Alaina Wood is a sustainability scientist and climate communicator. She founded the Garbage Queen, a climate communication platform dedicated to climate science and solutions, and co-founded EcoTok, a collective of environmental educators. Wood will be speaking in the 2022 program track, Heat.
What brought you to environmental work? Is there a moment that comes to mind where you acutely felt climate change firsthand?
My dad first inspired me to pursue an environmental career. He is a civil engineer who works with stormwater infrastructure and design, and I grew up watching him be a champion for our local watersheds. He taught me the importance of having clean water and what is causing pollution both in my area and around the world. The first time I remember experiencing the impacts of climate change was when a wildfire burned much of the mountain I lived near as a teen, and still today; wildfires weren’t very common where I lived, but worsening droughts have made them quite common now.
What makes social media a good platform for climate communication? Are there any limitations or challenges to it?
We need to communicate the issues and solutions to the climate crisis where the people are — and right now that’s on social media. On social media you can be more authentic and speak in a way that the average person can understand. This of course has its downsides; it is often random which posts get seen by the public, and when they do, the comment sections are often full of hate and misinformation.
Big IdeaIt is okay, and quite normal, to feel sad, angry, or anxious about climate change. What is not okay is when those feelings lead to giving up on pushing for climate action.Alaina Wood
You’re a big advocate for “imperfect sustainability.” What does that mean to you? What is the power of imperfection when it comes to climate advocacy?
No one is perfect, yet there is this idea within the climate movement that if you want to make a difference you must be perfectly sustainable — and this scares many away from being climate advocates. I advocate for imperfect sustainability because I don’t want anyone to feel guilty like I used to for not being able to be more sustainable due a lack of infrastructure, time, or money. Doing what you can within your means is perfect in my mind, and at the end of the day we should be focusing more of our energy towards holding the biggest polluters — aka corporations and governments — accountable instead of stressing over not being able to live more sustainably.
Along with the environmental impacts of climate change — from wildfires and rising sea levels to drought and species loss — another pressing issue is emerging: climate doom. Mental health responses to climate change are increasingly common, so what do you say to people who feel that the climate crisis is hopeless? How do we channel climate angst into action?
With more of the world starting to experience the impacts of climate change and governments still not passing enough climate action, I can understand feeling like things are hopeless, but they are not — and never will be. There will always be things we can do to address the climate crisis, but the sooner we act, the better things will be. It is okay, and quite normal, to feel sad, angry, or anxious about climate change. What is not okay is when those feelings lead to giving up on pushing for climate action. Instead of giving up we can take time to remember why our planet is worth fighting for, learn to recognize and not give into climate doom, take breaks when feeling overwhelmed, talk to friends and family about climate change, and push for climate action within our communities and countries.
The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.