you nationwide as Congress soon takes up a core piece of President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion climate plan. DOD policy again is 100% carbon free electricity grid by the year 2035. Today’s webinar is co-hosted by CCAN and our friends at Evergreen Action, a nonprofit inspired by the work of Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State. Evergreen is devoted to rapidly solving the climate crisis with justice, while creating 8 million good paying new jobs. Much of Biden’s climate plan is inspired by Evergreen’s work. Of course, nearly a third of all US greenhouse gas emissions come from the power grid. But the solution is much bigger than that. As we move to electrify everything in our economy, transportation, building, heating, cooling, up to 70 to 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions will ultimately be displaced by wind and solar and smart grid technology. So 100% clean electricity is a key. But can we do it? Thankfully, 30 states already mandate large shares of their grid come from clean energy. Right outside my window in the city of DC the legal mandate is 100% clean electricity by 2032. But can we do it for all the states by 2035? Moving us toward our Paris Climate Commitment: in a moment you’ll hear from Dr. Leah Stokes of Evergreen Action, who will explain more fully this tool of a clean energy standard, or CES, and how state policy is already working and how a national CES could function so CCAN can out a feasible legislative pathway for Congress. Imagine the US Congress that passed 100% CES this year, it’s breathtaking. But we have to do all of this with jobs and with justice, of course. So we’ll hear from my esteemed colleague Quintin Scott, of CCAN Action Fund about jobs and on the justice and equity movement we need to win. We’ll hear from Jonathan Williams, the internal justice coordinator at the Sunrise Movement. But before all that, we have to cover two fundamental issues first, after four years of Donald Trump’s inaction, does the latest climate science actually give us much of a chance? Do we still have time? And if we have time, does our COVID damaged economy still have room to invest massively in climate solutions right now? Or will new deficits as Republicans say, “tie our hands”? Thankfully, the news is encouraging on both the scientific and the fiscal front. So let’s start with science. And by the way, if you have questions for our speakers, place them in the q&a tab. Also know that this program is being recorded. So, Dr. Michael Mann is a well known climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel Panel on Climate Change. He is also the author of the brand new book. I have it right here. I’ve read it. It’s fantastic. The brand new book called “The New Climate War”, in which a Texaan takes head on what he calls climate Doom-ism. Dr. Mann, welcome. And what is the evidence that the climate window has not yet shut on?

Michael Mann  4:18  

Yeah, Thanks, Mike. And thanks to CCAN for sponsoring this event, and of course, to my co-panelists. So really, the message of my book, The New Climate War is that there is both urgency and agency. Yes, we know that we have to act now. We can see the detrimental impacts of climate change now playing out in real time in the form of unprecedented extreme weather events. And of course, we saw this unprecedented polar vortex event in Texas last week. And we can talk about the role that climate change might have played with that particular event. And there is a potential role that climate change plays in that specific event, but more broadly, these extreme weather events are costing us dearly, they are attacks on our economy, and they’re leading to a loss of human lives. That’s the face of climate change. It’s no longer subtle. It’s no longer about polar bears up in the Arctic, or penguins down in the Antarctic, it’s about things that are happening in our own lives today that are impacting us in an adverse way. So yes, there is urgency, but there’s agency, it’s not too late. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we need to limit warming to about a degree and a half Celsius, that’s about three degrees Fahrenheit if we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change. But there is still time to do that. And one of the developments in the science of climate modeling over the past decade, actually provides us some reason for cautious optimism. We now understand that if we stop burning carbon, now, if we stop emitting carbon pollution into the atmosphere, within a few years, the surface temperature of the planet will stabilize. We used to think that that warming would continue for decades. But we now understand that because of the role that the oceans in the biosphere play, their ability to take in carbon to draw down from the atmosphere, if we stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, then we have those sinks, drawing it down, it’s like a sink, with the drain open and the water level sinks. And so in the end, we get the warming that we’ve pretty much caused thus far, if we stop emitting carbon. Now, that means that there is a direct and immediate impact of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, there is widespread sort of doom and gloom in certain circles, in our climate discourse, people who have become convinced that we are undergoing runaway warming, for example, or that we are committed to runaway warming, the science doesn’t indicate that the best available science tells us if we stop burning carbon now, surface temperatures stabilize, and all those impacts related to the warming of the earth surface stop getting worse. And so now is the time to act. And you’ll be getting quite a bit of information about that from Leah and others about the opportunities that we really have right now to see meaningful climate action, that sort of action that will prevent catastrophic warming of the planet.

Mike Tidwell  7:35  

That’s Dr. Mann, and again, the book is The New Climate War. And it’s an amazing, timely book. And one question we’ve gotten from a viewer already, Dr. Mann is, what was the old climate war? And what is the new climate war?

Michael Mann  7:54  

Yeah, thanks for that question. The old climate war was this assault on the basic scientific evidence, the scientific foundation of human caused climate change. And I found myself at the center of those attacks. Because of the now iconic hockey stick curve that we published a couple decades ago, that became sort of symbolic in the climate change debate, because it demonstrated the profound impact that we’re having on the planet, the upturn blade showing the unprecedented warming of the past century in the context of the last 1000 years. And so I found myself at the center of this very fractious debate, because of the science that we had published two decades ago. Well, look, as I said before, the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We see them play out in real time on our television screens, in our newspaper headlines. So the forces of inaction, I call them, the activists, fossil fuel interests, and those who have done their bidding, can no longer claim that it isn’t happening, but they haven’t given up this battle, they still want to keep us addicted to fossil fuels. And so they’ve deployed a whole new array of insidious tactics to prevent us from moving on. And that includes dividing us getting us fighting with each other, deflecting attention away from the needed systemic changes the policies to individual action, as if it’s just about you and me, and that we don’t need larger policies and incentives, or promoting as we already said, doom and gloom, because if you really believe it’s too late to do anything about the problem, that potentially leads you down that path of inaction and look, the activists, they don’t care about the path you take. They just care about the destination. They want you disengaged- it’s important to recognize these obstacles that remain because we’re so close now. We can see it, we can smell it. We’re so close to seeing the action that we need. And Leo will talk more about that, certainly. But these obstacles are still in our way. We have to recognize them. We have to fight back against these tactics, because this is our time. This is our moment.

Mike Tidwell  9:49  

Thank you, Dr. Michael Mann. Again, the book is The New Climate War. It’s as all of Dr. Mann’s writing has been over the past decade: very exciting. That’s the ball clear, urgent, passionate, and fundamentally, I found optimistic. But optimism predicated on that urgency of turning off the greenhouse gas spigot as soon as possible. So Dr. Mann, thank you for making time in your busy schedule to join us today. And I encourage everyone to read his new book. Thank you. If you’re just joining us, I’m Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and we’re discussing a core part of Joe Biden’s proposed climate plan: 100% clean electricity by 2035. reaching that goal will require billions of dollars in wind and solar and smart grid technology, much of it with government incentives, loans and direct investments, not to mention the need to rebuild much of, if not most of our national infrastructure to adapt to climate change. But can we afford it? Isn’t our country broke after trillions of dollars and COVID spending on top on top of the previous past deficit? Our next guest, Dr. Stephanie Kelton of Stony Brook University says no, no and no to that last question. She says not to listen to the growing budget hawks in the news. Her new book, “The Deficit Myth”- also excellent reading. (And) by the way, shows deficit spending can and should power us to climate solutions like 100% clean electricity and a new Green Deal and other social enhancement goals. Kelton served as chief economist on the US Senate Budget Committee in 2015. And she was also an economic adviser to Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, she is hands down a leading voice from the rising economic school of thought known as modern monetary theory. Dr. Stephanie Kelton. Welcome, and please take it away. 

Stephanie Kelton  11:58  

Well, thank you, Mike, thank you for the invitation to be part of this and join this esteemed panel, I’m very happy to have a few minutes to talk a little bit about the book and situate the arguments as you just did in the context of this, I think, (it’s an) important fight that we’re about to have, because it is going to be a fight right getting the kinds of investments the large scale public funding of the on the order of magnitude that is going to be required to meaningfully get at this problem. The crisis that we’re facing is substantial. And you know, as Dr. Mann said, I like this term, the inactivists that he has us thinking about and he said, they’ve developed insidious tactics to block us right to make things seem insurmountable. Well, they do that on the fiscal front as well. And that’s what so much of my book is aimed at really empowering the rest of us people who have been fooled by the the narratives that dominate the idea that the federal government has to try to balance its budget that it’s faced, that it faces, financial constraints that are akin to those of a household that it could run out of money. I mean, we hear this from political leaders, you know, after the financial crisis in 2008. It was just a few months after Barack Obama became president, that he was pressed on this question about how much money was being spent to deal with the financial crisis and the economic fallout? And the question put to him was, at what point do we run out of money? And he responded, we’re out of money now. And I remember the way my heart sank in that moment, because we, I knew, immediately that we weren’t going to come close to doing enough to support the economy. As soon as he uttered those words, I essentially thought, Oh, boy, you know, all bets are off, we’re going to do far too little and we’re going to be stuck with a really lackluster economy, livelihoods and lives, you know, damaged for years to come. And it’s exactly what happened. So they use these narratives, they preach doom and gloom. They tell us that, you know, we’re doing terrible things to the next generation that we’re these deficits are adding to the national debt. The national debt represents a real burden on future generations. They play to the morality of the deficit spending, telling us we’re bankrupting our kids and our grandkids. They tell us you know that it’s a national security threat. They tell us that we could end up like Greece- mired in a debt crisis, you know, bankrupting the country. They try to fear monger with respect to countries like China and tell us you know, we’re borrowing from China. Do you really want to be borrowing from you know, a foreign countries, especially those that may not be our friends and so we were up against a lot historically, when it comes to defending the kind of bold, ambitious spending program that we are going to need if we’re going to deal meaningfully with the crisis and hold global temperatures from increasing the way that Dr. Mann describes. So in the book, I tried to dispel these myths, starting with the simple recognition that the federal government operates a budget that is nothing like the budget that we all face. It’s not like a household budget, they do not face a financial constraint that the federal government is the issuer of the currency. And the rest of us are just users of the dollar, we use the currency, which is why, frankly, the cares package and all of the other spending bills that Congress has rolled out to deal with COVID and the economic fallout.

The government can spend, even in a time of crisis, even when tax revenues are falling off a cliff. States can do what cities can’t. So mayors and governors are begging Congress for help. Small businesses and large businesses can’t do that, and households can’t do that. So the government is stepping up and providing income support loans and grants and other forms of assistance. Because the government can do what the rest of us can’t do, they can literally spend money they do not have, right. And so we get very anxious because we hear words like deficit and debt. And I just want to kind of lower the temperature in the room. Remind people that the deficit is just the difference between two numbers. That’s all it is. It’s the difference between how many dollars the government spends into the economy every year, and how many dollars they subtract back out mainly through taxation. So every time we hear the word deficit, what we should understand is that the government is making a deposit to some part of the economy that government deficits are nothing more than financial contributions. There are deposits being placed somewhere in the economy, every deficit is good for someone. Right? The question is, for whom? And for what? So when the republicans passed their tax cuts at the end of 2017. And guess what the price tag estimated price tag of those tax cuts was $1.9 trillion. Does that sound like a familiar number $1.9 trillion? Is the estimated cost of the GOP tax cuts 2017. What did they do? They lowered the corporate income tax rate and they lowered personal income taxes mostly on people already doing phenomenally well. 83% of the benefits went to people on top 1%. But they did it not because they thought deficits were this horrible, dangerous, awful, rotten thing to do, but because they understand perfectly well, that a government deficit creates a windfall on the other side of the ledger for somebody else, that $1.9 trillion. Government deficit is a $1.9 trillion surplus in some other part of the economy. Now think about 1.9 trillion. President Biden is asking for that 1.9 trillion will similarly create a deposit in other parts of the economy, but it will go to the unemployed, it will go to people who are really struggling, it will go to help get shots in arms and to build out the vaccination effort and to help plug holes in state and local government budgets. So every deficit is good for someone. It’s always a question about for whom and for what so what are we hearing now wrapping up quickly? We’re hearing that it’s too much. It’s too big. It’s too risky, and it risks overheating the economy. So we’re hearing from some pretty high profile economists who are warning that this 1.9 trillion is already too much. That concerns me a lot. And I think the good news is that most economists disagree with those who are making this claim there are only a handful that think it’s too big, most economists disagree. And what concerns me is that President Biden is calling the 1.9 trillion downpayment. On the other side of the relief package, he comes for the recovery package. And that’s what I think we’re here to talk about, right? That’s the build back better agenda. That’s where he comes back and asks for money to do climate and infrastructure and sustainable housing and all the other things, if we are led to believe that we’ve already done as much as we could afford to do that doing anything further, is dangerous, risky, puts us in some Jeopardy, we’re in real trouble, because they will try to weaponize the use of additional deficit spending to distract us to preach the gloom and doom right to use these kind of insidious tactics to to shake our confidence going forward. And so I want us to, you know, stand up very tall and be very assured that, at the end of the day, whatever Congress wants to spend, we can afford. If Congress commits the resources, the money will go out. You don’t find the money, you find the votes. And if you can, if you can accumulate enough votes to pass the legislation. The funding will be there, because Congress has the power of the purse, right, Congress can commit all of the dollars that it deems necessary to meaningfully engage in this fight to win this, beat this crisis. So the real risk, the thing you have to watch out for is inflation. There are limits, I’m not here to suggest that there’s no constraint, no limit whatsoever, there are limits, but they are not that you run out of money. They are not that you bankrupt your country or your kids and grandkids. The relevant constraint is the economy’s capacity to safely handle any spending that Congress appropriates. And so the limit is inflation. And as long as the real resources are available, we have the people we have construction workers, architects, engineers, steel machines, and we can build and maintain infrastructure and lay broadband and build high speed rail and do the rest of it. That’s what really matters.

Mike Tidwell  21:05  

Dr. Calvin, thank you so much for that concise and, frankly, truly illuminating argument. I know that I first heard you on a podcast talking about this issue about six months ago. And it truly changed my thinking on the possibilities of our economy. And I want to thank you for that. And those of you watching a lot of the Green New Deal thinking has been informed by modern monetary theory. That as you said, Dr. Kelton, it seems like when the republicans want money for war, they find it. When they want money for tax cuts, they find it. But when it comes time for climate and social safety net programs, they tend not to find it. I’m also encouraged, as we move on to our next speaker, that Janet Yellen has responded vocally that she feels like the Treasury has the tools to deal with inflation. And there’s no real evidence that inflation is heating up despite all the spending we’ve had just in the last two months from COVID. And the predicted spending we need to do for stimulus, infrastructure and climate. So again, the book is Deficit Myth. It’s really changed my thinking on this issue. I think every climate activist, climate activists, not just the economists, needs to read this book, because we need to fearlessly and confidently beat back the arguments that are already coming, that our country is bankrupt and we can’t fulfill Joe Biden’s climate plan with the investments we know we need. So Dr. Kelton, thank you so much for joining us. So the science tells us there’s still time and new economics shows the evidence: rich potential for pulling off massive climate investments would defend, not weaken, prosperity. But now we’re in a sprint. After Donald Trump and previous years of inaction, we no longer have the luxury of a multi decade marathon to achieve solutions we must sprint sprint toward passage of a clean electricity standard and other vital climate features this year, in fact, by August, here to tell us about the specifics and the nuances of abiding 100% clean energy standard is Lia Stokes. She’ll also lay out the challenging but utterly achievable pathway to legislative victory using so called budget reconciliation. Again, if you’re just joining us, I’m Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. And if you have questions for our speakers, place them in the q&a tab. So Dr. Leah Stokes is a professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara and sits on the advisory board of Evergreen Action. She is a rising star in the climate movement, whose advocacy on 100% clean electricity has been featured in national publications, and the new climate podcast of the legendary Dave Roberts.

Leah Stokes  23:58  

I’m Leah Stokes. I’m a professor at UC Santa Barbara, I work with Evergreen Action and Data for Progress. And we recently released a report showing how we can get to 100% clean electricity by 2035. If Congress does what’s necessary and acts and I just want to say that it’s been so wonderful partnering with CCAN. Quintin, Mike and Jamie have become good friends in the few weeks we’ve been working together, and I’m really excited to keep working with them.

So the challenge, as Mike was just saying is the pace and scale right we are behind the curve on this before Biden made this really landmark pledge for 100% clean power by 2035. We were talking about decarbonizing our electricity system by 2050. And in a certain sense, you might say we were on track for that. In fact, by 2020, we were at 40%, which would be right in that crosshairs right there of what’s necessary. But look at this figure some more. We’re really living on borrowed time with our nuclear fleet and our hydro power fleet which are not growing and can even be shrinking in some cases. So renewables in the very best year are growing about two percentage points annually. And they need to be growing at least four or five percentage points to be on track for what’s necessary. And if we instead say, we’re not aiming for 2050, we’re aiming for climate stability, here, we’re aiming for 2035, then the math just gets more punishing. So we really have to get Congress to act to make sure that we are seeing deployments of four or five percentage points annually of renewables. And the good news is that 2020 was the best year yet, I think there was something like 37 gigawatts of wind and solar built. So we are making progress. And we just need to scale this up with federal support. If you’re interested in this, I made a little video about it, which kind of helps you intuit some of the math. Um, so what is a clean electricity standard? Well, basically, it’s a requirement, it’s a requirement for more clean electricity by a certain year. So for example, 80% clean power by 2030, which is directly on the path to 100% clean power by 2035. This policy exists, as Mike was mentioning, and a lot of states, sometimes it’s called a renewable portfolio standard. Sometimes it’s called a clean electricity standard. And the really important thing is that President Biden campaigned and won on this policy. He just talked about 2035 all the time, if you ever heard him talk about climate change, he was talking about 100% clean power by 2035. So we know this is a really top issue for the Biden and Harris administration. And as Stephanie mentioned earlier, this is a core part of his build back better agenda, which is the next thing that Congress is going to turn to and I found it so inspiring to hear Stephanie talk about how we cannot let people tell us that we somehow don’t have the money for the most important investments that we can be making in our climate stability, because nobody was making that argument when the Cares Act was passed last year, which included massive bailouts for the fossil fuel industry. And unlike bailing out the fossil fuel industry, investing in clean power, as Stephanie was saying, is an investment in our economy. Indeed, it will actually pay us back by putting people to work by cleaning up the air. And that’s going to not just provide jobs, but also a lot of health benefits that, for example, will affect our health care system and bring down health care costs. This is a really practical, proven and popular approach. And I’m going to talk about the popular more in a second. But what do I mean by practical improvement? Well, you might not know this, but you may just be living in a state or city right now, that is already targeting 100% clean power. And that’s because more than one in three Americans already live in a place that is planning to do this. So this isn’t really a new idea. It’s something that we’ve been doing since the 80s, and 90s, and states across this country. And it’s really very popular. So we know how to do it. We know it’s going to deliver job creation and justice. And we know that people support it. So let’s just look at the fantastic polling that data for progress did as part of our work on this. Well, here’s the top line findings:  the strong majority of people across this country support Biden’s bold pledge for 100% clean power by 2035. Of course, that’s particularly strong amongst democrats and even independents. But even amongst Republicans, if we include people who aren’t quite sure, we’re still getting to that 50% support number. So this is a popular approach. Notably, some of the really key swing states where you know, Biden had to win in order to secure the presidency, are places where this is a really popular idea. And indeed, in Arizona and Michigan, Biden actually ran campaign ads during the general election on climate change. So voters knew what he was up to. And they were strongly supportive. Let’s look for example, at Arizona here, well over 50% are supporting this policy. And I just want to also highlight that this policy will particularly deliver benefits for Black Latinx and indigenous communities. And that is because we have overwhelmingly placed our fossil fuel infrastructure, in communities of color, we have put the harms of our energy system into communities of color, and let the benefits overwhelmingly flow to white communities. And we know that because of research, now, here’s what this shows: particularly black and Latin x communities are quite strongly supportive of this policy. So we have more than 70% support in black communities, and 65% in Hispanic communities. So you know, this is a policy that will really deliver on the core ideas of the Green New Deal, which is about equity, job creation and justice. And so that’s why I’m very excited about this policy. And I’m going to turn it back to Mike now to ask some more questions about how exactly we might get this done.

Mike Tidwell  29:45  

Yeah, thank you, Leah. The numbers are astounding. I am proud to live in a state, Maryland, where we have a commitment to 50% clean electricity by 2030. Virginia is going to be near 50% by 2030. And as I mentioned earlier, DC is already on its way to 100%. So this is exciting. One question we’ve gotten, Leah, is what do we do about gas? We know that coal is in decline? Oil is not necessarily what we’re talking about that much in terms of electricity. But very briefly, what is the role, if any, for gas? And can you really get to 100%? By 2035, versus this idea of like, 80% by 2030?

Leah Stokes  30:28  

Well, I think it’s really important to recognize that we know that the 80 to 90%, clean is very doable. There was an amazing report that came out of Berkeley and Grid lab last year, if you just go to, they showed that we could get to 90% clean power by 2035 and save customers money. Why do we save customers money? Well, right now, dirty coal plants continue to operate, that are not economic, they actually cost customers every hour of the day that they operate. And you don’t just have to take that from me, you can take that from the CEO of Nextera, a very large power company, who said a few weeks ago, there is not a single economic coal plant left in this country full stop period. So shutting down these coal plants will not only deliver massive health benefits, particularly to communities of color, but will also deliver lower cost power. So we know we can get to 80 to 90%, clean. And that’s really what we have to be focused on right now. There’s no more excuses left, and that last 10% of the electricity system is going to be harder to decarbonize. Now, the good news is that and I’m happy to talk a bit more about the budget reconciliation process. But the good news is that what we’re talking about in this package anyway, is a 10 year window. So we’re really talking about making sure we get that 80% clean power by 2030 into law. And that is directly on the path to 100%, clean by 2035. And notably, you can’t tell me it’s not possible because the entire state of Colorado is already in law planning to get to 80% clean power by 2030. And we have one Corporation in Google, which seems to think it can get to 100% clean power by 2030. And Google, you may recall, is perhaps the largest energy consumer in our country. So this is not a small fish, so to speak. So you know, we are going to need to have some innovation to get to that deep decarbonisation. But look, we had a moonshot. And we put people on the moon, we had World War Two, and we defeated, you know, really strong forces. And so we can do this, if we just get started today, and we invest in these solutions.

Mike Tidwell  32:37  

Well, let’s talk about how we’re gonna do it. Right, we know that we’ve got a narrow window legislatively in, in this Congress really this, this bill needs to pass by August, or it’s going to be very hard to pass it all. I just want to recommend this report that Leah has mentioned, “A Roadmap to 100% Clean Electricity”, that that evergreen put out and we’ll put in the chat, I really encourage you to read it. You can see I have marked it up. I mean, it’s for if you’re a policy wonk, this is a report to read in terms of 100%. But Dr. Leah Stokes, tell us in the next two or three minutes, how we can do it, the filibuster apparently is not going to leave our future Congress. And there’s this idea of budget reconciliation that you mentioned, how can Congress pass 100% clean energy standard by budget reconciliation?

Leah Stokes  33:38  

Yeah, so I’m happy to give everybody an intuition of that. So we can of course, pass it by eliminating the filibuster that does not look like it’s on the agenda right now. But we can still pass it through budget reconciliation using the 51 vote strategy. And basically, once a year, Congress can use a budget reconciliation process. I’m going to talk a little bit more about that. But the fact is that last year, Congress did not use it, meaning that the first bill that we’re talking about passing right now, that $1.9 trillion package for COVID, and sort of stimulus that is being passed on last year’s fiscal year budget reconciliation process. And the next approach, which is really the recovery and the build back better policy, which will start in the spring, once we’re past this current negotiation. That will be the big climate clean energy and investment package, that’s going to be the build back better package. And we believe based on you know, more than 10 months of research and talking to people that we can put a clean electricity standard into that policy. So how do we do that? Well, basically what is budget reconciliation, budget reconciliation is a policy that is a series of profit allows policy to be in a negotiation if it is focused on government revenues, government expenditures, or and or debt. So if we’re doing anything where the government is spending money, or raising revenue, or you know, putting money towards the debt by spending money in the way that Stephanie described, that counts under budget reconciliation, and we can design a clean electricity standard that fits into these constraints, what is the basic intuition? Well, in our report, we outlined more than six options about how to do it. But the basic intuition is that we have to provide funding for utilities that are doing the right thing. We say if you build clean power at the pace and scale that’s necessary, if you’re adding four or five percentage points a year of clean power, you will get resources from the federal government. And the critical thing is that it’s not just a carrot, it’s also a stick. If you do not do the right thing, if you do not move at the pace and scale that’s necessary, there is a penalty to be paid. And so that’s the basic intuition of how to do this because it’s all about revenues, if the utilities are not doing what’s right in terms of these penalties and expenditures, when the gut when these utilities are doing what’s right, we give them resources. So this is a requirement. It is not a market based mechanism where we hope and pray that things might happen, it is a requirement. And it will go alongside other key investments like extending the production tax credit, and the investment tax credit, and crucially, turning those into direct pay mechanisms so that they are more easily used by actors in society. So that’s the basic intuition. And I’ll just say, too, that this is not the only thing we have to do to get to 100% clean power, there’s a lot of other things that this package must include. So those investments turned into direct pay that I’ve met, that I’ve already mentioned, things like supporting the shutdown of coal plants by getting rid of coal, plant debt, pushing for electrification, especially in buildings, as well as in our transportation sector, streamlining, clean, energy permitting, and siting and also transmission so that we can build all the infrastructure that’s necessary, promoting competition to keep the prices low, so that as people are using power for more and more things, like their cooking and their heating and their cars, electricity is not really expensive, promoting intervene, or compensation programs, which by the way, Firk is setting up an Office of Public Participation right now. And you can get involved in that. That’ll basically pay advocates to advocate for clean power, and address this technology innovation gap so that we know we can get that last 10% done. So I think Quintin is going to probably speak next, but as you point out his job creation and justice that were really for here, and this policy will deliver it. And so that’s why it’s so critical to get this as part of the build back better agenda.

Mike Tidwell  37:39  

Well, again, thank you, Dr. Stokes, the report: A Roadmap to 100- we’ve got it posted in the chat. It really is a readable, comprehensive, clear plan, not only for the policy of how it could work in the states and at the federal level. But how we can pass it through various scenarios, budget reconciliation, we call your report the Bible around here. So if you’re part of a group that wants to be part of this historic push for clean energy this year, to get passed by August, please read that report. And you’re going to hear, at the end of this hour, from Jamie DeMarco CCAN who’s going to tell you more details how you and your organization can plug into Thank you, Dr. Stoke. And now let’s talk again, as Dr. Stokes said more about jobs. What Dr. Stokes highlighted. It’s so exciting. We want to delve more. Quintin Scott is the federal policy associate for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. And first he can act in fun. He’s a native of Chicago, and spent years as a policy advocate in the Illinois General Assembly and as a staffer on Capitol Hill.

Quentin Scott  38:54  

Thank you for the introduction, Mike, it’s my pleasure to be on this very distinguished panel. It is time for the United States to commit to a 100% clean electricity standard by 2035. We have an opportunity to reimagine a robust US economy and create good paying jobs now and be a global leader in innovation and manufacturing. Once again, every conversation about clean electricity standards eventually comes back to jobs. Where would those jobs be? How much would those jobs pay? The answers to these questions are the guy that takes us from conversation to commitment? The answer is simple. Decarbonizing the grid by 2035 will create millions of good jobs that will be available to those currently working in the fossil fuel industry. There will be plenty of jobs just cleaning up the mess we’ve already made. There are hundreds of 1000s of orphan wells in coal mines in places like West Virginia that need to be kept. The Columbia center of global energy policy recently released a study saying a federal program to plug orphaned wells could create as many as 120,000 jobs. If 500,000 wells were plugged in The majority of these jobs will be in rural communities like West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Alabama. The good jobs from clean energy are so compelling that even building trades are coming around to the fact that clean electricity is good for labor. The main AFL CIO and rail workers united endorsed the main green new deal in 2019, which included 100% clean electricity standard 17, New York City labor unions came together to form the climate jobs New York coalition. We heard the President of the Texas AFL CIO voice that it’s time for unions to play a role in really shaping the future, and there are going to be great new opportunities for labor. United Auto Workers region nine in New York even joined the New York renews coalition, which successfully enacted 100% clean electricity standard. We need to pass the 100% clean electricity standard by 2035. To make sure that we are building a clean energy future here at home. The United States has fallen behind China and Europe in the race for producing high tech batteries that store solar and wind energy. According to the benchmark mineral intelligence, China dominates battery production with 93 Giga factories that manufacture the lithium ion batteries versus only here in the US. At this current rate, China’s projected to have 140 Giga factories by 2030, while Europe will have 17 and the United States just 10. If this trend continues, a decade from now, we will be dependent on China for a significant portion of our battery needs. Despite the lack of leadership at the federal level, some American businesses are taking a lead. For example, General Motors has started building a battery cell factory in Lordstown, Ohio, that is already bringing jobs to the area and eventually will employ 1100 people. acting quickly, we can help make sure that these jobs of the future are American jobs. President Biden sees our need for clean energy and job creation as connected challenges. Biden proposed to make a 2 billion, excuse me, $2 trillion public sector investment into infrastructure and is projected to create 10 million new direct and indirect clean energy jobs, including funds for displaced workers and fossil fuel industries. He will also defend workers rights to form unions and collectively bargain to ensure jobs created offer good wages, benefits and worker protections. President Biden is committed to investing in transformative scalable technologies to meet our country’s energy needs. Just a few weeks ago, we saw the Department of Energy announce a $100 million investment and more investments are coming this year, as proposing the Stokes Ricketts report, which all of you are going to go read after this webinar. Along with clean electricity standard. We need a national energy efficiency benchmark, which according to the study done by the Political Economy Research Institute, will create 700,000 new jobs across the country. already more than two and a half million Americans have careers in wind, solar and energy efficiency. That is more than all the jobs in coal, oil and gas combined. In 100% clean electricity standard will create millions more. These are not just wishful thinking projections. We know that clean electricity standards create jobs because we’ve seen them happen since 2010. Solar jobs in the US have increased by 300%. In states with the most solar jobs are the states with 100% clean electricity standards like California, New York and Arizona. Since Maryland passed clean energy standards. We’ve seen Maryland solar industry go to over 210 companies and employ 5300 residents and pay for 20,000 jobs in 2013. alone. The United States has a long history of using innovation to spur economic growth, building the necessary infrastructure to meet the 2035 clean electricity standard can create millions of good paying union jobs from battery manufacturing to solar panel installation and a time of growing unemployment. 100% clean electricity standard gets us good paying jobs now.

Mike Tidwell  44:04  

Thank you, Quentin I’ve got one question we’ve gotten just briefly before we move on to our last speaker from the sunrise movement. We’ve gotten a question of how will Biden and Congress make sure that newly created clean energy jobs go to current fossil fuel workers?

Quentin Scott  44:24  

Yeah, that’s a great question, Mike. We recognize that fossil fuel communities across this country have fueled America. And as we transition to clean electricity, we need to make sure that’s a smooth transition. We can start by having dedicated funds to protect retirement and health benefits, provide funds to local governments to maintain quality education and other local services as there’s displaced economic activity, provide job training, and facilitate connections between people unions and employers. At the state level, we’ve seen places like Mexico and Colorado already established just transition offices. For fossil fuel workers, what last year, West Virginia introduced a bill that would create a similar office in their state. There needs to be additional federal funds to bolster the effectiveness of these offices. And so other states are encouraged to establish those offices as well. On January 27, Biden actually signed Executive orders that established the National Climate Task Force, and one of their missions is to create good paying jobs and create economic growth across all communities. So there are a lot of efforts already in place. And as we go through this transition, more resources will be dedicated to making sure that those jobs go to the right places. And for those fossil fuel workers.

Mike Tidwell  45:40  

Thank you, Quentin Scott, he is the federal policy associate for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. And for all of you, Capitol Hill staffers who are watching this webinar, you’ll see more of Clinton, as our organization joins our partners nationwide and makes 100% clean energy happen in Congress by August. Thank you, Quentin. You’ll see a lot more of him and also coming up shortly, CCAN federal policy director Jamie DeMarco, again, before we leave today is going to let you know the information and tools all of you on this call will need to plug in to this historic congressional push. But right now, in addition to new jobs, to pass 100% clean energy policy, we must address and repair past environmental and justices in this country and create a clean energy economy for all Americans. Thankfully, the administration has declared that all of its climate policies, including 100%, clean electricity must ensure that at least 40% of the new investments in benefits flow to communities of color and historically disadvantaged communities. By the way, that concept and that number 40% comes from our great friends in New York state who made that a state policy two years ago, and now it’s being borrowed by the administration. So thank you New York. The administration has clearly already created the White House, environmental justice Interagency Council to help push for this on all fronts, but we, the movement, will have to hold them accountable and ensure that in our own work, we are centering black and brown communities. Here to discuss this is Jonathan Williams. He is the internal justice coordinator at the great fantastic, historic organization, sunrise movement. Jonathan, take it away. 

Johnathan Williams  47:33  

Hi, thank you so much for having me. I hope you all can hear me. Yeah, I’m going to talk about the movement on the ground, the seat that gets it done. And I’m driving back to my education at the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School, I came back to watch some students giving all these presentations about what would be exciting. And then I spoke and I delivered the same question that I’m delivering now. So what are we going to do about it, you can have all the ideas in the world and unless we can get it across the finish line, it doesn’t matter. Um, and I hate to harken back to a trying time for liberals, leftist Democrats. But I think there was an analysis of power that Senator Bernie Sanders had when he said, Not me, us, versus what I’ve heard from other people running for office. And that’s the understanding that we have to have people power at the base of everything we do. I think we can see with a lot of frustration, people are like, Democrats are governing, but they’re not governing, like they have power because a lot of the avenues in DC are blocked. So we have to get out in the streets and make them room because we can open up the room from the outside. And that can happen specifically using a tool that Dr. Martin Luther King would call the dramatic crisis, you find the public site of tension for injustice in our society, and you show up on the streets and you make it known we can see this in Texas right now, where there’s sunrise hubs on the ground, going to the state capitol and taking it to Greg Abbott and said “You destroyed our electrical grid and Republicans in this state allowed this electrical grid to get to this place”, and they’re creating the dramatic crisis that’s gonna be needed to take the country into this discussion and build alignment around this. And we’re gonna have to do that on Democrats and Republicans to really make folks feel and understand that this has to happen. Um, and in doing that, people get a little nervous because it sounds like a destructive process. I’m talking about showing up, rattling, making noise and that’s part of it. In the New World, we’re going to have to get rid of some of the old but we also are bringing a prophetic and a beautiful vision of what the world can look like. And we’re talking about what we’re going to be seeing in the years to come. And that’s really important to center. Some of the things that we have to be careful about as people on the left is sometimes we get too far in the future. And we’re talking about like, maybe wonkish, or like things that are disconnected from people’s reality right now. And that’s very dangerous because republicans are talking in reactionary terms, and things that are very issue present today. So we have to engage in what we can have, and meet people where they’re at. And this is where we bring in the communities that we’re talking about black, brown, indigenous marginalized people.

We’re not going to create the vision and we don’t have the imagination, I don’t have the imagination for myself, to imagine a world that includes all people, you need an imagination of all people to create a world that’s going to work for all people. So we have to be bringing people from all over the country into this work, and meeting them at where their concerns are right now. And I want to stress why it’s so important that we don’t leave these people out. Sometimes we get into the room, and we start doing politicking, we leave these communities behind. And we can’t do that. There’s a reason that the Green New Deal is very different from the New Deal, and that the New Deal did leave these communities behind. And we allowed this conversation of progress to happen at the expense of a lot of black, brown indigenous people. And when those people lost their trust in the federal government to work on their behalf, and to reaganism, and the idea that we have to do it on our own, but we don’t have to do it on our own. And that’s the job of a movement is to make sure that the federal government is working on behalf of these communities, so that they can trust us when we ask them to vote, we kind of think I work in the south as an organizer. So we think you can just show up and ask for a vote, you have to build a relationship. And this has to be started in relationship with people now meeting their needs now. So they’ll show up and vote in the future. Um, and so if you’re if you’re really if you’re listening to this, now we have to move beyond a place of passive supporting and petition signing. And it’s gonna take that dramatic crisis of showing up at the site of tension and standing by the people who are most affected, because you’re not going to convince coal miners in West Virginia that you’re going to be on their side someday in a transition, if you’re not on their side today, with the the labor disputes that they’re having, and, and the the environmental injustice that those communities are are having right now. And that’s where the moment of the movement comes in, is supporting those people where they are today. Presenting that, that crisis, and, and fighting for folks from the bottom on up. And I think that is a generational struggle where the sunrise movement comes in. And we don’t have any qualms about shaking any tables. And when we do that on the outside people, the people inside Washington DC here hear the windows rattling, and they decide to move a little bit faster, and we create room for people to do things like get that 50 plus vote. And when we rattle those windows, you know, maybe an undecisive Joe Manchin decides that we are going to work through budget reconciliation after all and get this passed.

Mike Tidwell  53:14  

Well, Jonathan Williams, the internal justice coordinator at sunrise movement, powerful, powerful comments, we’ve we had one viewer, say how much she admires sunrise because you operate under the theory of no permanent friends, no permanent enemies and occupying Nancy Pelosi, his office turned out to be the best thing you could do for our friend the speaker. One question we have just very, very briefly if someone has given everything that’s happened in the last year on race and justice, what makes you hopeful?

Johnathan Williams  53:54  

That’s really hard. I was in DC when Donald Trump took his fun little photoshoot with the Bible. I was tear gassed raising the number one voting issue in this country. And the intersectional nature of this conversation that we can’t leave behind these folks, I think is ever present in a lot of people’s minds right now. We need to gain a further understanding of, like, the small ways that even leftists and liberals and democrats can perpetuate racial harm, but people know that we have to work on it. And, you know, I have a white mother. And we have gotten a lot farther and just that conversation between us in this last year that we have a lot further. So I think people know and knowing is half the battle.

Mike Tidwell  54:41  

Thank you so much, Jonathan. Thanks for being with us from the sunrise movement. And again, if you joined us I’m Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. We’re discussing the upcoming fight to pass the by 100% clean energy standard and Congress by August. We turn now to the ban. We will be leading CCANs Capitol Hill efforts and are already known by many of you. In the US climate movement, Jamie DeMarco is a CCAN federal policy director and previously worked for the citizens climate lobby and other groups fighting for state and federal climate policies. Jamie is going to tell us at long last how all of you and your organizations can concretely right now plugin because it’s exhilarating. All hands on deck sprint of an effort to get this bill passed 100% clean by summer’s end, Jamie, tell us how we can get involved. 

Jamie DeMarco  55:38  

I get such a kick out of watching those videos. Oh my gosh. And we saw on this call just the tip of the iceberg. We had people all over the country jumping in the water for 100% by 2035. Because they were real powerful grassroots energy behind this 100%. Clean Energy by 2035 is rapidly growing to be a center of gravity and our movement. And whoever you are. Your help is needed to make sure we pass an equitable 100% clean energy standard as soon as we can. And if you want to work to pass it, please email me. I put my email in the chat, please, please send me an email. As soon as this webinar is over. I know we’re over two minutes, I’m going to wrap up really quickly by saying that our path to transformative policy is through Biden’s build back infrastructure package and reconciliation. That package will live or die between now and the start of the August recess. So we have five months for the fight of our lives. And if we miss this window, there may not be another one until it’s too late. Many of us have taken comfort in the message over the years that this is not a sprint, it is a marathon. So we need to be in it for the long haul. I know I’ve taken a lot of comfort from that mantra over the years. But we must be doing intervals or something because right now, this is a sprint and there is a finish line in August. And we are neck and neck with disaster as we run to it. And I hope all of us are going to live our lives over the next five months so that when we look back, we can look back knowing we did everything we could to run as fast as possible to join the race. Email me, It’s in the chat. Let’s hit the ground running for 100% by 2035. 

Mike Tidwell  57:16  

Thank you, Jamie DeMarco, thank you everyone for joining. We had nearly 400 folks show up for that. The biggest zoom event in the history of CCAN and CCAN Action Fund. I want to thank Evergreen Action Dr. Michael Mann, Dr. Stephanie Coulson, Dr. Leah Stokes, Quintin Scott, Jonathan Williams, Jamie DeMarco, thank you, all of our speakers, thank you to the CCAN staff who helped pull this off. This is just the beginning. It’s going to be a sprint between now and August. But we’re going to be in touch with you soon as we continue to work with Evergreen with Sunrise with other groups to make this bill law in the coming month. So thanks again for joining us. And we will see you next time, everybody.

Charles Olsen  58:11  

Thanks for listening to Upside Down. This podcast is produced by me, Charles and with incredible support from the entire CCAN staff. Check out the show notes for links to all the things discussed in this episode. If you want to know more about how you can get involved with sinking in the climate fight, check out our website at You want to get in touch with us and follow us on instagram and twitter @CCAN. And if you enjoy the work we do, why don’t you share us with your friends. Sharing the show is a super easy way to help spread the word about the work we’re doing in the fight for bold climate actions. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.

Welcoming our new Communications Director – Laura Cofsky!

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Communications Director Laura Cofsky to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to her!

A New York native, Laura has spent the past few years working in progressive climate communications, we are lucky to have her joining the team and joining us today.

We sat down with Laura to chat about her journey in climate activism and her road to CCAN, her role in the climate movement, and what she sees as her most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:

Laura is the Communications Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, where she garners media coverage and develops messaging for CCAN’s priority campaigns, as well as oversees the organization’s website, email program, and social media accounts. Before joining CCAN, Laura was a senior communications specialist at the National League of Cities, led communications for 350 Philadelphia, and worked with the Sunrise Movement and on two winning political campaigns in Philadelphia.

Follow along with the transcript below:

Charles Olsen  0:10  

New York native Laura Cofsky is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has spent the last few years working in progressive communications as a senior communication specialist at the National League of Cities. He has led communications for 350, Philadelphia, and worked with the sunrise movement and on to winning political campaigns in Philadelphia, a self proclaimed politics nerd and a fellow New York pizza snob, I am super excited to welcome Laura Cofsky to the CCAN team Laura, thanks for chatting with me today.

Laura Cofsky  0:40  

Thanks for having me.

Charles Olsen  0:41  

Could you start us off by telling me about the first time that you got involved in the climate space?

Laura Cofsky  0:52  

Yeah, absolutely. So I guess officially, the first time I got involved was in college, I was part of a few different environmental groups as part of the university’s garden, also their environmental group. But I think the first time that I really dived in was, I think, 2015, I was with 350, Philadelphia back then. And they need a press person. And you know, it’s a very small grassroots group. And the way that those groups work is all hands on deck, whoever volunteers to do things, is the person. So that’s kind of how I became their communications person, to be honest. But the first time that I did communications for them, the Pope was actually coming to Philadelphia, he was giving his climate change and cyclical, and we were having an event to celebrate His coming to Philadelphia. And I was doing press for that event. And it was just a very interesting experience. Because before that event, I had never invited journalists to anything, I’d always been on the other end. So before then I’d worked for place like USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer. But I just did not know how to reverse engineer it. So I remember emailing all these acquaintances who worked in communications, asking them, how do you write a press release? How do I get this out to press, and it was just really exciting, because, you know, I started out not knowing really much of anything. And we ended up getting a lot of really good press coverage. And it was just very exciting. And I kind of got addicted to doing that kind of work. And so I’ve continued until this day.

Charles Olsen  2:40  

So you are, first and foremost, a writer than a communicator? Can you just draw the line for me and tell me about how you got from your childhood, high school, college, and then through all of your professional experience? Now to see, can you walk me through that story? 

Laura Cofsky  3:03  

Well, so what brought me here was, um, you know, throughout my childhood, we talked about environmental issues in my household, even before it was cool. So I knew about climate change. And I knew about all sorts of other kinds of environmental degradation, because I lived in New York City. And so I personally knew people who had asthma, I personally knew even a few people who had cancer. So it was very close to my heart, the kinds of things that pollution was doing to my community and to the people that I knew. So, you know, as I was growing up in high school and college, it was just very striking to me that no one was having these conversations about the kind of public health toll that this pollution was having on people. Whenever people talk about climate change, whenever people talk about anything that had to do with the environment, you know, you’d see pictures of polar bears, you would see, you know, these numbers like 1.5 degrees Celsius. And, you know, honestly, to the average person who’s trying to put food on a table, that doesn’t really mean much. So what got me into communications, was the fact that I was just so jarred by what I saw as a deficit and how we were talking about these things. So I just really wanted to plug in and make sure that people were talking about the real costs of using fossil fuels and the real cost of pollution, because they do have a cost right now they do have a human cost and I just wanted to do my part to make sure people were aware.

Charles Olsen  4:36  

Can you tell me about what brought you to CCAN? Why now?

Laura Cofsky  4:41  

you know, right before coming to CCAN I was working for an organization we did have a climate portfolio but we didn’t really focus that much on the environment. And you know, I really missed this kind of work. And so when I saw the job posting for CCAN, I was very excited and I applied. And you know, I wish I could give you a more magical story than that. But really it comes down to I think I saw the add on might have been idealist might have been indeed, it really wasn’t like, you know, this magical story. But I was really happy to see the job open. And so I applied, and I was lucky enough to get it.

Charles Olsen  5:22  

Working in climate and communications, like you have for a while. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot. But this is a huge issue area, and things are developing more and more every day. You tell me, what is the biggest thing that you’re afraid of? in the immediate future? Aside from all of it, because I’m afraid of all of it?

Laura Cofsky  5:47  

Yeah, you know, we’re, we’re in a pandemic, we’ve got climate change, you know, we’ve got, you know, everything, it’s 2020, like, 20 is pretty scary in and of itself. You know, if we’re talking about in terms of like, global issues, I mean, my biggest fear really is about the environment, and that we’re just going to ignore the death toll of pollution, because it is one of the greatest killers, you know, and it’s something that I do think about is something that keeps me up at night, because, you know, I live in a big city myself, and you know, I’m near a highway, and you’re, you know, various pollution sources. So even personally, it does make me nervous, because I think, Okay, well, we know that this kind of pollution can cause heart issues, we know that some other sources of pollution nearby can cause cancer. And so even on a personal level, it really does make me nervous.

Charles Olsen  6:49  

Okay, now to completely 180 after that, on the lighter side of things, I think you are, like the sixth new yorker to join the CCAN team in recent years. But I’ve only been here a couple of months. So I don’t know if I’m the authority on that figure. And this forces me to beg the question, what is the closest thing to New York pizza that you have found in the DC area since moving here?

Laura Cofsky  7:18  

I would say wiseguys, and, honestly, I think that’s it. That is the best answer. I have. I mean, I’ve been told about other places. Um, you know, people like, and I won’t say that I’ve tried every pizza place here. Maybe because the first few I tried besides wiseguys, just were okay. Um, but I definitely would recommend them and they have several locations.

Charles Olsen  7:44  

I am sure that is a hot take that will be greatly contested from all of the people listening to this. But thank you. So, just to keep in this more positive light now, we are on the other side, as of yesterday, of really bad four years for climate and the environment. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re hopeful for the next couple of years? Uh,

Laura Cofsky  8:15  

well, I’m hopeful that we voted invited, that definitely made me feel pretty good. Um, I would honestly just say that, you know, again, as a communications person, like, I have to pay attention to what the news coverage is on environmental issues. And you know, what people are talking about. And I have definitely noticed, in the last maybe year or two, that more news outlets are covering climate change and actually communicating the urgency of it. I’m noticing more and more people who are actually prioritizing, talking about this. And you know, that’s not a quantitative measure at all. It’s more qualitative. But at the same time, like I feel a difference, I feel that there is a movement and things and I feel like, you know, there was a time when people were saying, we are not ready to move to renewable energies. We don’t have the technology yet. And, you know, there are still people saying that, but I think there are more and more people realizing that that’s not the case. Like we can go renewable, basically, whenever we just need to transition justly, and it’s really just an issue of political will. And I think we’re finally getting to the point where a significant number of people are realizing that.

Charles Olsen  9:30  

So in that vein, you are joining CCAN right at the dawn of this new political age, hopefully, fingers crossed. With the ending of the Trump administration, it seems like the days of playing defense are starting to be behind us. More specifically, what are you excited about doing while you’re at sea Can

Laura Cofsky  9:54  

I mean I’m excited about the fact that we’re actually probably going to make progress on a lot more things. than we’ve been able to do under this past administration. You know, we have a president who’s coming in, who really is a climate champion, we may end up with a congress also that will support his endeavors with climate change. I know Fingers crossed. So I really want to see those victories. And you know, secant has done really great work. We’ve had an impressive number of victories considering what we’ve been up against. But, you know, it wouldn’t be great if it was just a victory after victory after victory after victory. That’s just really what I dream about.

Charles Olsen  10:44  

Yeah, the wins are definitely, definitely a huge bonus. So climate change is a big, scary, depressing issue at times. And we don’t always get wins. But in between the winds that we do have, how do you deal with the stress of climate change? Do you go for hikes? Sorry, drop something. Do you go for hikes? yoga, what do you do?

Laura Cofsky  11:14  

I go for runs. Awesome. Yeah, no, the endorphins are really important, right? Um, so there were things I did before the pandemic and things I did during the pandemic, I would say during the pandemic, I’m hiking, I do like that. Reading. Honestly, watching Netflix, I just know I’m late to the game, I just discovered the Great British baking show. And it actually is as relaxing as people have said, like, if I’ve had a stressful day, I just binge that show. So that’s really helped my anxiety before COVID. I really like dancing. I really like trying new foods, you know, and I still like spending time with friends. Although obviously nowadays, I need to be a little bit more careful about it. But I do value quality time with the people I care about. Because, you know, at the end of the day, they’re basically the people that I’m doing this for.

Charles Olsen  12:07  

So obviously, you are a communicator, and a writer. But can you tell me a little bit about what you think is your most valuable skill for your job?

Laura Cofsky  12:19  

Um, well, I mean, writing actually is very important for my job. Um, but, you know, on a more fun note, I make accidental puns of lots. And believe it or not, when you’re trying to write snappy subject lines, or you know, catchy emails or catchy social media posts. Being punny can actually be helpful. I mean, sometimes it drives people crazy. But sometimes, you know, I hit adjust, right? And it really is just right. Um, you know, so I don’t know if I should necessarily say I’m proud of being clingy. But it has helped me a few times.

Charles Olsen  12:59  

Can you give me one right now? Oh, my God. on the spot. I can edit out all the waiting that I do or not will see.

Laura Cofsky  13:10  

Agh i don’t know if I can come up upon that quickly. Usually, it’s by accident.

Charles Olsen  13:16  

I’ve got time. I can edit out the empty space. What is the recent one that you’ve done?

Laura Cofsky  13:27  

Okay, here’s one that I’ve done recently. Um, so I was recently emailing people about a clean car that we’re going to be putting on, and I assured people in the email that the event would be electric.

That was by accident.

Charles Olsen  13:50  

I gave you some crickets for that one. Well done, well done. I can’t wait. I expect more. I’d like to include more in the show notes for this. If you can come up with them and send them to me, that’d be great. Okay, um, if you could enact one policy right now, what would it be

Laura Cofsky  14:19  

The Green New Deal? Can I count that one? Um, honestly, just a policy that would transition us to 100% renewables, or I mean, alternatively, a policy that would give us universal health care, you know, on the upper end of the spectrum, I did get into this for like, public health reasons. So every one of those would be absolutely amazing if I could wave my magic wand.

Charles Olsen  14:38  

Alright, a question for the youngins. I know. I am included in that group of youngins. What would you tell young people who are just getting their footing and getting started in climate policy and communications?

Laura Cofsky  14:54  

I would tell them Welcome to the movement. First of all, they’re doing very important work. You know, even if it doesn’t always feel like it even feels like, it’s very difficult sometimes, or they’re hitting walls, this is the kind of work that needs to get done. And there are successes in this work, even if it gets frustrating. And one of the big tips I honestly would give is, I always believe in the motto, don’t pour from an empty cup. So, you know, give, give this movement as much as you can. But at the same time, you know, one point, you need to make sure that you’re keeping your own sanity. So you know, if you need to step away and do your yoga, or do your hiking or whatever you need to do to make sure that you are strong, strong enough to keep fighting, you should do it and you should not only not feel bad about but you should be proud of yourself for taking care of an important activist.

Charles Olsen  15:53  

That is one of my favorite, like, phrases or like frames of thought, the empty cup. I am stoked that somebody else mentioned that because I love that one. Um, if you could sum up yourself, describe yourself in two sentences for the people listening? How would you describe yourself? I guess I would say

Laura Cofsky  16:22  

I am the kind of person who really values relationships, and really wants to do her best and grab life by the horns. And I guess another motto I like to live by as I don’t want to be the sidekick in my own story. So I guess those are two sentences. Hopefully, that encapsulates properly who I am.

Charles Olsen  16:49  

You said you value relationships. And it makes me wonder how do you incorporate that into the work that you do?

Laura Cofsky  16:55  

Well, so I mean, what drives my work at the end of the day, is that I did see loved ones growing up who were affected by pollution and who are getting very sick. So when I do this work, I, you know, I, I do think about, you know, selfish terms, I do think about myself, I want to live in a world that’s, you know, has clean air and clean water for myself as well. But I also think about the people I care about who have gone sick, or that I worry might someday be affected by climate change might someday be affected by pollution. So that’s really how that plays out in this work. And I am very grateful to have people in my life who have supported me on this journey. Because you know, like I’ve said before, this, this work is extremely important, but it does get, you know, it does get difficult sometimes, but I have a really great support system. And that has made it all doable and worthwhile. 

Charles Olsen  17:58  

Who is one person in all of human history, past, present, future even, that people would be surprised that you admire?

Laura Cofsky  18:03  

Um actually Julia Child! Which, yeah, I would say that’s definitely someone that people would not expect me to say. I actually, secretly are not so secretly, I’m an amateur foodie. I really like to eat and try restaurants, and cook. Actually, last year, I had a goal of trying to make 52 recipes. I only got to 45. But I mean, that should tell you something about you know, the value that food has in my life. And actually she was I mean, she of course, she was on my radar, even a few years ago, but the way that I became one of her admirers was I went to this use book sale, and they were selling her autobiography and just on a whim, I decided to buy it. And you know, I read it and she’s just one of the most fascinating people. And also something that’s not even in the biography, which is very interesting. Apparently, she’s one of the people who co invented shark repellent.

Charles Olsen  19:02  

I am totally stealing that for the next seeking trivia night.

Laura Cofsky  19:08  

You should, you should.

She was an amazing woman. So I really admire her.

Charles Olsen  19:15  

That is a really cool fun fact. We’re gonna use that to see who on the team listens to these audio interviews.

Laura Cofsky  19:25  

Yeah, sounds like a great idea.

Charles Olsen  19:27  

Often we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, it becomes a job for us. One policy at a time, inch by inch, we try to do what we can. Can you paint me the picture for the world that you are fighting to achieve?

Laura Cofsky  19:46  

Yeah, I mean, honestly, I just want a world that has equity. You know, we have a world even at this point that has all the resources that we need so everyone can live a dignified life. I mean, at the most basic level, that’s why I want to see play out. I want to live in a world where everyone can afford decent quality housing. I want a world where everybody can afford decent quality food, where the air is clean, the water is clean, we have good schools to send the kids to.

Laura Cofsky  20:20  

I mean, I think that’s a world that a lot of us want. I don’t know the best way to achieve it, but that is what I would like to see.

Charles Olsen  20:32  

Laura Cofsky, thank you so much for talking with me. 

Laura Cofsky  20:35  

Thank you, 

Charles Olsen  20:36  

and thank you, everybody for listening.

Turning the page – End of a chapter for Comms Director Denise Robbins

Denise Robbins has spent the past four years as communications director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Denise grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, went to college at Cornell in upstate New York, and has called DC home for the past eight and a half years. She first decided she wanted to save the world from global warming when she was just eight years old. She co-authored a book about climate refugees called rising tides, climate refugees in the 21st century, published by Indiana University Press in 2017 and is currently working on a novel and short story collection. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Denise before she passed the baton off to our new communications director.

Follow along with the transcript below: 

Denise Robbins  0:40  

I feel like I should start with how I started, um, which was right after Trump got elected. My final interview, my in person interview was two days after he got elected, so I just barely had time to like, get over this brief hangover. Um, and prepare for this interview and get to the office and meet Mike and meet Kirsten. And it was just insane, like mental space to be very somber, very, you know, shell shocked. And the interview, you know, the mood was somber, but like people are so you can be ready, you know, they were ready to take on Trump. They’re like, this is why we’re here. This is why we exist. It’s not just about wanting the higher ups at the federal level to wave their hands and solve climate change, but about building movements from the ground up. And continuing to do that and outpace the federal, especially during the Trump administration, my first legislative session in Maryland that the state legislators were similarly like, Oh, my God, we have to do so much. And Marilyn passed a ban on fracking. And it’s sort of it’s interesting, because we do kind of wonder if Trump hadn’t been elected, would Maryland have banned fracking? It’s, it’s hard to know. And we’re, it’s hard to even say that because I feel like just looking back, it’s almost unconscionable to imagine Maryland having fracking, but it was very seriously gonna happen. And it took a long time. And a huge fight to ban it. So I started at CCAN at the tail end of this seven year battle to ban fracking in Maryland, it started with a moratorium, it started with our organizers just going from city to city to county to county, and getting local bands. And I just was able to ride the coattails of that and just pass this incredible bill and my first legislative session, and it was such such a whirlwind. It was pretty incredible. I just recall specifically sitting in the conference room in our takoma park office, and Governor Hogan announced that he supported a ban on fracking. And it was like, what, like we were so not expecting that. But on the other hand, earlier that day, we had just gotten word that there was a veto proof majority of support for the ban on fracking for the fracking ban bill. So Hogan essentially had no choice. I mean, he at that point was like, I guess I should take credit for this, because it’s happening, whether I like it or not, a few have vetoed it. That would have been overturned. But it was very, you know, itself just to like, Oh, my God, it’s actually happening. And I think everyone kind of freaked out. I think somebody bought a bottle of champagne. And I think most of us were just like, No, no, no, we have too much work to do, we have to do all this work. And then Mike, just being like, hey, like, stop for a minute. And enjoy this. Like, we got a ban on fracking in Maryland. And, um, and yeah, so that was just, you know, the first couple of months of my time at sea can. And in the next four years, we passed an amazing bill, a clean energy bill in DC, we passed another really great clean energy bill in Maryland. And then finally, an amazing clean energy bill in Virginia, like all the big three, the Atlantic coast pipeline was rejected. All of our other pipeline battles have so far, none of those pipelines have been built any and all of the pipeline battles that I’ve taken part in, none of those pipelines have been built. So it’s been a while you look back at our CCAN’s work, you know, federal landscape aside, and absolutely incredible for years.

Charlie Olsen  4:48  

Can you tell me about some of the lessons that you learned from that first victory and how you use those in the campaigns that followed?

Denise Robbins  4:57  

Yeah, so I think when it came to the ban on fracking. It was very clear, first of all, that this was a totally grassroots up from the ground up campaign, that it would not have happened if there weren’t so many localities that were educated and over the span of so many years, changed their minds about fracking Marylanders used to support fracking. And that was just a long time of education to switch that. And then, you know, eventually getting to a point where most people in Maryland didn’t want fracking in the legislator, legislature needing to respond to that. And so I think that, you know, first of all, it was just a really great way for us to learn how to reach out to a whole state around one campaign and get more people involved. And, and build on that to pass forward looking legislation, you know, not just to always be fighting against fracking and to be fighting against pipelines, but to be fighting for solutions, like clean energy, 

Charlie Olsen  6:09  

The next major campaign after that the passing of the Clean Energy DC act, what did you learn from that?

Denise Robbins  6:16  

The really great thing about that, for me was just, I live in DC. And it was, this is what democracy is, you know, getting to like, see the legislature legislator who represents me and witness the dozens hundreds over the course of the campaign, probably thousands of DC residents, you know, come into the DC council building and lobby their legislators and build a strong movement toward to where DC council just simply had to pass an amazing bill otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone away or left them alone. And it was that that was really cool. You know, it was I learned a lot that lobbying really just seems um, having I guess, I don’t know what lobbying means. Anyone can lobby, you know, any your neighbor on the street, your grandma can lobby like anyone can be a lobbyist. In fact, it’s a much more powerful way to express your voice to your legislature, to your legislator than voting, for instance, it’s much more direct and pretty cool. And this particular campaign was great because it just brought so many organizations around DC together to support and pass the Clean Energy DC act and weren’t forced to make a lot of connections. So that you know, a lot of these organizations still coordinate, we still have a coalition called the DC Climate Coalition. And I’m still pretty, you know, active and involved in DC politics just because it’s my home.

Charlie Olsen  8:00  

What was your favorite action that you coordinated for that campaign?

Denise Robbins  8:05  

Oh, there was like, a, such a fun action that we did, which involves playing volleyball at the unfreedom Plaza right outside the council building. And oh my gosh, I don’t even really remember. I think we were like, We needed it to pass. We were like we had done all the work, basically. And we’re just waiting for the council to hold a vote and pass it. And they were gonna delay it and not have it happen in 2018. And then, of course, there was a heatwave, because there’s always a heat wave, you know, once a month in DC, in October and November and so it was very warm. And we got everyone out to the freedom closet wearing like swimsuits and lifeguard outfits and like, erected these giant volleyball tents and had a humongous inflatable Earth and we were just batting it around. And it was just like, such a joyous day of action and and, you know, telling the DC Council, you know, stop playing games with this bill, pass it and, you know, so there’s some fun metaphors going on there. I specifically, you know, picked up the volleyball mat from somebody and I had to trudge like on a very rainy night in Ward five. I remember, but it was super worth it.

Charlie Olsen  9:28  

The Virginia clean Economy Act is one of the strongest pieces, I believe the strongest piece of environmental legislation passed in the American South ever. Can you tell me about some of the lessons and takeaways from your work on that?

Denise Robbins  9:42  

Yeah, the Virginia clean Economy Act is basically involved in the story of a state, you know, Virginia that was so rad for so long, and so far behind on climate and so many other issues that once the state legislature flipped to blue. They’re like, Alright, let’s go. They changed decades of history and their 90 day session. So the Virginia clean Economy Act, it was an amazing bill, it was still a really tough battle, you know, people pulling on it from all sides, it was just going to be a very big bill that a lot of people had a lot of steak and but, you know, ended up passing it and allowed Virginia to totally blow out of the water and come from the back of the pack to the forefront and local state climate policy, you know, even beating Maryland. So we have little internal sea cam competition there. Um, but yeah, that was that was incredible. It’s, it’s kind of funny. The session ended just in time before the COVID lockdown. I was in Richmond on those final days, and people were just starting to like, joke about like, oh, should we not walk, shake our hands? Or should we do the elbow bumps? I don’t think it has been spotted in Richmond yet. But the lockdowns began just days after the bill passed. And you know, for instance, and Marilyn, Marilyn, could have kept pace with Virginia barely, they’re probably going to pass another really good climate bill. But the legislative session ended super early. And so they weren’t able to pass it. So at least we have some more to look forward to in Maryland this spring.

Charlie Olsen  11:36  

Looking back on all of the campaigns that you’ve worked on, for the past four years, are there? Are there any moments that you would go back and change or anything that you would want to do differently on those campaigns?

Denise Robbins  11:48  

Not really, I don’t know. I think the biggest thing that I would want to do differently is just not be so stressed out. I feel like, you know, saving the climate is pretty stressful. And we work really hard. And I just wish I had had a little bit more mindfulness, I guess, and just been able to not let myself get stressed out over over all the things and just go with the flow, and do what I needed to do

Charlie Olsen  12:18  

In the past four years since the 2016 election,  Can you tell me a little bit about how the climate activism landscape has changed in that time, from your perspective?

Denise Robbins  12:31  

Night and day? I think  that there’s so many more people who not only care about climate change, but really understand the urgency and want to get involved. I mean, four years ago, yeah, people just didn’t really join the big climate marches and things like that. And then well, first, the IPCC, the United Nations. In our panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released that report that said, we have 12 years, you have 12 years to solve climate change. I was actually on vacation at that point. I was in Scotland for a friend’s wedding. And I saw newspapers in the airport with that number like blasted all over the front of the front page of these newspapers across the Atlantic Ocean. I was like, Oh, my God, like, whatever it is about this one particular report, like, it’s really getting people to notice. And I, you know, it wasn’t actually new information for most people in the climate sphere. But for everyone else, it was like, Holy smokes. I’m so gretta fudenberg I believe, you know, came out of reading that report and decided to start her amazing inspiring school strikes and inspired millions of people across the world. I mean, the school, the strike, the climate strikes, that happened globally. That was like nothing else I’d ever, ever witnessed. And that was incredible to be a part of,

Charlie Olsen  14:15  

What about the school strikes? Like your experience with them?  What about them brought you inspiration?

Denise Robbins  14:22  

In general, it definitely was inspiring to see so many young people really getting involved and passionate. I just sort of wish at that age. I mean, I have cared about climate change since I was eight. But I would never have joined a protest when I was in elementary or middle or even high school. I just think that it’s amazing to see an entire generation that is now willing to go out of their comfort zone. And really speak up for what they care about and what they’re concerned about. Yeah. Well, between sunrise and Alexandria, ocasio Cortez, and introducing the idea of the green New Deal. It was sort of the first time that there is such a strong message of hope. And it’s so hard to just be, you know, Doomsday all the time. And it’s just so nice to have this breath of fresh air of hope. And I think sunrise and AOC made that

Charlie Olsen  15:28  

AOC in the intercept that video about what the future could be, I have that saved on my phone. And I sometimes just go back and watch it when I’m needing to pick me up as a communications director, like your position is heavily focused on like the media and climate media. And I think the question that I’m really curious about is like, how over the past four years, have you seen the media landscape? In reference to climate change?

Denise Robbins  15:53  

change? Yeah, that has definitely also changed a lot before see Can I was actually working at media matters. So I was very clued in to how people in the media were talking about climate change. And they pretty much either weren’t talking about it, or doing this whole false balance both sides ism. That’s just so silly. It’s like having someone give the other side of gravity like, is gravity real? Who can tell? I couldn’t explain gravity, but I don’t question it. Yeah, I think, um, definitely, you see people talking about climate change more in the media, you actually start seeing people make the connections between extreme weather and climate change, which I think is huge. And I’m finding that both sides are still there a little bit, but it’s definitely gone down a lot. And I know that it was a little complicated for some journalists, because on the one hand, like, you can’t just not say talk about what the president says. And that was our biggest climate denier of all. But, you know, there’s a way to report on what the President was saying without necessarily just blanket repeating lies. And so I think that was a big learning curve for the media over the past four years, and the hope that the lessons they’ve learned apply to climate coverage going forward to can you

Charlie Olsen  17:26  

Tell me about one of what has been your favorite part about working at CCAN, for the past four years? Aside from the whole thing? I’m sure

Denise Robbins  17:33  

I know. Right? Um, how do you mean, it’s hard to just not say the wins. I mean, it’s just so it was so needed to have to have victories to have progress. And during the Trump administration, so it just allows you to fight for something and then enjoy it, when you succeed, I think it is kind of huge. And aside from that, I mean, the people at CCAN, people that work that you can over the past four years, and currently are some of the smartest, most passionate, funniest people that I’ve ever met.

Charlie Olsen  18:16  

So it’s, you mentioned the wins, and I think that those are super important. And aside from those, working on climate is really tough. Like, it’s really hard, it is an existential issue. How do you stay grounded? How do you find yourself back to some semblance of calm or peace?

Denise Robbins  18:39  

In a certain sense, there is a willful ignorance that’s almost required, like I, intellectually and theoretically, understand all the crazy drastic implications of climate change. You know, I’ve studied this for many, many years. But I on a day to day level, like, I just don’t really have the brain space or mental space to allow myself to really feel that, um, and I couldn’t I mean, I just couldn’t keep working if I did. Um, but every, every so often, it’s definitely, you know, like, when the people’s Climate March came through to DC, I think I found myself crying in the middle of that, and I couldn’t really understand why I think at that, at that point, just in the middle of this beautiful, super hot day, protest, marching through through the streets of DC it was just so moving. I was just like, so happy to be there and, and fighting for this thing that I’ve cared about since I was eight years old. So I think you know, you have to give yourself space to feel the climate crisis every once in a while, but aside from that, I mean You just gotta focus on what you can, what you can do and just keep working. And I will also say that a huge for me has just been writing, you know, I, you know that I love writing and especially writing fiction, and I get up every single day before work to write, and it’s just one thing that really helps get me through just being able. I think that’s, that’s the time of day where I give myself space to process. Um, and it’s in a way that I can like, sort of control.

Charlie Olsen  20:33  

You are leaving to spend a year off writing a novel, I believe? Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Denise Robbins  20:45  

Yeah, I would love to. I’m so excited. Not Not till you see can but to spend this year writing. Um, yeah, I’ve been planning to do this for a really long time, several years now. Sort of as an alternative to grad school. I was thinking about doing an MFA program. So now I’m just doing my own kind of MFA program, I have this huge list of things I want to read and things I want to write. I have a mentor who’s going to give me assignments, I’m going to be taking lots of workshops and classes. But yeah, I actually have already drafted a novel. And I’m, it’s currently in the email inbox of an agent who said that he would look at it, but Fingers crossed, but that’s, you know, we’ll see what happens there. But I just have so many other things I want to write. I have all these short stories and new novel ideas. And it’s really, I’ve actually found in the past couple of years that what I really love writing about fiction is climate change. I love writing about the solutions to one, you know, short story collection thing that I’m working on, of just all these different options there are and all these different, like really cool technologies and, and just how people like to react to that. And like their complications, there’s just so much material and art available, and when you get deep into the climate change world. And it’s another way for me to keep hope in, in my life. 

Charlie Olsen  22:29  

that’s super interesting. I’ve never met anybody who’s written fit who’s like written climate fiction. And I think that that is like a super, like, needed area of art. And I’m super excited to read whatever you produce. Is there a specific climate story that you’re interested in telling? I know, you mentioned, you like writing about solutions.

Denise Robbins  22:57  

There’s one story that I find, like, so amazing. It’s this pair of Russian scientists who are working to re-engineer mammoths to basically turn elephants like give them more fur so that they can survive cold weather, and reintroduce them to the tundra to try to recreate Ice Age conditions. And they’re doing this so that the elephants can tamp down the earth and help keep the permafrost from melting. And so there’s this whole ecosystem, they’re trying to recreate and bringing amis to help recreate it to help, you know, prevent one of the most devastating feedback loops of global warming. And I just found that story so freaking cool. And like magical. That Yeah, I did. I wrote a short story inspired by that. And it just sort of like dials the magic up to 11. But that’s just you know, one, one example.

Charlie Olsen  23:57  

That is really cool. That is like, really crazy. Could you tell me some of the one of the weirdest things you learned while at sea? Can the strangest, wackiest experience or thing that you have come into contact with?

Denise Robbins  24:14  

Yeah, I think all of the weirdest stories are just about how weird politics can be. And I can’t even imagine what it’s like on a federal level. But on the state level, I mean, there are just some serious high jinks. My favorite is when we were supporting the clean energy jobs act in Maryland. And there was this vote, this committee wanted to vote to destroy it, or what’s the word to make sure that it wouldn’t get voted on at all that year. And the saving vote that blocked this vote that would have taken it down was a republican named Rick and polyuria. And so he voted in favor of the clean energy jobs act essentially. And he did that because of the offshore wind provision, which would result in more offshore wind turbines outside Ocean City. And one time he got a DUI in Ocean City for driving drunk. And he’s like, had a big beef about that. So he just like, voted for this bill to stick it to Ocean City.

Charlie Olsen  25:25  

That’s so petty!

Denise Robbins  25:25  

 It’s so funny. It’s obviously not the best part of politics or anything. But is it was so funny,

Charlie Olsen  25:32  

I loved it. If you could go back in time, until 2015. Denise, anything, what would you tell her?

Denise Robbins  25:40  

I think, yeah, just don’t stress out. Just enjoy it. It was, um, I would say, Denise, you’re going to learn more than you can ever imagine. And then I would probably turn into a unicorn and like, jump off into a cloud or something. Because we’re talking about the theoretical here.

Charlie Olsen  26:08  

That’s an interesting take on it. 

Denise Robbins  26:16  

You’re messing with like, I can time travel then like, what else can I do? I can become a unicorn. 

Charlie Olsen  26:22  

I was thinking it’s more like back then depending on your time travel mechanism. Is it like Back to the Future? Or is it Doctor Who time travel? Like, can you interact with your past self?

Denise Robbins  26:34  

I think Well, yeah. Well, then I would go even further back, obviously and kill Hitler. Good, because who wouldn’t do that?

Charlie Olsen  26:41  

Okay, that’s Yeah, true. I would have a hitlist Hitler would be on there. But like John D. Rockefeller, be pretty up there.

Charlie Olsen  27:01  

Speaking of time travel, could you tell me who your hero is? Who do you look up to in the past and present, future even?

Denise Robbins  27:11  

Yeah, I think right now, um, I don’t really know if I have heroes per se. But somebody who I really admire right now is a podcast host actually, named David naman. Um, he runs this podcast called between the covers, and he brings in authors to talk about their books and just like asks these really amazing, insightful questions. And I actually listened to an interview with him in Jennie to feel about this book about climate change. And it was like, such a beautiful interview, and I don’t know something about how he will bring in politics into like this literary space and have that be the norm. I really admire that. And, you know, I kind of am nervous about going into a writing world and feeling disconnected from the present day reality by I think he can show you how all of these politics and art really aren’t disconnected at all, and bringing them together. So I think that’s really cool. I will also say that Bill McKibben is a big, big hero of inspiration of mine, ever since college ever since he convinced me to go to DC and get arrested for the Keystone XL pipeline. And also, he’s just an amazing writer, like he is a beautiful writer, and has done amazing work. And that’s very inspiring.

Charlie Olsen  28:42  

Being a communications director is a big role. I’m not sure how big from what I’ve seen of your work, it seems like you’re all over the place working on it. Do you have any tips and tricks for managing at all?

Denise Robbins  28:59  

Oh, really, really, really good to do list? Honestly, that’s like, pretty much the only thing. Paper digital, digital, Oh, God, not paper. Now you have to be able to cut and paste and x things out. And yeah, I definitely learned so much about, you know, strategic time management and planning and all of that. And, and there are lots of spreadsheets that we have for references. We have so many planning documents. But at the end of the day, like all I have is just this one like digital to do list and that’s what gets me through. If I need to do something, and I don’t write it down, it’s not going to get done. So always write things down.

Charlie Olsen  29:50  

I have learned that the hard way over time, I’ve learned that the hard way. That is a good tip. Final question: you’re going to take You’re off, you’re going to be writing, putting together your own MFA program. What’s next for you in this is you’re turning the page on this chapter of your life and going into the next key. Tell me a little bit about what the future looks like.

Denise Robbins  30:15  

Not quite sure if I think part of it depends on how this next year goes. Um, I’ve honestly never really planned more than a couple of years ahead. I’ve always just realized what is the next best step? What’s the next right step?

Charlie Olsen  30:33  

Thank you so much. Thank you for all of your contribution sissy can and to the climate movement and everything. We wish you the best of luck.

Denise Robbins  30:44  

Thank you and I to you as well. I’m definitely excited about the crew that’s there right now. And we have a lot of a lot of good things coming and I’m really glad to have been a part of it.

Welcoming our new Federal & Maryland Policy Director

Welcome to CCAN, Jamie DeMarco!

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Federal & Maryland Policy Director Jamie DeMarco to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to him! Jamie joined the team as our new Federal & Maryland Policy director and will be leading us to future legislative victories on Capitol Hill and in Annapolis.

A Baltimore native, Jamie has spent the past few years cultivating massive wins in the environmental advocacy space, we are lucky to have him joining the team and joining us today.

We sat down with Jamie to chat with him about his journey in climate activism and his road to CCAN, his role in the climate movement, and what he sees as his most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:

Follow along with the transcript below: 

Charles Olsen  0:00  

Jamie DeMarco recently joined CCAN as our new federal and state policy director and will be leading us to further legislative victories in the state of Maryland, as well as expand our legislative agenda on Capitol Hill, a Baltimore native Jamie has spent the past few years cultivating massive wins in the environmental advocacy space, we are lucky to have him joining the team and joining us today. Jamie, you’ve been working in climate policy and activism for some time now. Can you tell me about the first time you organize people? Were you drawn to this work as a kid, did this come naturally to you?

Jamie DeMarco  0:30  

Thanks so much for asking. And thanks for interviewing me, I really appreciate it. I mean, I think it’s so fun that you want to hear from me, and I’m really glad to be in this role at CCAN. But the first time I really started organizing people was early college before that, I had been channeling all of my energy just into my own life, trying to reduce my own impact on the climate crisis and all the other crises that we see. And I was really just trying not to be part of the problem. So I wouldn’t even actually write in cars. Like I spent two and a half years where I wouldn’t get in a car, even if it was already going somewhere. I need very few exceptions like Thanksgiving. But other than that, I would never do it. And it drove everyone around me up the wall. And it was really hard. And I lost a lot of connections and opportunities. That way. It’s kinda It was kind of like being in self quarantine, except I was the only one doing it. And nobody was sympathetic for two and a half years, but I sort of ended that when I started organizing with the beyond coal campaign in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was just an intern, doing work, you know, getting small businesses to try to sign on to say that they would support closing this coal plant and administrative tasks like entering in ballot or signature resolution data into databases. But I was so balanced, the people who were moving and shaking and like, if you just imagine this coal plant, I remember seeing it and it was like the biggest machine standalone machine I’ve ever seen. And we would just have these weekly meetings. If it’s random office building work, our plan was to like, make it stop operating. And the idea that we could do that just seems so ludicrous to me, especially because this is one of the coal plants that was at the time. It made financial sense, like it was relatively newer, and was not no one was talking about retiring, except for us. But through a long, intelligent campaign, they got that coal plant closed, and it’s today doesn’t operate, because of the people who would have those weekly organizing meetings that I was a part of. And I was so struck, how if all of those people had just tried to reduce their own footprint, rather than trying to close that coal plant, then that coal plant might still be operating today. And that was just so eye opening for me about what we can accomplish with our efforts if we put it in the right direction. And that is when I made the choice, that I wasn’t going to make my goal to not be part of the problem. I am going to make my goals be part of the solution, and then end up getting back in the car to become a more effective climate advocate. And I’ve been going at it ever since.

Charles Olsen  3:27  

Amazing. Thank you. You talked about your experience working on getting the Asheville coal plant shut down. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the main things that you’ve learned from that experience that you use in your organizing work now,

Jamie DeMarco  3:43  

At the time for that campaign, I was interning for Anna Jane Joiner, who is a major mover and shaker in the climate space. She is the daughter of an evangelical pastor who you know is very conservative, and actually stopped paying her college tuition when she was in college because he didn’t support the climate change ideas that her professors were putting in her head allegedly. And so she has been a sort of public figure about climate change. And one of the things that she told me as we were riding around Asheville in her car is that it’s not just about the numbers a lot of my training has sort of been like get the numbers get like this many petition signed phone died down get this many people to show up one on one conversation with those people to get this many people to be champions and it’s sort of like a almost like a for a good cause pyramid scheme. And Anna Jane Jr. would always call me like Jamie It is about connecting with people in a deep, profound way in the culture and worldview that they connect with and connecting to that and connecting that to the issues that we’re working on and Have people care about these things, more than a ballot, more than a sort of box to be checked more than a party that they’re affiliated with, but in their core sense of self, and the things that they care about? And that’s something I’ve never forgotten and always hold on.

Charles Olsen  5:22  

That’s super inspiring. You’ve talked about your faith in the past and how it’s important to you. How does your faith influence your work today in organizing and in the climate movement?

Jamie DeMarco  5:32  

Yeah, that is a great question. And my faith is important to me, and especially my faith community, like I grew up as a Quaker. And the sort of Quaker youth program that I was a part of was super formative, and Quaker camps that I went to. And I’m not like, like expanding, I don’t think of myself as a very religious person. Like, it’s kind of funny to think of myself as like this church geek, or some of these huge church programs. But that is what it is. And the faith, like the community is important just because it is a community and like it is the people who I would have would have been the constant threat to my life, and who I hold on to for stability and emotional support. And that in and of itself is important. But the faith itself that I hold most dear is that Quakers believe there is that of God in every person. Like there’s literally that of God, and every person. And I think that that plays into our work, because it sort of disqualifies any solution that would sacrifice people and like, disqualifies any solutions that would say like, this is a good solution moving forward. But like this group of people, is just not going to get the benefits of this group of people is going to be left behind. Because they, like every single person has gotten them and like you can’t throw God under the bus. And like every single person has this inherent dignity that you can’t trample on. And that’s sort of like the number one rule of the road, and then everything that you do has to follow from working backwards from that truth. That’s a beautiful thing about that a lot.

Charles Olsen  7:20  

That’s beautiful. While you were talking about the importance and the significance of every person, it brought to my mind the issues that we see today about incorporating justice into climate solutions. How do you believe that your religious beliefs and your climate goals overlap with the environmental justice issues of our time?

Jamie DeMarco  7:43  

Yeah, I think they overlap a lot. I mean, I first just need to say that I come from a lot of privilege and come from a place of sort of great security, like I at the end of the day can work on these issues, and then come home, to a place that is like a park near the backyard. And I don’t sort of fear for my loss of ability to breathe clean air, and sort of know that if anyone ever tried to harm the community I live in with a project like it would just be so unthinkable that it couldn’t happen because of the wealth and the whiteness that surrounds this community that I live in, in College Park.

So acknowledging that

I did grow up in Baltimore, and Mike had a lot of friends who had asthma who grew up like in the shadow of the incinerator, and I never made those connections as a child. It’s just like, oh, like all those friends of mine have asthma, I guess they can’t run in gym class, as much. But a lot has become more clear to me as a grown up and sort of brickcom started doing this work professionally and listening to people. And I think the most important thing is if someone has experienced oppression that you have not experienced, the most that you can say to that person, in that moment is like I believe you. Like I cannot fully understand what you have experienced. But I’m not going to challenge it or argue with it once right, I get like I believe you. And I take you at your word that like this is what’s happening. And this is what we need to do. And I think that humility is important and isn’t alarmed by faith.

Charles Olsen  9:32  

Thank you. Shifting gears a little bit. You’ve kind of already told us about your experiences of getting into environmentalism and the climate movement. Can you just take me through the steps that you took to get from what you have described as your hunky dory life in Baltimore, to working for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and joining the climate fight?

Jamie DeMarco  9:53  

Yeah, I mean, that’s the precipitating event. Like some of the greatest precipitation events that one has in life came from my girlfriend in high school, who really told me Jamie, like, Listen, the life you’ve been living comes at the cost of people in places all over the world. And up until that point, I had just been like, waking up as a kid living my life and like the things I thought about were like, how I was gonna have fun, like, how I was gonna like go do theater and then back home and then do the cross country team and then hang out with my friends, like there was just wasn’t a part of me that was thinking about my responsibility to account for the like, impact that my life has, and just more generally, to be accountable to the greater good. I mean, obviously, I cared about the greater good, but it wasn’t the thing that I thought about in my life. And then I had this transition period where I felt like I really couldn’t be happy because I was causing harm with my life. And I’d been taught that, like, if you’re causing harm, you’re a bad person, and like, I want to be a bad person. But I also wanted to live my life. And I just felt so confused. And I think what has emerged from that, is this just sort of underlying drive to do the most that I can with this, like, short, precious lights that we have?

And I mean,

I don’t know if you’re like asking about the resume, or like my career path more.

Charles Olsen  11:27  

Yeah. So could you take us through from working on fighting to shut down a coal plant? What professionally have you done to cause less harm? And to kind of go with that feeling that you just mentioned, to bring you on your path here to see can?

Jamie DeMarco  11:46  

Yeah, so I’ve been going as hard as I know how on the climate fight for a long time, you know, in college, I helped found our fossil fuel divestment campaign at our college, which was successful when I was in college divested from fossil fuels, we were one of the first and that was huge. I helped organize a lot of my peers, to get arrested at the Keystone to get rested at the lighthouse protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, I organized a vein of like a whole bunch of people to the Climate March in New York City. After college, I got a job working at the friends committee on national legislation, which is a great organization, and I was actually working on nuclear disarmament. And it was really fun to just work on a different issue for a whole year and learn a lot about the differences between different issues and see the climate issue from the outside. And, and after that, I helped found the Maryland clean energy jobs initiative, which was, of course, Maryland based. And it was a nonprofit that we created exclusively to pass this one bill, the Maryland clean energy jobs act to achieve 50% renewable electricity in Maryland, by 2030. And we created a two and a half year six step plan to get that bill enacted. And then we followed it and hit every benchmark and got that bill enacted. And from there, I moved on to working at the citizens climate lobby, where I’ve been for two and a half years, which, you know, advocates mostly at the national level for carbon fee and dividend pay bipartisan solutions. But I was mostly working at the state level. So my job was to help citizens’ climate lobby volunteers get plugged in the state level advocacy campaigns, to produce submissions. And we work in New York, in Oregon, DC and Maryland, all over the country on a lot of really exciting and successful campaigns. And then from there, I came to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network where I got my first professional experience. And so it feels like coming home.

Charles Olsen  13:59  

Your dad, Vincent DeMarco was hailed as one of the greatest lobbyists to come out of the Maryland State House. How does his legacy shape the work that you do?

Jamie DeMarco  14:08  

I am really lucky, I’m really privileged to have my dad be who he is. I, you know, grew up in a home where he was coming home every night and saying like, no, this is good. We’re working in Annapolis. And this is the headache we’re running into. And my mom also is an incredible advocate. And you know, she’s been working in Annapolis for years on a number of different issues. And, you know, sometimes like that would be the subject of family dinners like which legislators were doing what and how we were going to get around it. And so that was sort of like the water I was spinning in growing up. But I do think that there’s a certain amount to which you can’t see what your parents do as a thing that really could be applying to your life like it’s almost just too much like the default. And I do think that I had To go to Asheville and find advocacy on my own, in a different way, in order to feel like I had ownership of it, and I was like really choosing my path in my own way, so you know, you sort of have to leave home to find home. The home was always there waiting for me, but I just had to go find it somewhere else.

Charles Olsen  15:24  

Shifting gears again, what do you think the biggest challenge is that you face while working in climate activism?

Jamie DeMarco  15:30  

We’re doing something really hard. We have to change the hearts and minds of so many people about the way we live and the way we think about each other. And on top of that, we have to like, physically change the entire infrastructure of our world. Like in Montgomery county and Prince George’s County, they’ve been working on the purple line for like 15 years, and you know, it’s facing further delays, it may be another like, five years before it’s done. And that’s to build like one rail system. And in the coming decades, we need to literally overhaul our entire energy system. Like in the fight for marriage equality, we had to change a lot of hearts and minds. And once those hearts and minds were changed, we achieved marriage equality, and like now it is now the law of the land. In the climate fight, we have to change a lot of hearts and minds about how we live our lives and how we use our energy. And then once we’ve done that, we need to go into every home in America and retrofit it to electrify it. So there’s just a huge infrastructure challenge. No, nothing like this has ever been done at a global scale. And I think that’s part of again, where faith comes in. Because secularly looking at it, it’s really easy to become hopeless. And I think you need some sort of illogical belief that what we are doing is worthy and has a chance of success. And, and that’s what keeps me going a lot of the time.

Charles Olsen  17:09  

So often, we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, you know, one policy at a time getting each thing done. Can you describe for me the world that you are fighting to achieve? For me personally, I fight for the possibility that my future kids, when they exist, will have a better world than the world that I grew up in. Can you paint me the picture of the world that you want?

Jamie DeMarco  17:35  

Yeah, that is a great question. And I first just want to answer by saying that I encourage everyone to check out Naomi Klein’s collaboration with the intercept, creating short videos describing the better world that we’re trying to make, because I think they do a better job of that creative visioning of how the world could be better than anything else that I’ve seen. But in broad strokes, like we’re envisioning a world, where like, every single person has inherent worth and dignity. And that is not just an idea, but a sort of guiding policy principle. So that we don’t have anyone who’s struggling to find food, but like certain things are just daring to, they don’t have anyone who’s been put out on the street in the cold against their will. Like we just people often say, and I think it’s really true that like if we really, if we didn’t have embedded racism, if we didn’t have the belief that certain people are expendable, then we never would have been in the climate crisis, because we never could have built the fossil fuel infrastructure infrastructure to get us here, without sacrifice zones. So this gets back to what we were talking about earlier, that part of the world we seek is just one that values human dignity and each person more because if we can achieve that world will not only solve the climate crisis, but we’ll make a better world. And I just like to have all these visions of worlds where energy is nearly free and bountiful. And food is nearly free and bountiful. And like people instead of worrying about what menial tasks they’ll do in order to scrape by in the living like, know that for the rest of their lives. They’ll have housing, food and health care guaranteed. And that they can pursue what creative pursuit they want to follow. Like, I would love to be a creative nonfiction writer, like I’m not good enough to make money at it, and I’m doing this other climate thing. So there’s like all these reasons in this world that could never work like in the world that I’m dreaming of. We don’t have systemic problems that we have to give our lives to to solve. And we all are free to pursue whatever we want creatively whether or not it’s going to make money. So that is a little pie in the sky, but In the world that I dream about, and I do fall asleep dreaming about it pretty often. 

Charles Olsen  20:04  

What do you want to achieve at CCAN? What are your main goals while working in your position?

Jamie DeMarco  20:13  

So as we’re talking, it’s October of 2020. And I really, really think that in the next seven months, we are going to pass the Clean Air Act of our time. Like I just like every fiber in my being is telling me but like, we can do this, you know, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, I can say this, because we have actually endorsed Joe Biden, and some Senate, Democratic Senate candidates, checks the Climate Action Network Action Fund, I should say, has endorsed those candidates. And I think we’re going to have a democratic sweep of the White House in the Senate. And then we are going to pass like the biggest, boldest, fattest climate legislation that anybody could ever have imagined. And it’s going to be a total before and after, for the movement.

And for our missions, and for her world.

And in these next seven months, where all that is going to happen, I just want to test the Climate Action Network and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund, to do all that we can to be useful, you know, we are a lean, mean, scrappy, local organization that has a history of punching above our way and like getting things done. And I want us to be as innovative, creative and effective as we can possibly be to make a difference in this national fight, because it’s going to be a national fight, it’s going to be a clash of Titans, there’s going to be players much bigger than us. But we are going to contribute all that we can. And the main thing that I want is for us to be useful. And for us to contribute something and make the bill better help the bill pass in some way. And on top of that, bring home the bacon for Maryland, which is the policy area that I’m in charge of additional federal work and Virginia where Kim is responsible. So bring home the bacon from Congress to Maryland and Virginia, and then help Maryland and Virginia build on national legislative success to pass what everyone used to think was impossible.

Charles Olsen  22:24  

If you could enact any one policy right now, what would it be? And why?

Jamie DeMarco  22:28  

For some reason, I’m really drawn to this policy of carbon, zero carbon electricity generation by 2035, with $2 trillion, to electrify everything, give a just transition for workers, and fund environmental justice, historical discrimination communities, and current discrimination communities. And that, of course, is the Biden climate plan, which I think it’s just jaw dropping, that he has endorsed and is advocating for and talks about it in the debate that he supports, eliminating all carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035. And then investing $2 trillion for justice, just transition and electrifying of everything. And that, like it was less than four years ago that Bernie Sanders was introducing a bill to achieve zero carbon electricity by 2050. So how far we have come since then, I just jaw dropping to me. And that’s the policy, I wouldn’t act. And that’s the policy I want to help get enacted.

Charles Olsen  23:39  

Before I let you go. I have to ask, Is there anything you would want to tell others, all of the young folk who are thinking of getting into activism or climate work, any advice that you would have for them just joining on?

Jamie DeMarco  23:53  

if you are a young person who’s interested in making a difference on climate, like there is no one who can make a bigger difference than you can. All the power that goes to Congress, all the power that goes into these national fights comes from the grassroots sort of lobbyists and super power lobbyists and grass tops, figureheads, like, they have no power without the field work of people on the ground. And I think at heart, I’m always going to be sort of like a field grassroots organizer because they just have such a romantic idealization and draw to like the person who is going out and like talking to one person and then talking to another person and making 10 phone calls but no one picks up and then having that one more phone call with it, get someone to take an action and building public weal that way. I think that’s where it all comes from. And you should sign up for just the Climate Action Network, find out how to get involved, and we’ll get you involved, and we’re going to make a better future together.

Charles Olsen  24:58  

Jamie, thank you so much for joining me, thank you so much for telling us your story. I really appreciate it.

Jamie DeMarco  25:04  

Thanks so much for interviewing me. This was really fun.

Welcoming our new Virginia Director

Welcome to CCAN, Kim Jemaine!

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Virginia Director Kim Jemaine to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to her! Kim joined the team as our new Virginia director and will be leading us to future legislative victories in the commonwealth of Virginia. 

Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Kim has called the Commonwealth of Virginia her home for the past 20 years. She obtained both of her degrees and Virginia, a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington, and a master’s in government with a concentration in law and public policy from Regent University. A lifelong advocate for democracy and environmental action, Kim  has brought her unique perspective to CCAN to fight for climate action in Virginia

We sat down with Kim to chat with her about her journey from Pretoria, South Africa to CCAN, her role in the climate movement, and what she sees as her most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:

Follow along with the transcript below: 

Charles Olsen  0:00  

Kim Jemaine recently joined CCAN as our new Virginia policy director and will be leading us to further legislative victories in the state of Virginia. Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Kim has called the Commonwealth of Virginia her home for the past 20 years. She obtained both of her degrees and Virginia, a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington, and a master’s in government with a concentration in law and public policy from Regent University. Kim, you’ve been working in climate policy and activism for some time now. Can you tell me about the first time you organize people? Was it something you were drawn to as a kid? How did you get into it?

Kim Jemaine  0:35  

Yeah, totally. So I would say that my initial interest in politics, working with people organizing didn’t come until a little later in life. When I was younger, I was really drawn to creative work. So I thought I wanted to be a choreographer or an artist. And I think that transition really happened in high school. For me, I was just involved in classes and conversations, and I really enjoyed learning about history government. And I think that’s where my interest kind of whispered, I think I also had the benefit of kind of coming into my own at the time when the Obama election was occurring in 2008. So it wasn’t necessarily the election itself. But I think just kind of the press coverage around that news coverage of the election and what was occurring in just the historic nature of the way he ran his campaign. So that really spurred an interest in politics for me. And then I went off to college the year after that. So I knew when I got to university that I wanted to do political work, I initially thought I wanted to do international affairs, and be a political correspondent outside of the country. But that work is hard to come by. And so when I graduated college, I just kind of found my way into electoral campaigns. And I really realized that there was this whole world behind campaigns and behind what you see on TV that kind of revolved around organizing people, getting them involved, mobilizing them, and helping them find a space in the electoral system. And I kind of just stuck within that work after I found that,

Charles Olsen  2:22  

yeah, I also was brought into politics and grew up in the age of Trump in the 2016 election is what activated me to become politically aware. So I completely understand having that monumental thing hanging over you.

Kim Jemaine  2:37  

Yeah, it can be a benefit. And it can be a little bit of a curse as well. So

Charles Olsen  2:42  

Exactly, yeah. Can you you’re originally from South Africa, can you tell me about any experience that you may have had growing up there that has influenced the way that you work and you organize today?

Kim Jemaine  2:54  

Yeah. So I would say I was actually pretty young when I moved away from South Africa. And I have kind of memories of apartheid ending, and really, people being engaged within the democratic system for the first time. But I think what really drew me to the work that I do is actually the absence. And because I moved to America, when I was around 10. And my family, my mother was pretty neat, was obviously new to the political system here and to voting into being engaged, civically engaged. And so I think a real benefit to me was that I didn’t like, unlike most American children, I didn’t have a kind of back priming, or that framing or that kind of family context that informs other people’s political views. And so I really gotta kind of develop my political views on my own, decide what my political values were in the work that I wanted to do on my own. And I think that really informed my politics and my way of thinking around the political system, the role of government, and the work we can do in state politics in federal politics. I think that absence of outside influences really allowed me to think through all of those aspects of government and what government should do for people on my own and develop that framework.

Charles Olsen  4:24  

That’s super interesting. You’ve gone into your experiences a little bit, getting politically active in following the 2008 election of Obama. Can you just real quick, run us through your resume, your professional experiences, what took you from growing up to going to school? How did you get here to see again,

Kim Jemaine  4:46  

When I moved to America, like I said, I had this kind of new start where I was able to form my own political views. And I really think that, like I said, I got involved with politics within both volunteering and with electoral campaigns through high school, and then in college, when I graduated college, I stumbled my way into the gubernatorial race in 2013. I really didn’t know much about electoral work, I was looking for internships, and I knew that I cared about politics, I knew that I cared about progressive causes. So I was just looking, hoping to find a place to do that work. And then like I said, I found my way, my way to this kind of world behind campaigns. And that was focused on mobilizing people, getting them involved in grassroots causes and getting them activated around things in issue areas that you cared about. And I did electoral issue advocacy work for a few years. And then I really realized that although I really enjoyed that work and was passionate about it, it is seasonal work, so it kind of takes a toll on your life. And I think the big thing for me was, I really wanted to find a way to get engaged with folks in a sustainable way. campaigns generally come in for a short period of time, you work with volunteers and other advocates for about six months, and then you disappear. And I didn’t want to continue to work in that context. So I decided to make that transition around then. The other thing for me was just working on elections, allows you a little bit of input, but I really wanted to do the work behind the scenes to inform policy to really find areas where people were suffering or where intersections were, were impacting people and find a way to help be so be part of the solution there. And I made a pretty deliberate choice to kind of pivot from electoral work to more policy related work public policy. And that’s what informed the decision to go back to school, I look pretty deliberately for Law and Policy programs within the state. And I got fortunate enough to about halfway through my master’s program to be offered a position with Virginia LCB, where I started as the public policy and communications associate, they really took a chance on me, they knew what my my way forward was, what I wanted my way for it to look like. But I didn’t have any experience in public policy and lobbying. At that time I had my electrical background, I had passion. But I really didn’t have that experience. So they really gave me that opportunity to grow, build my resume, and to just get to know the system here in Virginia get to see what it feels like to lobby and get to get my toe my feet in the water when it comes to environmental issues and climate change issues. And then with that experience under my belt, I came to CCAN.  

Charles Olsen  8:04  

What do you think your biggest challenge is that you face while working in climate activism? Do you find most of these challenges to be internal ones emotional? Or do you find them to be external from the work?

Kim Jemaine  8:17  

Yeah, so I think it’s a little bit of both. And I think they kind of intersect, I think part of it is just being a woman of color in this work can be difficult. And I think that kind of internal struggle comes from just being in a place where I don’t see a lot of people that look like you and often your tack to kind of be that voice. And that can be difficult, and it can make you question yourself. And obviously, imposter syndrome is real. And it is definitely a thing that happens within this work a lot. Because there’s a big weight on your shoulders. But then there’s also a moment of questioning whether you are the correct voice for that. I think that’s especially true for me, because I am an immigrant. I’m a fair woman of color. And so it can be a lot of internal struggle about whether or not I’m the right voice for certain fights. Despite the fact that people are looking to me, so that can be a struggle sometimes. And then I think the big thing is just I think the environmental community in Virginia often does great work in terms of their priorities and making sure that environmental justice is at the forefront of our work. But I think a lot of that work needs to be informed by frontline communities. And I think although we can tap those communities when we’re organizing and doing our grassroots work, grassroots work, we also need to make sure that folks are represented in our organizations and They have a real seat at the table. And so I think that struggle is one that I, I have a hard time with. And I think we we really need to do a good job and deliberate work to make sure that we’re addressing that moving for

Charles Olsen  10:18  

often we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, one policy at a time. Can you describe to me the world that you’re fighting to achieve? For me, I fight for the possibility that my future kids I don’t have any today will have a better world than the world that I grew up in? Can you paint me a picture of the world that you want to create?

Kim Jemaine  10:39  

Yeah, definitely. So I do have a daughter. And I think just on a surface level, I want to make sure that there’s a sustainable and livable climate for her and her peers. But I think the big thing for me is that I’ve started thinking a lot in the last few years about how we often talk about these junctures of injustice as intersections. And the reality is that they’re not just points meeting on a map, they do intersect, but they also layer and they layer away in a way that really puts an undue burden on certain people. So those people are facing injustice, when it comes to wages they are facing injustices when it comes to access to jobs. They’re facing struggles when it comes to access to transportation, to the burdens of climate change, and environmental degradation. And those things aren’t just points that meet on a map, they’re things that just layer and layer to hold down certain segments of the population. And I’m not under the assumption that I’m going to be the person that addresses all of those issues. But I think, for me, I really want to be a part of lifting at least one or two of those layers and a part of that work. So we can really, like take some of that burden off the shoulders of certain segments of the population and do it in a way that doesn’t put the responsibility on them, but puts the responsibility on the system and the government in the structure that we’ve created that have placed that undue burden on them. So a few I am not under the assumption that it’s going to happen overnight. But I want to be part of this work to address those injustices.

Charles Olsen  12:26  

That’s super interesting. And that kind of brings me to one of my other questions. I grew up in a low income family in a redlined neighborhood on Long Island that was located with a landfill, just a few blocks away. And for so many years, the climate story, neglected environmental justice. And it’s been seen as something that sometimes, like you said, intersects every once in a while, but isn’t something that’s over layered. How has justice and as a black woman in America shaped your experience in the climate fight? And how do you think it’s going to shape the future of policy in the next big wave of environmental policies?

Kim Jemaine  13:07  

Yeah, I think I touched on that a little bit already. But I really do think that certain segments of the population just are getting burdened with low wages, income, inequality, the impacts of climate change on a day to day basis. And I really think the work needs to be deliberate, we need to take a good look at how the policies were enacted and the legislation that we’re enacting perpetuates that and how we can make sure that we’re working to counteract those injustices. I and I spoke briefly with our executive director, Mike about this when I first got hired, is that the reality is that the moment that we’re in when it comes to climate change right now, and with the Coronavirus, has really shown us how those those areas intersect and the impacts that they have on certain communities. And I think it has also shown us that we can’t really draw distinctions between injustice anymore. I think the work that we’re going to do in the climate arena is going to have to be informed by environmental justice and justice as a whole. Because I think for so long, we’ve kind of dipped our toes in the water in terms of environmental justice, every now and then. And I think moving forward when, when people’s lives are going to be impacted by climate change by poor air quality by rising sea level. I don’t think we’re going to be able to draw those distinctions anymore, and I think our work is really going to have to be led and framed by frontline communities. They’re going to have to have a seat at the table, table and we’re really going To make sure that their voices are centered, because I don’t think we’re going to be able to draw, like, delineate our work moving forward. And that’s a future I’m hopeful about. It’s something that I think we should embrace and really make sure that we hop on that train before it’s imperative and, and get ahead of the ball.

Charles Olsen  15:21  

Well said, Well said, Now, on a less serious note, who is one person in human history, people would be surprised that you admire.

Kim Jemaine  15:33  

So I don’t think it’s super surprising if you know me, but I think it is a little unexpected. And I think I would say Mary, Mary Oliver. She’s a poet, and she did some really great work, just writing about nature and our place in the world and kind of reverence for the world around us. And it’s something that really has centered me not just in my personal life, but in the work that we do. Just recognizing that we are this small speck on this in this world, and that we really should show appreciation and reference for the world around us and steward our natural resources more wisely So I would say Mary Oliver.

Charles Olsen  16:21  

How do you deal with the stress of climate change activism? I know just from my experience, and from talking to other people in the field, that this is a high stakes, high reward area, what do you do? Do you hike yoga? How do you get out of it?

Kim Jemaine  16:39  

So I think for me, that’s a good question. For me, I am a people person, I like chatting with people. I like getting to know people, I really thrive on relationships. So I tried to make sure that I have great people around me and invest in those relationships. I also in this work, have just found great allies, one of whom is Harrison, who had this role before me. And I think that that has really centered me in those times where like I mentioned earlier, imposter syndrome takes over, or I question my, my role within this space, relying on those relationships has really helped me. And then yes, I love hiking. Like I said, with Mary Oliver. And with everything about revering nature, it really does center me, it kind of brings me back to myself. And I like doing that with my friends by myself with my daughter. And it just helps me appreciate the world around me, it helps me stay calm. And it just makes you feel small, but also reminds you of the kind of responsibility you have to protect the world around you. So definitely hiking for Virginia is a beautiful place to live. And every time I go hiking, it reminds me of that. So that’s the short answer.

Charles Olsen  18:00  

I’m originally from New York. So I am quite biased in my love for Adirondacks hiking. But that’s a debate for another time. What do you want to achieve at CCAN?

Kim Jemaine  18:14  

Yeah, so I think I touched on this briefly in a few of my other answers. But I think for me, I just really want to make sure that C can, is deliberate in really thoughtful about the work we’re doing to ensure that environmental justice is centered as we combat the climate change climate crisis. I think, like I said, we’re not going to be able to avoid that work moving forward. The environmental community really needs to make sure that we’re centering those voices. And I think the big thing that drives me is, like I said earlier, I just want to do a small, be a small part of this solution to ensuring that certain communities have at least one area of burden or one, one layer of injustice lifted off their shoulders, whether it be in terms of where dumps are located or where environmental or where energy projects are situated, or whether it it is them being impacted by increased hurricanes, increased recurrent flooding, sea level rise, I just want to make sure that we’re taking a real look at who’s bearing the burden of those events, and doing the work on a policy and legislative front to make sure that we’re protecting those communities. And really ensuring that where we’re lifting some of their burden for their shoulder. So I want to lead my team to really be deliberate about answering those questions and being reflected reflective of how the work we do can further those goals? If you could enact any one policy right now?

Charles Olsen  20:05  

What would it be? You could do anything from a national fracking ban to a required Meatless Monday for all citizens? What would you do?

Kim Jemaine  20:13  

So I actually have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I went on a hike yesterday and thought about it, I think I would probably enact some kind of conservation land conservation policy. We did this when we enacted the land Water Conservation Fund. And I think it’s really something that we should be prioritizing moving forward, I think we really need to be good stewards of our land, and make sure that certain areas are protected. And that development doesn’t strip us away of all these beautiful places that used to be in the majority, and that we’re just kind of dwindling. And so I think I would really enact some kind of policy to ensure that our public spaces are protected, and that our public, our national parks are actually broadened. So certain certain areas are just protected from development, or projects or being exploited otherwise. So I think that would be long and short of it. And it might be informed by my love of hiking and being out in nature. But I think that would be it for me.

Charles Olsen  21:26  

Great, great answer. I have a public lands background. I interned at the Wilderness Society last summer. So for me, public lands, conservation and public lands policy is like, that’s it like, that’s the creme de la crop?

Kim Jemaine  21:43  

Yeah, absolutely. I, one of my big research areas that I worked on in grad school focused on public land conservation and the land Water Conservation Fund. And I just, I think it was a real testament to what we can do when we prioritize nature and the world around us in our public policy and within government. And I think if we got back to that, we’d be much better for it.

Charles Olsen  22:14  

Before we go. I have one last question for you. Is there anything you would want to tell others who are interested in this line of work? Any advice for the young folks who are just getting into college or coming out of college and jumping into the field? What would you say to them,

Kim Jemaine  22:32  

I think I would say that there’s a whole world kind of behind what you see on TV and behind what’s represented through our federal system. There’s a world where you can get involved in electoral campaigns, issue advocacy campaigns, where you can be part of driving policy lobbying, and advocating for certain legislative fixes. And it doesn’t have to be in the environmental sector. There are other progressive sectors and areas where there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in areas that you’re passionate about. And you just have to find those spaces. And I think for me, it was there was always this framing that it was work that was for specific people. And that was generally white men. And I think just finding the people that would advocate on your behalf and create a seat at the table for you was really pivotal to me finding this fake space. I had a couple of people who I worked under for years who really advocated for me, and they are the reason why I’ve been able to kind of grow into this work. And I think so. So I think the first part would just be finding those areas where you can actually actually advocate and create change in whatever area you’re passionate about. And then also finding people who you can create space for and who will do the same for you. I think, probably my top two tips.

Charles Olsen  24:05  

Amazing.  Thank you so much for joining me.

Kim Jemaine  24:08  

Thanks, Charlie.

The Climate Podcasts to get you through 2020

So we all know just how shitty this year has been… Starting the year off with catastrophic bushfires in Australia, then the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the cataclysmic wildfires raging in the American West. This year has been absolutely terrible for the planet and for a lot of the people living on it. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist and climate activist, It is way too easy to find myself overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the climate emergency. Every day we are inundated with information, news clips, articles, tweets, and so much more media that can oftentimes make us feel like we are going crazy. 

One way that I have been able to cut through all of the craziness is by subscribing to a few podcasts that help keep me grounded. I am a huge fan of podcasts. So much so, that I started my own in undergrad. I believe deeply in the format as a way for people to tell compelling stories to a wide audience without the traditional media filters. For decades conservative talk personalities have used the radio and podcasts to tell their stories and connect with their audiences. Not until recently have we begun to see a similar thing happening for the climate movement. In the past two years we have seen an explosion of fantastic climate journalism and excellent new formats for climate stories to be told to a wide audience. If you are new to podcasts or are looking for a solid place to start, here’s the list for you. 

Here is my list for the best climate podcasts that you need to listen to in 2020! 



Drilled is an investigative journalism podcast (think along the line of Serial or your other favorite murder podcast) that investigates the propaganda campaign waged by the fossil fuel corporations to sow climate denial into modern American political discourse. This show is quite scary and is really hard to stop listening to. This is a great place to start if you ever find yourself lacking anger for the state of the world we find ourselves in today. 


Hot Take

Hot Take is a personal favorite of mine and a huge leap forward for climate change discussions. In this talk show style podcast, veteran journalists Mary Annaïse Heglar and Amy Westervelt “take an intersectional, critical, but constructive look at climate coverage—with the ultimate goal of making the conversation more productive and powerful. Not just bigger, but more inclusive.” This show is a great place to start if you are angry about the way that climate change has been covered in the media for the past two decades. This podcast deserves way more attention, not just because of the thoughtful discussions but also for the way that the hosts incorporate the emotional component of climate change. 



So by now if you haven’t noticed yet, Critical Frequency is a podcast network that has been producing amazing climate podcasts. They just launched two new podcasts actually, one of which is Inherited. This show is written and produced by the generation that is currently fighting for the future of the climate. This show highlights “stories from, for, and by the youth climate movement.”  This show really gets me excited because it takes the lens of climate action away from issues and solutions and provides a human face for the work of saving our planet. Every person on earth has a story to tell, and the stories from the children, teenagers, and young adults that are fighting the climate fight are all unique.



Generation GND

In November of 2018, after the massive blue wave that carried progressive candidates into the halls of congress an idea was born. The Sunrise movement staged a sit-in at the office of soon-to-be house speaker Nancy Pelosi. At that demonstration newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke and brought media attention to a growing movement of young people who demanded change. In the following February, AOC and Senator Ed Markey put forth a resolution to establish a Green New Deal. This podcast tells the story of the young people who are at the forefront of the climate movement. An excellent show that from the first listen fills you with hope and energizes you to take action. This show is another production from the Critical Frequency podcast network. 


This Land

What do two murders, a supreme court case, and indigenous land rights have to do with climate? More than you might think. This Land is an unbelievable podcast that follows the story of two murders in Oklahoma that formed the backbone of a recent supreme court decision that has “resulted in the largest restoration of tribal land in US history.” Follow along as host Rebecca Nagle, an Oklahoma journalist and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, connects the dots between these murders and the fate of half of the land in Oklahoma. By this point you might be asking yourself, “what does this have to do with climate change?” Which is a fair question. Climate change is the result of unchecked capitalism and colonialism. Indigenous issues, especially those regarding the sovereignty of their land, are deeply connected to the future of how we address the climate crisis. 


How to Save a Planet

Sometimes, navigating the climate crisis can be overwhelming. I’m sure many of you will read that sentence and think about just how much of an understatement it is, trust me, I know. How to Save a Planet is a hilarious and exciting new show that tries to make that a little bit better. It is so good, I binged the first four episodes on one run and got lost in my neighborhood! Hosted by Journalist Alex Blumberg and scientist and overall ba**ss  Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, this show brings you along as the hosts interview people and try to discover what we can do about the climate crisis. 



Facing it

On my first day of undergrad in August, 2017 I walked into my first class and took a seat at the front. I pulled out my notebook and waited patiently for the class to start. In that class we all sat together and read the New York Magazine article, The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace Wells. Since then, Wells published a book with the same title. This piece of writing was the first time I experienced climate anxiety. Facing It explores the emotional aspects of the climate crisis and how anxiety and despair are keeping people from acting on climate. This series also explores the unequal distribution of the emotional toll of climate change on frontline communities. 



Think 100%: The Coolest Show

Along with the amazing name, this podcast really does have it all. Produced by the Hip Hop caucus and their Think100% campaign, this show is a weekly dive into all things climate justice. The first season of this show is a deep exploration of environmental and climate justice, while their second season is centered around interviews with those at the center of the climate movement that are making huge steps forward. This show is a fun and informative podcast that makes me feel hopeful and energized.



Are you angry about the climate crisis? So is Emily Atkin. She is a climate journalist who created her own newsletter where she does in-depth analysis and fantastic reporting on the climate crisis every week. In this limited run series, Emily Atkin explores the connections between the concurrent crises of COVID-19 and climate change and how they are at times inseparable. 




No Place Like Home 

No Place Like Home is another podcast produced by the Critical Frequency network and another show that places human experiences front and center in the climate conversation. This podcast takes the stories of people who are connected to our environment and shines a spotlight on how beautiful those connections are. Through interviews and amazing sound design and storytelling, this show makes you feel a little less alone in the climate movement and grounded in the work we do. I decided to end with this show because I truly believe in the power of storytelling. I believe that the human experience, no matter how different or divided we may be, is shared. We all are stuck in this existence together and we all share so much in common. Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions of our species. It is what allowed us to build the civilization we live in today. 


Not sure where to begin? I recommend checking out this great post from our Hampton Roads organizer Lauren Landis where she talks about her love for podcasts and gives some solid recommendations for specific episodes. 

Podcasting is a unique form of communication that allows us to tune into stories and conversations that we generally wouldn’t. It allows us to create a community in ways that talk radio and other forms of storytelling have not allowed. 2020 has been a rough year for a lot of us in the climate movement, but I believe that with this new wave of climate storytelling, we can get through the challenges ahead of us together. 

What climate podcasts do you listen to? Shoot us an email at