Turning An Interest In Environmental Advocacy Into A Career


Gen Y is one of the “greenest” generations to date.  We grew up learning how to recycle as small children and were taught conservation methods by David Suzuki on TV.  As a result, many of us have philosophies toward our environment and its protection which are drastically different than that of older generations.  We don’t like how quickly resources are being used and how much the planet has changed in terms of climate and ecology in our lifetimes.  We sincerely believe that if the degeneration of Earth continues at this rate, future generations will be doomed.

Conferences and protests have been happening all over the world in recent years to try to create solutions for these issues.  Only some of these events have targeted those of us who have the most to lose and the most to say: youth.

Thus, in 2007 the first Power Shift conference was held in Washington DC, and due to its success a second event occurred early this spring.  Power Shift Australia was held this July, with the UK Power Shift following suit on October 9-12, and finally an event in Ottawa being held from October 23-26.

Power Shift Canada is two days of training, action and strategy, and one day of lobbying to hold our elected officials accountable to the people they serve: those who want a solution to the climate crisis and those who want to build a successful youth climate movement.   The event has sprouted a large following due in part of social networking media such as a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account, and a YouTube Channel.

One thousand youth from all of the provinces and territories will be converging on Parliament Hill to make a statement about the environmental procedures in this country as a part of Power Shift Canada. Will you be one of them?  Katie Stiel will be there.

Katie is a recent McMaster graduate with a degree in philosophy and geography.  In her last year at Mac, Katie was the director of MACgreen, the McMaster Student Union’s  student-run service whose mission is to serve the greater McMaster community in creating a more sustainable campus.   She currently works for Environment Hamilton and is also responsible for recruiting participants from the greater Hamilton area to come to Power Shift.  You can check out an article she wrote about Power Shift for McMaster students here.

Katie and I chatted recently about how her extra-curricular involvement has helped her get involved in various environmental issues in Canada.

Q. How do you think your education helped you land the current opportunities you have?

A. To be honest, it hasn’t.  I took some Geo[graphy] courses that piqued my interest.  But it was mostly through extra-curriculars and students leadership activities I participated in that gave me the opportunity to explore.  If philosophy taught me anything, it was I can’t be a philosopher and that I don’t want to be a philosopher.

Q. How did you get involved in environmental advocacy programs?

A. It started when I was a community advisor in Brandon Hall [a residence at McMaster].  There is a four-pillar programming plan you follow, and one of the areas is awareness.  I did it on an environmental event … and wanted to take it to a larger scale.   I kept on getting involved in different groups because I wanted to keep taking things to a larger scale.

Q. What sorts of organizations have you been involved with recently?

A. The Sierra Youth Coalition is something I got involved in during my fourth year.  Greenpeace has really sparked my interest in the last couple of months.  And the Polaris Institute is something I’ve been really interested about because they deal with water justice, which is a passion [of mine].  My interest in the Sierra Youth Coalition has sparked interest in others, like the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, which in turn sparked an interest in Power Shift.

Q. What have you learned from being involved in these groups?

A. On a more selfish level, geared to me personally, I’ve learned some things skill-wise like different organizational techniques.  But these are things I had before but learned some more while working within a national network.  I’ve done some things on a smaller scale, in Hamilton and in Ontario.  Although the Sierra Youth Coalition is on a national scale, you don’t really get involved with people in other areas.  For the Polaris Institute, with conference calls you learn different perspectives of the same things which is awesome.

Q. What do you hope to gain from the Power Shift experience?

A. Personally, I don’t think I’ll gain too much; I’m going more based on interest.  I do appreciate taking on the leadership role on something I’m passionate about.  But I want to see how this will impact Canada as a whole and how youth will be impacted.  It’s a critical time of the year for us because of the [United Nations Climate Change] conference in December [also known as the Copenhagen 15, or COP15].  Hopefully it will make an impact like it did in Australia and the US.

Q. How do you recommend that other students and youth in general get involved in environmental organizations?

A. My personal suggestion is to find an issue you’re passionate about and search from there.  To use the Polaris Institute as an example: water justice and water issues were something I was passionate about so I looked them up.  Don’t try to get involved with everything because you’ll just get overwhelmed.  Also, look to your schools because at this point all [post-secondary] schools should have some sort of organization on campus.