This story is part of Fix’s Mentorship Issue exploring the unique ways climate leaders found their calling, and how new approaches to mentorship are upending old power structures. Check out the full issue here.
Having someone or something to inspire and teach you is an important part of life’s journey, whether you’re a leading activist, an emerging influencer, or just someone trying to make a difference. Finding a pathway into climate action isn’t something you do alone.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean finding a traditional mentor relationship in which one person guides and the other person listens. Mentorship can be found in all sorts of places and among all sorts of people; what’s important is the choice to engage in learning and understanding.
If you’re looking for someone to inspire you how to become a better steward for our planet and a better ally for those facing the brunt of climate injustice, here are a few unique and unexpected places you might find one.
Your local community
“Developing this approach that we call ‘communiversity’ led to many, many successes and unbelievable trust among communities.”
Environmental justice leader Beverly Wright had often seen researchers parachute into communities, extract data and expertise, and leave when the funding ran out. In response, she pioneered what she calls a “communiversity” approach, making academic institutions and communities equal partners in shaping solutions to environmental racism and other injustices. That teamwork often leads to more insightful and effective outcomes by emphasizing the needs of those living with pollution, climate vulnerability, and other ills. “Developing this approach that we call ‘communiversity’ led to many, many successes and unbelievable trust among communities,” she says. And it demonstrates the power of tapping into your own community as a source of guidance, inspiration, and partnership.
A favorite TV show
“We believe in the power of story to turn fans into heroes.”
In early September, writer Britny Cordera attended an online rally to fight against the Line 3 pipeline, joining a group of people brought together by their love of the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. Nickelodeon’s animated series was a groundbreaking representation of Indigenous cultures and addressed topics like genocide, colonialism, and feminism, inspiring a generation of viewers like Cordera. “It teaches us how to be better people, to each other and as stewards of the land, just like our Native stories,” says Lee Francis IV, founder of Indigenous Comic Con. An organization called Fandom Forward works to turn pop culture inspiration into action, like the Line 3 rally, using stories from Steven Universe to Pokémon to Doctor Who. Katie Bowers, the group’s managing director, says, “We believe in the power of story to turn fans into heroes.”
“The diversity of plant communities and the resilience and productivity that merges from it has been a powerful lesson. You can rarely find plants growing only with their own kind.”
Plant biologist Dr. Beronda Montgomery has long been enthralled with the lessons humans can learn from plants. “Many of us have seen a plant bend toward a window in our home, or if they lose a limb, other limbs emerge. They’re able to reorient themselves. Humans just pick up and move,” she says. Plants are extremely adaptable, and they understand the value of balance and reciprocity – important lessons for living in an era of rapid climate change. And, much like humans, plants rely on and support one another. It’s a lesson she’s applied to her approach to mentorship, which she calls “environmental stewardship” — helping a mentee break down structural barriers in their way rather than teaching them to conform to a flawed status quo. “If we had a wilted plant and it was sitting next to a faucet, nothing’s going to happen unless there’s a steward to turn the faucet on and transfer the water to the individual,” she says.
The Indigenous community whose land you live on
“Tribal and Native communities have stewarded these lands since time immemorial. Their voices and their expertise are critical to finding solutions to address the climate crisis.”
“Tribal and Native communities have stewarded these lands since time immemorial,” says White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “Their voices and their expertise are critical to finding solutions to address the climate crisis.” Traditionally, Indigenous rites and practices were passed down organically, with elders modeling them for younger generations. But today, many Native people are reclaiming and revitalizing ceremonies, foodways, and land stewardship — and in many cases, discovering that to preserve their traditions, they must embrace new ways of passing them along. “This is a time-sensitive thing,” says Mariah Gladstone, whose Indigikitchen project is collecting recipes from elders and knowledge keepers all over the country. “The more that we can document and share that information now in ways where people will actually use it and connect with it, the more changes and resurgence of knowledge we can really cultivate.”
The next generation
“Instead of throwing in the towel or giving up, they are rolling up their sleeves and trying to fix the problems — and they’re not waiting for someone who is older or has more degrees to tell them to do this or that. They’re just getting right to work.”
“You can see across the generations that climate change is a priority, but how we address it differs. And how we personalize it differs,” says Christina Limpert, a researcher examining how culture and society shape environmental practices. For Gen Z, the crisis is personal. “We’re quite literally fighting to survive,” says TikTok activist Alex Silva, one of many young activists stepping up to redefine the climate agenda. “We’re just making it clear that this is the kind of future we want, these are the leaders we want.” Whether it’s Gen Z or generations to come, those who will live with the impacts of climate change are stepping up to find, and fight for, a way out — and they’re not shy about telling the rest of us. “Our goal includes being catalysts for change,” Silva says. “I think it sends a great message to older generations saying, ‘We’re doing the work.’”
Explore more from Fix’s Mentorship Issue:
- The best thing my mentor ever taught me
- On mentorship: Climate leaders in conversation
- 6 environmental leaders of color imagine how mentorship can be more inclusive