What does a sustainable future look like? In this episode, we’re breaking down why a truly sustainable future needs to be not only climate secure, but equitable and just for all. What does the industrialized world owe to developing nations for the climate devastation their economies have caused? On an individual scale, what do we owe each other as neighbors on this shared planet? How can finding community be an antidote for despair and help strengthen us as we walk into this uncertain future together? Joining us to unpack these questions and more are Kristy Drutman of Brown Girl Green, and Wawa Gatheru of Black Girl Environmentalist, two young environmental activists who are devoting their lives to this work. Plus, Sophia Li signs off on this season of Climate Talks with one last call to action.
Kristy Drutman | Brown Girl Green | Founder
Wanjiku ‘Wawa’ Gatheru | Black Girl Environmentalist | Founder
Edward Palmieri | Meta | Director, Global Sustainability
Eoghan Griffin | Meta | Sustainability Strategy Manager, Europe, Middle East, and Africa
SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta.
The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing every one and every industry. And on this show, we make talking about the climate a conversation that everyone is invited to.
Together, we can create a healthier relationship with nature, which, you know, also includes us.
I’m Sophia Li. I’m a journalist, a film director, and a climate optimist. My life’s work is to make talking about the climate more accessible, more digestible, and more human. I’ll be your guide as we reframe the way we talk about the climate, and understand the best courses of action to take together. Let’s do this.
SOPHIA LI: We have entered a new climate cadence.
DW NEWS CLIP: A typhoon has slammed into the eastern Philippines as authorities struggle to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.
NBC NEWS CLIP: Just north of Santa Barbara, the Alisal fire burns out of control.
ABC NEWS CLIP: This evening, flash flood watch is now across five states, and this stretches some 500 miles.
SOPHIA LI: This year, the United States faced unprecedented climate disruptions and disasters. Winter storms in Texas caused major disruptions to their power grid; flash flooding tore down phone lines and homes, and washed out roads in Tennessee. More land in California burned than any other year on record.
And all of these disasters claimed human lives.
Still, in spite of these very real challenges, I choose to be a climate optimist. You guys, this is the last episode of this season of Climate Talks. And if I can leave you with one idea to take with you as we close out this season it’s this: a climate optimist is also a realist. It’s our work to transcend inaction and apathy, to spark conversations and take action. When we went out in the street to speak to you about what gives you hope for the future of sustainability, here’s what you had to say.
Person 1: One thing that gives me hope is significant leaps forward like fusion power.
Person 2: I think the future of sustainability really relies on companies. There’s only so much you can do as a consumer.
Person 3: I would like to see renewable energy become so much cheaper than fossil fuels that we have no choice but to change.
Person 4: I heard on NPR yesterday that Shell just made a commitment that by the year 2050, they will be sustainable and have sustainable practices. I think that now these big money-making energy companies are being held accountable and forced to make some changes. So I have a little hope that we’re moving in that direction.
Person 5: Something that’s giving me hope is the fact that GM is starting to make such a priority electric vehicles. So the fact that they also made a truck. That gives me a lot of hope that the car companies are committing to it in such a substantial way.
Person 6: The ideal future of sustainability to me would be we all have our own little home with our garden, where we grow our own food. We cook our own food. If you eat meat, preferably not. But if you do, you would have your own animals that you grow, you raise. We’re not using these big factories full of animals that you kill.
Person 7: My overall hope for the future of sustainability is that we need to like, incentivize behavior that benefits the well-being of our planet and our population as a whole.
Person 8: Compassion gives me hope.
Person 9: Something that gives me hope is levying carbon taxes.
Person 10: Something that gives me hope is the fact that we are talking about it, the fact that we are learning and helping each other in that process to make others aware about it, gives me hope.
SOPHIA LI: What gives me hope is, well… this. To me, there is nothing more inspiring than the community I’ve found in this movement. Getting to talk to and collaborate with other people who are engaged in climate work – especially the youth climate activists—helps me remain a climate optimist.
Also, once you begin this work, you realize, it’s a never ending process. And that’s OK. The climate crisis isn’t going to go away in our one lifetime, so the work of addressing it is a lifelong commitment.
But the people who have made that commitment, they have the most active hope. Hope to them is a verb, hope is a practice that they are actively engaged in every day.
We’re doing this work, but we still have a long way to go. So, what’s on the road ahead? What does the future look like—for us, and for the planet?
Each week on Climate Talks, we’re taking on sustainability from a different angle. In this episode, we’re talking about the future. What responsibility do each of us have to work towards a more sustainable future?
How do we invite others into this movement along with us? What solutions to the climate crisis are we not talking enough about?
We’ll hear from Kristy Drutman of Brown Girl Green and Wawa Gatheru of Black Girl Environmentalist, two youth leaders in this space. Together, we’ll discuss the steps we need to take to build a sustainable and just future for all.
But first. Our partners at Meta are committed to doing their part to address the climate crisis, and supporting the businesses that rely on its platforms to work towards their own sustainable goals. Let’s hear how they’re approaching this work.
EDWARD PALMIERI: A couple years ago, as a new father, I really started thinking more and more about the work I had always intended to do around sustainability and conservation. And realizing that I worked for a company that was so committed to sustainability was something that really inspired me.
Hi, my name is Edward Palmieri and I’m the Director of Global Sustainability at Facebook. Climate change, environmental stewardship, these are very big systemic problems and issues to tackle. And so governments and corporations and nonprofits and organizations, all of the big sources of infrastructure in our society need to come together to address these issues.
What gives me hope about the future in sustainable living is that everyone seems to get it. There are startups, there are established corporations, there are government research projects that could really change the way we generate electricity, the way we preserve the environment and repair and mitigate the damage that’s been done. Humanity has done so many amazing things over the years. I have every confidence that we can tackle this big global challenge.
EOGHAN GRIFFIN: Hi, my name is Eoghan Griffin, I’m Facebook’s Sustainability Strategy Manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
It definitely feels like there is a bit of a groundswell at the moment, particularly in the generation below mine that are really, really engaged and really knowledgeable and have grown up with far more sort of education about issues than we would have had growing up in school.
One of the areas I’m really excited about is how we can support the hundreds of millions of small businesses that use our platforms, we think we’re in a – a really unique position to provide training and knowledge and resources and tools at scale to kind of help businesses smaller than ours with their climate and sustainability strategy and journey. And, yeah, so I think there’s a lot of potential there.
SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Edward Palmieri and Eoghan Griffin, from Meta.
If you talk to anyone who’s currently on the climate front lines right now, working every day for the survival of their home, they don’t have time or room to not be a climate optimist. They’re saying, “I have hope. I have active hope that my home will be here tomorrow.”
Hope is an active choice for them, too. Earlier, we talked about the climate disruptions that rocked the United States in 2021. But the reality is, here in the US, we’re relatively sheltered from the climate disruption.
The devastation of the climate crisis is always felt harder in the Global South, even though those communities are the least responsible for causing the climate crisis to begin with. For example, in Burundi—where the average citizen’s lifestyle creates so few Co2 emissions the number is often rounded down to zero metric tons—persistent drought and a lack of rainfall translates into a very real food insecurity. Most people still rely on small-scale farming to feed themselves and their communities. If it doesn’t rain, there’s literally less food to go around.
And yet, the voices of these communities are often left out of the conversation when we talk about the climate crisis.
If we are going to build a truly sustainable future, those voices need to be uplifted and included in this conversation. Those of us who live in G20 nations most responsible for the climate crisis need to get better at listening and step up to the plate. This movement needs everyone.
You can’t be an environmentalist without being a humanitarian, as well.
In this episode, we’re talking about how we can build a more stable climate and a more just future for all. I’ve invited two different youth climate activists on the show whose work inspires me and who have also chosen the path of climate optimism. For my first conversation, I’m joined by Kristy Drutman. She is the founder of Brown Girl Green, which makes inclusive media advocating for environmental justice – everything from podcasts to videos, and blog posts. After that, I’ll be joined by Wawa Gatheru. Here’s my conversation with Kristy.
SOPHIA LI: Hi, Kristy. Welcome to climate talks.
KRISTY DRUTMAN: So happy to be here.
SOPHIA LI: Kristy, can you please introduce yourself and tell us your climate story?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: So hi, everyone. My name is Kristy Drutman. I am a Jewish and Filipina environmentalist, and I grew up in a small town in Southern California, and I lived near a freeway. And so I actually had really small lung capacity to the point where my classmates thought I lived in a smoking household and I didn’t grow up in a smoking household. And that was the first time where I realized, like, the place that I lived had something to do with my own health.
So I went to UC Berkeley, was like, I’m going to study environmental policy. But then Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan hit the Philippines, and that was when climate change was no longer just this distant issue in the near future. It was impacting people who look like me, like my family members. Just the idea that this could easily have happened to them, too, started to really settle in to me, that, you know, climate change is something that I needed to take action on.
So I got really involved in climate youth activism in college, but I didn’t really see people who looked like me in a lot of environmental activist spaces or even in the environmental science or policy field. And so by the end of university, me and my friends created this organization at UC Berkeley that was focused on empowering young people of color in the environmental field.
And so then my work transitioned from being just focused on climate advocacy to now thinking about intersectional climate activism.
SOPHIA LI: Wooh, amen. So I know you covered this a little bit, but what role do you think you play that the media isn’t covering with this climate communication?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: Mostly it’s people who are not in the climate space, comedians or politicians or entrepreneurs and business people who don’t really understand how to communicate climate science to the public because they don’t fully know the issue because they don’t have the academic background. You know, I studied climate science, I studied climate policy, but I also understand how to communicate that to people who don’t understand those issues.
And I feel like there’s not enough people bringing that to online platforms in a way that is more accessible to more people and not even doing it in a way that also brings in stories from an immigrant perspective. Discussions around barriers to access. And I think that that’s what I bring to the table.
SOPHIA LI: So what communities and voices are always excluded from this climate conversation?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: Black voices, definitely Indigenous voices, definitely Asian American voices and LatinX voices.
When do you hear stories that are really emphasizing that experience? And also, when is it not just framed as these people who come from these communities being framed as victims? When is it being framed that they’re actually coming up with solutions? I just don’t see enough of those stories being told, and that’s concerning to me when we’re thinking about who’s actually going to be in positions of leadership and get resources to build solutions to the climate crisis.
SOPHIA LI: What responsibility do each of us have in the climate movement? Is it up to all of us?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: I think ultimately, the people who are most responsible are the people in positions of power and privilege. It shouldn’t be on grassroots community members who have to fight against these extractive industries to address the climate crisis. But unfortunately, the burden has been put on them. You know, there’s select companies and polluters who have very huge influence over the emissions that continue to increase. And I just don’t think those people are being held accountable at the rate that they need to be by any – by any means.
SOPHIA LI: Totally. It needs to be top down and bottom up because it seems a lot of these times these people in power and privilege don’t make actions or real substantial changes unless they’re forced to by the people.
KRISTY DRUTMAN: Completely. Yeah, and I think that’s another thing like consumers and individuals also feel so powerless but the thing is, is like these companies are so scared, especially of young people like even the term greenwashing, this year is the first time I’ve ever even heard companies be like, oh, we don’t want to be accused of that.
SOPHIA LI: What would you say to those who are disillusioned or apathetic or just too overwhelmed by the climate space? What’s the most empowering thing that they can do?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: I think the most empowered thing that you can do is to definitely find community with others. I think being able to focus on, like, your own local community can make these things feel less existential and more tangible. You can actually see the tangible impacts of that maybe even faster than pushing for policy change or doing activism, because sometimes those things do take a long time. And whereas if you’re helping your local community and you’re building community with others, that just nourishes you, and I think that people think they can just do this by themselves, and that’s just not true. Like, you have to depend on others.
SOPHIA LI: So that brings me to what does a just future look like for you?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: There’s a term called climate reparations. It’s this idea that like we recognize the harms that have been done specifically to Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities worldwide, people who live in the most impacted regions in the world.
And the idea is how can we, as in people who are not in those most impacted areas, be able to really redistribute funds and resources to ensure the safety and the well-being of those regions that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the idea is to pay for the damage that’s been done by neglecting that.
And I would say the other thing is about redistribution. When we’re thinking about building quote unquote renewable energy world or a clean energy future, we have to realize that that still is going to require extraction of resources, that’s going to require labor, and maybe not even the most just labor and ethical labor. And we have to be honest about that. Like, what is this transition going to look like?
So when I think about a just world, I think about building the infrastructure and the technology we need to live healthier and more sustainable lives, but not at the expense of exploiting communities who are going to be at the backbone of making that possible.
SOPHIA LI: Right. So paint this picture for me. There is climate equity in this future. What does that look like?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: To me, a climate equitable world is one where people have equitable access to green space, to clean air, water and healthy soil. In terms of our economy, it would be focused on circularity and not linearity, it would be focused on centering biodiversity rather than extracting capital from natural ecosystems. And it would be centered around reciprocity. So being able to think about if you’re taking, then you’re giving something back and you’re always thinking about the communities that are being impacted or benefited from your actions.
SOPHIA LI: Yeah, I mean, all the things you’re saying: healthy soil, clean air, circularity – it’s actually the norm of humanity. It was the basis of Indigenous communities. So I feel like when we say these things, we’re like, oh, how can we ever do that? And it’s like, humanity did live that way.
KRISTY DRUTMAN: Yeah, exactly.
SOPHIA LI: Last question – what gives you hope?
KRISTY DRUTMAN: What gives me hope is other youth activists. Meeting other young people from around the world who care so deeply about these issues and advocating and intervening and speaking truth to power. Nothing else gives me more hope than that.
SOPHIA LI: Thank you so much for joining Climate Talks.
KRISTY DRUTMAN: Thank you so much for having me.
SOPHIA LI: That was Kristy Drutman. You can follow Kristy Drutman’s work with Brown Girl Green on Instagram at browngirl_green, or online at BrownGirlGreen.org.
Next up, I’m speaking with Wawa Gatheru, the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist, an intergenerational community of Black girls, women and non-binary environmentalists.
SOPHIA LI: Hi Wawa, welcome to Climate Talks.
WAWA GATHERU: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
SOPHIA LI: Wawa, tell us who you are, how you got involved in the climate space. Tell us your climate story.
WAWA GATHERU: My name is Wanjiku. My friends call me Wawa and I’m a 22 year old environmental justice advocate.
First and foremost, I feel like the different parts of my identities really inform the way that I show up in the climate movement and the reason why I’m here in the first place. So first, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a friend. I’m a very proud Kenyan-American. And I’m also a Black woman.
So I grew up in rural Connecticut, which is a really, really beautiful part of the Northeast. It’s also a place that a lot of people travel to for nature, environmental education, et cetera.
However, my family was the only Black family, only immigrant family. And amongst that, even though environmental education and access to nature and green space was a part of my childhood, I never really saw myself in that field because literally no one who was working in that space and the way that we talk about those spaces, it didn’t really relate to me. I didn’t grow up hiking or camping. Those things were kind of seen as wealthy, white people things to do. So it wasn’t necessarily something that I saw myself in.
So I felt that way for most of my life until I was 16. So I entered into an environmental science class.
My teacher decided to integrate environmental justice, which actually wasn’t a part of the original curriculum, so when we started to learn about environmental justice, and the way that, for instance, race is the number one indicator of one’s proximity to a toxic waste plant in the US, I got really frustrated. I was frustrated that I was suddenly finding out that environmentalism, this whole space that I had put up in my mind as this top shelf, like, white issue had everything to do with me.
Yet, it hadn’t been introduced to me or talked about like that in my family or my friend groups.
So when I got to college, I was like let me focus on getting folks involved, particularly Black folks in the environmental space. And that kind of led me into the climate movement and realizing that, A) a lot of folks of color were already environmentalists, but the framing around environmentalism and climate action for instance, just wasn’t being done in a way that included them.
SOPHIA LI: Was that environmental justice high school class your aha moment?
WAWA GATHERU: It was my aha moment of a previous aha moment. When my parents first moved to the US, my mom, like, started a garden and I spent a lot of my time as a kid in that garden, not really knowing that that garden was kind of my mom’s way of connecting back with her heritage and how she had grown up.
So that was my first experience having a really intimate connection with the physical environment. But I didn’t see it as that growing up. So when I mean, I had the aha moment, I remember us talking about food justice and food systems and equitable food systems, and particularly in the U.S., folks of color being distanced from the food system and how most of the examples of Black agricultural experience, the only thing that we talked about was slavery, and that was just subjugation to the land. And I realized that there is this real life contradiction.
SOPHIA LI: Yes! So do you feel like the environmental justice movement is still carried on the shoulders of solely the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the BIPOC community?
WAWA GATHERU: I would say predominantly so and predominantly so, because if we’re talking about in the U.S. context, there’s a reason why the environmental justice movement is what it is in the U.S., and it’s because it’s a movement of necessity. People have had to step up, had to take a stand because their lives were and continue to be on the line. And time and time again, we see that race and class, but still race primarily is what informs disproportionate access.
SOPHIA LI: Hmm. And just to rewind for a second, for those who don’t know what does environmental justice mean?
WAWA GATHERU: Bare bones, it is essentially a framework that works to make sure that every person, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, et cetera, have equitable access to environmental benefits.
Access to equitable, culturally competent food, it means access to clean air. Clean water. It means access to green space.
SOPHIA LI: And for all of our white listeners or who aren’t BIPOC and have privilege, how can we bring them into the environmental justice movement?
WAWA GATHERU: The most important thing to do is to listen to frontline community members, leaders, organizers, find out what they might need in regards to amplifying the work that they’re already doing.
Because a lot of times capacity building is the issue just because of resources. In the environmental space, 50 percent of environmental philanthropy goes to the same 10 big green organizations. And then within that, when you look at BIPOC lead and particularly like Black and Indigenous led environmental organizations and nonprofits and things of that sort, we get like less than five percent of funding. So if you can put your money where your mouth is, definitely do that.
SOPHIA LI: So Wawa, if we were able to achieve climate equity and build a more just climate future for all, what would that even look like?
WAWA GATHERU: For me, a just climate movement just means real, real justice for everyone. To me, that looks like a world free of prisons, free of a carceral system.
Just people having access to basic human rights, having the ability to live a life beyond survival. So many people around the world quite literally are living to survive and don’t get the opportunity to live a life of passion.
SOPHIA LI: Yes, Wawa. I so resonate with that. Climate justice is racial justice is social justice: making sure that everyone has the right to a healthy, safe, beautiful human life.
WAWA GATHERU: Mm hmm. Exactly.
SOPHIA LI: So Wawa, if you could go back in time, and speak to that person that was taking her first environmental justice class in high school, what would you tell her?
WAWA GATHERU: I’d say get ready, girl! But also, I would say, you feel super alone right now. I would say this message is specifically to, you know, 16-Year-Old Wawa.
I felt really alone whenever we would have conversations in class, while my teacher was really supportive, sometimes, some of my classmates would be like, OK, let’s stop making this about race. It’s just about climate. And I would say, get ready girl, because these little conversations that you’re having in high school, they’re going to continue. The places that you may have thought would be with the right agenda of fighting for the protection of both people and planet.
They may not actually be on board the way that you think they are, but but but but that is why you are in this movement in the first place. You have a place. When I was at that age, I thought that I’d never find a community in the climate space.
So I say, get ready, girl, there’s so many people that you’re going to meet that understand you and your vision and also are looking to make sure that the just climate future that we talk about includes all of us. And you’re going to really find community there and constantly be reminded of how important your work will be and how important environmental justice will always be.
SOPHIA LI: Ah! You know what you’re doing, Wawa, you’re providing so many of those aha moments for people to start their own awakening in this journey. So my last question for you is what gives you hope?
WAWA GATHERU: What gives me hope? I always struggle with this question. But I would say what gives me hope, it’s necessity, this is the only home we have, this is the only planet that we have.
I think we all deserve a future! And I think what also gives me hope is the love that I experience in and inside of this movement.
For me, I feel like climate work and climate labor is a work of love because it’s hard, it’s tiring, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s necessary.
SOPHIA LI: Yes, yes, yes, preach. Hope is the thing that drives us forward. If we didn’t have hope for our future, or our home, then why even try?
WAWA GATHERU: Absolutely.
SOPHIA LI: Wawa, thank you so much.
WAWA GATHERU: Thank you. It was such, such a pleasure. It’s so great talking to you.
SOPHIA LI: That was Wawa Gatheru.
You can follow Wawa Gatheru’s work with Black Girl Environmentalist on Instagram at BlackGirlEnvironmentalist (all one word), or online at WawaGatheru.org.
SOPHIA LI: So every week on the show I close each episode with a prompt, a kind of call to action, inviting you, our listeners into the conversation.
This week, I invite each and every one of you to find your own climate community. And if you can’t find one that resonates, create your own!
It can be as unofficial as a group text chain with your friends and family where everyone shares resources, or photos of themselves in nature.
Or, once a month, you can meet up to talk about climate anxiety—maybe you’ll be the climate optimist in your own group! And that in itself is doing the work in this space.
By spreading hope in this movement. By continuing the work. By talking about it. You’re already doing it.
That’s a wrap on this season of Climate Talks. We hope these episodes made you feel inspired and empowered to start—or reconnect with—your own climate journey. Thank you for listening with us as we learned more about our earth’s climate, and our responsibilities to each other.
And maybe, you’ll start having some climate talks of your own—with your friends and family—starting to build that climate community, and continuing this movement forward. Thank you.
SOPHIA LI: You’ve been listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Meta. Many thanks to our guests this week, Kristy Drutman and Wawa Gatheru.
You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or whenever you listen. If you like what you hear, please rate the show and share it with family and friends. We want everyone to get in on this conversation, and we hope that each episode inspires you to continue that conversation IRL with the people in your own life.
This show is produced by work by work: Scott Newman, Jemma Brown, Emily Shaw, Kathleen Ottinger and by me, Sophia Li. The show is mixed by Sam Bair.
Extra gratitude to Marlo Tablante and Amanda Gardiner at Meta. To find out more about Meta’s Sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability (dot) f-b (dot) com.
I’m always talking about climate on Instagram and Twitter. You can find me at s-o-p-h-f-e-i, that’s my handle. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for being a part of the conversation and movement.
Kristy Drutman is the founder of Brown Girl Green, (IG: @browngirl_green) a media platform that produces podcasts, videos, blog posts, and other media related to environmental justice and advocacy. She interviews environmental leaders and advocates about diversity and inclusion as well as creative solutions for coping with the climate crisis. Most recently, Kristy was on the ground in the UK, covering TEDConnect and COP26.
Wawa Gatheru is the founder of Black Girl Environmentalist (IG: @blackgirlenvironmentalist) an intergenerational community of Black girls, women and non-binary environmentalists. She is an environmental justice advocate hailing from Kenya and Connecticut. She is currently a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford studying environmental governance. Wawa plans to pursue a public service career that empowers and supports culturally competent, community-based environmental solutions, particularly focusing on centering the expertise of frontline communities of color.
Typhoon Haiyan (or Super Typhoon Yolanda) hit the Philippines in November of 2013. It was one of the most powerful and destructive typhoons ever recorded. The storm also caused devastation in the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Guam, and more.
The show intro features clips excerpted from the following news segments:
– DW News. Philippines hit by Typhoon Vongfong. [Video file]. (2020, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JduI7wLdsyw
– NBC News. California Firefighters Battling Explosive Alisal Fire. [Video file]. (2021, October 12). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOo_E3PnAyo
– ABC News. Hurricane Nicholas hammers Texas coast. [Video file]. (2021, September 14). Retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeUE30RVtqs
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