- Earlier this week climate activists Kevin J. Patel and Julia Jackson published a commentary in Newsweek that effectively accused the Biden Administration of betraying their climate commitment at last month’s U.N. Climate Change Conference proceeded with an auction of 80,000,000 acres of the Gulf of Mexico to allow offshore drilling.
- Jackson and Patel have their own reasons for climate activism. Jackson has lost her home in Sonoma in a wildfire in 2019, while Patel has suffered from life-long heart problems. Both are non-profits that aim to rally young people for climate action.
- OneUpAction International was established by Patel in 2019 to provide resources for traditionally marginalized youth groups. Jackson, whose parents started a global wine business that emphasizes sustainability, created Grounded in 2017 to help find and amplify solutions to planetary issues.
- Jackson and Patel spoke out about their activism and their recent Newsweek commentary in a December 2021 exchange between Mongabay founder Rhett A.. Butler.
Julia Jackson and Kevin J. Patel, climate activists from India, published earlier this week Newsweek’s Op-Ed that effectively accused the Biden Administration of betraying their climate commitment at last month’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, by auctioning 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico in order to permit offshore drilling.
“When we arrived in Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, we didn’t expect President Joe Biden to put the U.S. on track to meet the Paris agreement climate goals overnight. But we did hope that, given the mounting climate crises this summer and alarming military and intelligence reports from his own administration, Biden would do everything in his power to keep his campaign promise to stop leasing public lands and waters for more fossil fuel extraction,” they wrote. The decision to move toward with the auction “is a Death Sentence.”
“There’s an obvious reason why this is wrong: We are at a critical moment in history where the U.S. and other large, developed countries must immediately reduce emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius and preserve a livable planet,” they continued. “It is no longer a future crisis for a future generation—this is a climate emergency, and it’s happening right now.”
Patel and Jackson have very personal reasons for their climate activism — Patel has suffered life-long heart issues due to poor air quality in Los Angeles, while Jackson grew up in California’s wine country where fires have become increasingly common and severe. Jackson lost her home in Sonoma to wildfires in 2019.
Their shared experiences and concern about the future of the planet inspired them to start non-profits aimed at bringing young people together around climate action. OneUpAction International was established by Patel in 2019, and focuses on climate justice, empowering historically marginalized youth communities with the resources to press to change. Jackson founded Grounded in 2017, to find and amplify solutions to global problems. Grounded organizes an annual summit on these solutions.
Jackson and Patel discussed their activism, as well as their recent Newsweek commentary, in a December 2021 conversation with Mongabay Founder Rhett. A. Butler.
AN INTERVIEW SERIES WITH JULIA JACKSON & KEEVIN J. PATEL
Mongabay: What inspired you to get involved in climate activism?
Julia Jackson: After my father’s passing to cancer, I learned through research how increased rates of disease are directly tied to how we’re harming the environment. While I was digesting this information, the wildfires appeared. It was the Tubbs Fire in Northern California, where my family lived in October 2017, which ignited my senses of urgency and set me off on this path. I vividly recall the scene of destruction when we evacuated the Sonoma ranch. It was like a scene from an apocalypse movie, I recall driving down the freeway. The hospital was on the verge of catching fire. The freeway was on fire. I couldn’t breathe. It was a torrential downpour of ash. The environmental damage we were committing as human beings was contributing to a rapidly warming climate, and the fires underscored a stark reality: the climate crisis isn’t coming; it’s here. Two years later, in 2019, I lost my home in Kincade Fire, a few months after hosting the first Grounded Summit. This gave me a deeper sense of purpose in my climate work.
DrawdownPaul Hawken edited my book. It helped me to control my anxiety and the visceral sensations of both wildfires. The book focuses on 100 solutions to reverse the climate crisis – it became the antidote to the hopelessness I felt. In those days, we were bombarded with doom-and gloom stories and dire science reports on the climate crisis. Very rarely did media present the solutions. My activism was inspired by the idea of finding solutions and building community around them. My mission is to unite all segments of society around solutions and awaken people about the urgency and speed with which they must be implemented.
Kevin PatelI was 12 years old, sitting in sixth-grade class when I felt chest pains. My arrhythmia was a condition where the heart beats in a different way to its normal rhythm. I didn’t have obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure. I began looking for reasons why this might be happening, and I found the answer right around me. South-Central Los Angeles was classified as a “sacrifice zone”—places where residents, often low-income and/or people of color, live close to freeways, factories, and oil wells. That’s where environmental inaction and damage have resulted in arrhythmia-stoking levels of smog. So, I started protesting. I led marches and petitioned government officials to demand climate justice from all who would listen.
Mongabay: What made you decide to start businesses? What are the goals of OneUpAction and Grounded?
Kevin Patel As I was getting involved in activism, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me. In 2018, more than 2,000 environmental charities were studied by the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. They found that more white staff members than 85 percent of them. I consider myself an intersectional climate activist and one of the millions who are already affected by the climate crisis. I didn’t see a home for people like myself.
In 2019, I founded OneUpAction InternationalThe organization supports and empowers marginalized youth through providing them with the resources and support they need to be changemakers and to address the climate crisis in their local communities to create a regenerative future.
Julia Jackson:Like many people in climate space, I started my career when I was just a teenager. Grounded, I struggled with the feeling of, “What can I possibly do to address this gigantic problem?” But the more I learned about solutions available now, the more I realized I can do something about our climate crisis. I focused on harnessing my overwhelm and turning the urgency into action. And action is different depending on each individual, everyone is capable – and my form of action was founding Grounded to mobilize nature-based solutions that are addressing the climate crisis.
The organization’s name reflects the idea of being grounded and connected to nature in order to effect change. This includes listening to the laws and acknowledging that we are, inherently, nature.
Grounded is focused on finding Earth based solutions and bringing together solutionists from different sectors. By cross-pollinating solutionists and grassroots community-based organizations with scientists, policymakers and the public we’re able to facilitate meaningful connections that de-silo climate sectors and drive global action. This is the solution to our climate crisis.
Mongabay, In a Recent op-edYou strongly rebuked Biden for his decision to auction 80m acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil-and-gas exploration. How did it feel to hear this news so soon after Glasgow?
Kevin PatelThis was a slap on the faces. President Biden had just stood up and asked the world “Will we act? Will we seize this huge opportunity? Or will we condemn future generations to suffer?” And it turns out that his administration had known for weeks that they’d already set in motion the biggest oil and gas lease in American history.
Julia Jackson:The equivalent of 157 million cars and 182 coal-fired power stations operating for one year are being auctioned by the administration. It’s an even larger offering than what former President Trump initially proposed, at a moment where any increase in fossil fuel production is a step closer to 1.5 in global temperature rise. Most people don’t realize that a move toward renewable energy is simply not enough. We have greenhouse gases that might be naked to the human eye but are currently trapped in our atmosphere – and will continue to cause warming even if we don’t cease production of fossil fuels today. We must reduce those emissions and also stop oil-and-gas lease sales. The administration’s decision to move forward with this sale puts us one step closer to irreversible climate breakdown.
Mongabay: What are your thoughts on the next steps in this process?
Julia Jackson:This is just the beginning. There are three more oil-and-gas lease sales left after Lease Sale 257. Oil and gas companies will continue placing short-term profit above the survival of a livable world. One of the most esteemed climate scientists Johan Rockström has demonstrated that plans by the oil and gas industry are not in line with scientific warnings. There’s a fundamental gap between what the scientific community is saying and sounding the alarm and the actions of these corporations. The simple answer is no. The Biden administration needs to pause the lease sale – which they can do – and shift the policy needed to reverse it entirely. They must also stop oil and gas drilling. A fair transition must be made now, by listening to the science.
Kevin PatelThis is an illegal transaction. The Department of the Interior should conduct adequate environmental studies. The study of Lease Sale 257 was flawed. It relied on outdated and inaccurate environmental impact statements prepared by the Trump administration. These statements outrageously concluded that the sale would not have any impact on climate change, despite emitting the equivalent of 182 new coal-plants. We believe this clearly violates two different federal laws, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).
There is a lot going on in court and there are many legal challenges. Secretary Haaland can still reverse the sale with greater public pressure.
Mongabay: What is your overall strategy to catalyze climate action?
Julia Jackson:: There must be more momentum and action to implement and scale effective solutions to the worst effects of the climate crisis. It is vital to educate the public on these solutions. If people don’t realize that there are solutions, they may continue to despair and act in inaction. Fair and equitable education is not available to everyone. This needs to change. We must make climate education more available. One way we’re doing this at Grounded is through our Climate Academy, a digital content series and event series that promotes nature-based, innovative climate solutions. Each month, we highlight a new solution such as preserving permafrost or limiting methane emission, and bring together scientists, activists, and solutionists for discussions. We share education in a variety of forms – live discussions, videos, articles, digestible toolkits individuals can download and share with their peers, family and communities. It is crucial to make education accessible in many formats. Our indigenous allies love to share their wisdom through conversation. This is a powerful and beautiful way to learn. Our goal is to make learning more interactive and accessible, to inspire more people to hope and take action.
Grounded also focuses on empowering women as climate leaders and solutionists to catalyze action. It’s been studied and reported that women and girls play a critical role in solving our climate crisis. We want to empower and mobilize women solutionists and activists, and advocate for equal representation at the international climate negotiation tables. This balance will ensure a better, more stable future for the planet and all living creatures.
Jojo Mehta cofounded the Climate Change Initiative, which is an amazing example of a female climate leader. Stop Ecocide International, the driving force behind, and central communications hub for, the growing global movement to make ecocide – the large-scale decimation of ecosystems that sequester carbon, sustain Indigenous communities, and keep our air and water clean – an international crime. We can’t expect technology to reverse the climate crisis without stable ecosystems and a healthy biosphere. Ecocide must be criminalized. Justin Winters, cofounder and executive director at Ecocide, is another inspiring female solutionist. One Earth, who developed the Global Safety Net — it’s the first comprehensive global-scale analysis of terrestrial areas essential for biodiversity and climate resilience, totaling 50.4% of the Earth’s land.
Our focus is on nature-based solutions and the people who bring them to scale. Education and community building are key to ensuring that our planet is protected.
Kevin Patel My broader strategy is focused on making sure young people are equipped with the resources – monetary aid, membership, etc. – to implement solutions and drive action within their communities. Our work also includes putting pressure on politicians and holding corporations accountable. We’ve had 26 COPs now and yet our global plans and efforts continue to destroy our planet. OneUpAction’s current focus is on young people. Youth will be the catalyst for the changes that our planet needs.
Mongabay: Which messages resonate the most with people you want to reach?
Julia Jackson:I believe people respond positively if they feel empowered to address the climate crisis. You can take small steps. If you’re determined to spend a weekend planting native tree, go for it. Start a climate book club. Messages that promote feelings of guilt or shame around “not doing enough” aren’t productive. Every single action counts, and we need more people to join this movement. It is important to remind people that they can make a difference in their community, family, and friends. Regeneration.org is one example of an organization which is successfully harnessing this agency. I’d encourage readers to visit the “Nexus” page on their site to learn about how you can get involved in climate solutions.
Kevin Patel There are many issues we face when it comes to the climate crisis; we’re facing challenges at a personal, national, corporate, and international level. When it comes to storytelling, I focus on communicating that the crisis is already here and if we don’t act millions more people will be affected. Our climate crisis will have a devastating impact on the next seven generations if we don’t act now. In my work, I emphasize the urgency of holding corporations and governments accountable for the atrocities they commit to our communities and the world. A well-researched finding that opens peoples’ eyes is that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of our global emissions. It changed the way that I saw the climate crisis. Individual action can make these entities accountable.
Mongabay: Do your efforts face resistance? For example, climate change deniers may target you or your organization.
Julia Jackson:Only recently, after the publication of our Op-Ed, did I get my first piece of hatemail. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re liked by everyone, and not everyone will agree with the work you’re doing. But if you feel a calling to do what you perceive is right and needed, you don’t give up. You overcome resistance and remain focused on your mission.
Kevin PatelYes. There is a lot of resistance from climate denier and lobbyists, as well as corporations that spend exorbitant amounts to spread misinformation. Many people believe climate change to be a hoax and wonder why they should care. These narratives are causing controversy in the climate movement. But the reality is, unless we take drastic action now, we won’t be able to limit global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees within this century.
What advice would you give to people who feel depressed or paralyzed by the immense challenges we have to face in order to address climate change?
Julia Jackson:People who feel depressed or paralyzed can be part of the solution, I tell them. You can harness all of that raw emotion you’re feeling toward action, and that becomes your strength. It’s also important to take care of yourself. You can only be successful if you’re healthy. Transcendental Meditation is a great way to manage my anxiety about the climate.
Kevin PatelPeople who are worried about the future and have eco-anxiety should know this: There is still hope. Despite all the headlines and visual effects of what’s happening around the globe, there is hope. There is hope for young people. There is hope in everyone – because everyone who is willing to make a change will make a difference in giving our communities a fair and just future. We have to stay optimistic and hopeful; if we don’t, we’ll never solve this crisis. You can make this change, regardless of who you are reading this. It takes only one action.
Mongabay – How can people get involved in Mongabay?
Kevin Patel+ Julia JacksonWe need people to act immediately to stop the largest oil-and-gas lease sale in American history. Call Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland now at (202) 208-3100. Tell her to stop Lease Sale 257, that it’s in her power, it’s an illegal sale we need to turn off the toxic hose. This will be her legacy and President Biden’s.