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.

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