I participated in the climate march in 2014, and it was a powerful experience for me. While the conversation has continued, I agree that there hasn't been great strides in meaningful change, especially as our federal government is rewinding policies that kept our water and air protected from industrial pollution.
Greta Thunberg remains a light for me. It's empowering to see young people speaking truth to power unequivocally. It is also remarkable because she is a woman with neurological differences, who often don't have their ideas amplified and respected in the way that they should.
I also can't help but think of the indigenous young people who have been speaking out about protecting water resources and put their safety at risk to protest during Standing Rock and other actions about gas and oil pipelines that are being built anyway.
It is infrequent that their voices are amplified to the level they deserve. We don't do it because they are asking for us to do something actionable and tangible, but not immediately profitable. That's something we don't like to look at as a society.
I also follow Little Miss Flint, who is reminding us all that the Flint water crisis still hasn't been cleaned up, and that it was over five years ago that we began to have a national conversation about it.
Fixing Flint's water is either not a priority or we don't know or want to know what it will take to do it right.
The reality is that so much of our activism and our debate is viewed at the national level as entertainment. It becomes another way to grab eyeballs, another way to participate in a dialogue that is often rendered meaningless by the co-opting that happens when something becomes "cool."
I went to a high-profile Sustainability Summit this weekend, excited to see what I was told would be leaders in the field. In actuality, what I saw was quite a few very wealthy people who had family lineage credentials; they were the children or grandchildren of famous activists, and many were from elite families and communities.
They spoke in broad strokes, but not necessarily in actionable, meaningful ways. It's an easy trap to fall into.
Even more aggravating was hearing from the corporate sponsors, who were allowed to give a Ted Talk-style pitch between each panel. Each boasted of the communities they went to and how they helped a low-income or indigenous community, and how they had goals to be "carbon neutral" in 25 years.
The reality is much of this is green-washing. They are focusing on the communities they infiltrate because the reality is that most of them are still using processes that either are wasteful or the products themselves create needless waste.
The entire summit, I felt, was largely useless. People paid money to hear wealthy people speak about generic broad issues, and it was sponsored by companies that wanted some feel good advertising. Until we can see that this does absolutely nothing to improve our environment, we will never advance.
When we turn our dire concerns into advertising opportunities, we are actually detracting from the real conversation that needs to happen.
This past spring I had attended a Department of Sanitation conference. No one at it was famous, but every single person there was doing the actual work. I learned so much at that conference and left inspired and ready to change and fight for change.
I learned about systems and how we could effectively fix them. But on a slick, shiny stage with corporate backers, those priorities fall away.
Environmental action is about preventing catastrophe. From weather effects to health impacts, we need to be more aware about the issues. We need to learn what is worth talking about to begin the conversation.
This will not be an easy fix, and the work will be arduous, confusing and painful. I love Greta, Little Miss Flint and the young indigenous activists because they are willing to tap into the urgency and actual pain of the process.
This isn't an opportunity to promote your company or your brand. And to make it such is tone deaf and a waste of our precious time and resources.