Growing up in Alaska, I never questioned the validity of climate change. It was impossible to do so when I saw it happening all around me. I watched the Portage Glacier rapidly melt just an hour outside of my hometown and regularly heard the struggles of my friends’ families whose livelihoods were threatened due to an increasingly unpredictable commercial fishing industry. Climate change was everywhere, but I always seemed to come up short when I asked myself what I could do to help stop it.
When I attempted to participate in environmental group meetings, I never seemed to find what I was looking for. As a young woman, I didn’t see anyone like myself in these rooms, and as someone who didn’t come from a political family, being in these spaces was new, and in many ways terrifying, for me. As much as I wanted to be a part of protecting the environment, the solutions I heard never made sense. I certainly couldn’t afford a Prius, I don’t think I even knew what a hydroflask was, and while recycling seemed like a great idea, was it really enough? I often left these meetings feeling more hopeless than when I had walked into them.
After heading South to Bend, Oregon, I finally found the glimmer of hope I was looking for. In early 2015, I tagged along with some of my classmates to a climate change presentation at a local shop. There, I met three young organizers from Portland talking about a policy solution to address climate change: they wanted to internalize the social costs of pollution by putting a price on carbon emissions. Never before had I seen two young women, Camila and Page, talk in such a confident, nuanced way about public policy. This policy, in particular, was the first I had heard of that could invoke the far-reaching, economy-wide, and immediate changes I knew we needed to save the planet.
Later that night, my classmates and I talked excitedly about the policy this group was trying to pass in Oregon’s State Legislature. We agreed to meet them in Salem, the State Capitol, to advocate with them. In this moment, our organization’s now prestigious Fellowship program was born. Time and time again, we made the trip down to Salem to lobby our legislators, which earned us the opportunity to introduce the policy to the House Energy and Environment Committee in the Legislature’s first ever Carbon Pricing hearing. While our policy didn’t pass out of committee, we inspired groups around the state to take up carbon pricing as a key part of their platforms, which many of them are still championing to this day.
After the legislative session ended, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and went on to pursue my Master’s of Public Policy degree at Portland State University. In Portland, I volunteered for Oregon Climate’s events, attended weekly phone-banking sessions, and had a front row seat as our organization gained national attention. The National Geographic Channel series, Years of Living Dangerously, filmed our Youth Lobby Day that I attended in Salem in 2015. Shortly after, we partnered with Years to grow from the statewide Oregon Climate to Our Climate, a national organization supporting multiple statewide campaigns around the country.
As Our Climate rapidly expanded, we formalized our Board of Directors, grew our staff, and continued developing our youth empowerment programs. I was so excited when I was asked to be part of the new Board of Directors, and even more so when my peers voted me in as Board Secretary, and, a year later, as Board President. My passion for this work coupled with support from my many mentors in Our Climate allowed me to grow from volunteer, to Fellow, to Board President.
With the support of Our Climate, I’ve been able to imagine a better future for myself and the planet simultaneously. Since my first time coming across Our Climate, I’ve received a Masters degree in Public Policy, a graduate certificate in Energy Policy and Management, and have run a handful of successful state and local candidate campaigns. Their support has been crucial in so many of my achievements over the past couple of years, and in my role as Board President I hope to continue empowering young people to imagine more for themselves and our planet. I remain committed to this work not only because I believe in the policy, but because I also believe in the theory of change we have for realizing our vision of the future: when we empower young people to advocate for climate change policy, they’ll have the tools and inspiration to know that we can’t stop there.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you all of the supporters, volunteers, and/or student leaders of Our Climate and the Put A Price On It campaign. As a former Fellow and current Board President, I greatly appreciate your contribution to our movement of emboldening young people to demand the stable, healthy world we all deserve.
This year for #GivingTuesday we will be raising funds for the 2018 Spring Fellows. For me, the Fellowship and the Our Climate team was such a pivotal piece to my personal and career development. I plan to give that opportunity to more rising climate leaders this year, and I hope you'll join me. Thank you for making a much needed investment in our future.
-Sydney Scout, Board President of Our Climate