Rebecca Johnson, 21, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a senior at
Oberlin College and a global warmingcampaign coordinator for the Sierra Student Coalition.
I'm a Sierra Club baby. My father and stepmother are very active in the
Club, so I got to see a lot of this beautiful country as a child, which really instilled
in me a love and a need for public lands.
One of the most difficult things has been trying to find a balance between
my activism and my schoolwork. I tend to get single-minded when it comes to activism; I
got started on my global-warming kick, and now I can't stop! I think it's absolutely the
scariest and most important issue of our time. It touches on globalization, human rights,
our lifestyles, our choices for energy. We need to make major changes now, or else we're
going to get to a point where we can't go back.
People are surprised to hear an eloquent and informed student speaking to
them about environmental and political issues. The media portrays us either as a cult of
materialistic youngsters, who only care about when daddy's going to buy us our next SUV,
or as uninformed "activists" who travel around from protest to protest. So when
we can tell adults something they don't know, they listen. They're surprised, so they pay
Gyalpo Tashi is a Tibetan born in India. When this interview was
conducted in the fall of 1999, he was 25 and working as the community education officer
for the Tibetan Environment Network (TEN), a grassroots program in Choglamsar, India.
At school, we are taught that we should work with the Tibetan exile
community, to keep the momentum of the struggle. But when I got out of university, there
were no jobs. I had to wait almost two years to get a job in my own community.
Tibetans once lived in an ecological way, but they were pushed into modern
times and close quarters in a refugee camp in Choglamsar, Ladakh, India. This rapidly
growing community had no infrastructure. It had no dustbins and garbage was a huge problem
until TEN helped organize monthly cleaning ups in the camp. Our next project is recycling,
but that will take time. We are also trying to educate the tourists--who bring in money,
but also leave behind rubbish--about the environment and Tibetan culture.
We have created solar-heated community centers and built greenhouses to
encourage Tibetans to grow vegetables organically. This is a new idea for them, because
they were nomadic before they came into Ladakh. We also bring a television around to show
videos on ecology. They may not be interested in environmental issues, but televisions are
rare, so they come out of curiosity.
Laura Shillington grew up in a small town outside Calgary, in Alberta,
Canada. At the time of this interview in September 1999, she was 24 years old and fresh
from a stint at the East Kootenay Grasslands Stewardship Program in British Columbia.
I've been living out of a backpack for two years. Wherever I can
volunteer, wherever I can get a job, that's where I go. I've done research on badgers and
tracked wolves for the Central Rockies Wolf Project, where I got paid $15 a day to
snowshoe into valleys to check on wolf traps. When I coordinated the grasslands
program, we wanted to promote good stewardship methods. Most of British Columbia's
grasslands are privately owned, so landowners would call us, and we would go out to their
land and identify different types of grasses, plants, and trees. Unlike how they feel
about trees, which are big and sexy, most people think of grass as just grass. Once they
learned that there was more than one kind of grass, they usually saw the need to protect
this complex ecosystem.
I do miss having a home. But everything I do is really inspiring and
rewarding. I've done contract mapping and geographic information systems (GIS) work, but
it's so boring to just sit in front of a computer. With conservation work, you see
results. I want to continue doing conservation work or activism, even if that also means
working at a coffee shop for minimum wage.
Robert Fish, 22, grew up in northwest New Jersey and studied human
ecology at the College of the Atlantic. He has been active with the Student Environmental
Action Coalition (SEAC) since he was a sophomore in high school.
When I was a kid, there was a place I used to go, high above town, to
escape from everything and think. Then a big company built its headquarters there. That's
what got me involved with environmental activism. Most recently, I've worked with the
Rainforest Action Network campaign targeting Home Depot to end its sale of wood products
from our ancient forests, and with my college's Free Burma campaign. We kicked Pepsi off
campus for doing business with the ruling military junta in Burma and started socially
responsible investing for the college's endowment. I also went to the protests in Seattle,
D.C., and Philadelphia, and attended the Ruckus Society's Spring Break Action Camp this
year to learnS direct-action tactics.
I'm trying to live the life I'm talking--I've been a vegetarian for eight
years, and I'm attempting to drive less--but sometimes it's hard. I want to facilitate
social change, but I want to have a life. I want time to go for a hike, hang out with
friends, or just do nothing, but I don't want to fall into general apathy.