August 13, 2009
Richard Graves: The Scoop on Climate Justice
This week I'm happy to bring you an interview with Richard Graves, a climate-change activist, blogger for the Global Campaign for Climate Action, and manager of FiredUpMedia.
Tell me a little bit about FiredUpMedia, which you founded.
Fired Up Media is a new media network, by and for young people, that helps support young people in telling their stories from the frontlines of global warming.
Basically, we launch youth media outlets, provide trainings, and support youth climate activists tell their stories on all seven continents. We try and make the tools, resources, and outlets exist for young people, who will live with the consequences of the decisions made today, to be heard at the center of the global conversation of what to do about global warming.
You worked for a number of other energy and environmental nonprofits in Washington, DC. What got you interested in environmental issues, and what led you to the sort of grassroots media production that you’re working on now?
I installed solar panels in Idaho. I was working on a ranch in Idaho and we built a bunkhouse off the grid and we needed to get energy to it. My boss told me to "just fix it", so I did.
There are a lot of other people, particularly young people, who are creating solutions on their campuses, in their basements, or writing about them online. Their stories are often ignored, in favor of another science story about another part of the world collapsing.
So, I got involved in helping telling those stories. Everyone talks about how young people are 'digital natives' who are all able to use digital technology, but it isn't really true. It still requires work, training, and skills on how to do it right, particularly when you are working with mediums like digital video or photography.
Climate change is something that will have a tremendous impact on our generation. Yet, when you look at the voices that are represented in the debate, the ideas of people like Sen. James Inhofe -- who will be long gone by the time the dire impacts of climate change will be felt -- have an outsized impact on the current debate. What’s the best way for young people to make sure their voices are heard in climate and energy debates that are happening this year and next?
One of the challenges with Congress is that it is a seniority-based institution. Age directly correlates to power, which is a major problem when young people are the ones who will live with the consequences of climate change. Young people need to plug in to a campaign or outlet that doesn't play by the usual rules.
Students, in particular, have an enormous platform at their fingertips. Sign up for a radio show, write for the campus newspaper, submit articles to the alumni magazine. Use that platform to send material to your local news station that is starving for content and put it online. Submit articles to online outlets, blogs, and learn a little about how they work.
...If anybody out there wants to learn about all this stuff, we run a wiki on it: wiki.firedupmedia.org.
One of the stories that is getting more and more attention in the climate debate is the impact of environmental policy on communities of color. The concept of environmental justice has been around for a long time, but how do you see the network of activists you work with reinterpreting that concept in a global warming context?
...Traditionally, environmental justice has focused on how communities of color have been targeted for dirty, polluting industry. As Majora Carter said, "America's energy policy is subsidized by the health or poor people".
However, global warming is an issue that also pits countries against each other and social class within a country. Indian industrialists may have a larger impact than poor communities in the United States, but the poor and people of color across country lines will be impacted the most.
... We are trying to build alliances between groups, like youth in the global north that have technical skills, access to decision makers, and technology to support young people in vulnerable countries.
Our big project on this front is ProjectSurvivalMedia.org, which is run by Shadia Wood, where we are spotlighting communities disproportionately impacted by climate change: youth, women, people of color, and indigenous peoples.
Can you give our readers a sense of where you feel your (and by your I mean pretty much anyone you work with) biggest impact has been? Where do you see the youth climate movement going next?
I think our biggest impact has been showing people that they are part of a movement, a powerful movement, that is able to change political reality. We demonstrated that fact when we used new media to get the Edwards presidential campaign to commit to 80 percent by 2050, which was the foot in the door the Step It Up 2007 folks used to shift the whole debate around carbon.
In Bali, the international youth and Avaaz.org had an enormous impact, dropping the popularity of the Canadian government something like 7 points over 2 weeks while signing up almost 2 percent of Canadians to an email list.
.. We are seeing things like the Power Shift 2009 conference inspiring conferences in Australia and the UK... It is an exciting year to be part of a movement this big and amazing.