Selva Chats | Becky Chung of Our Climate Story
Becky Chung is the innovative and compassionate force behind Our Climate Story, a project that shares the stories of those most affected by climate change: you, me, and everyone else. These vignettes aim to unify and humble us through the power of the human experience and illustrate that whomever you are and wherever you are - the effects of climate change can be seen.
Today we begin our new series, Selva Chats, by interviewing the interviewer, Becky Chung:
You started Our Climate Story in September 2014, after participating in the People's Climate March. What was so arresting about that experience that you started this whole project?
Before the People's Climate March, I had never self-identified as an activist, or even an environmentalist - though momentum was slowly building within. Particularly in the months leading up to the march in NYC, I had come from a solo backpacking trip through Costa Rica for about 7 weeks and from a month working on a trail crew in the Redwoods in Northern California. These are the experiences that launched me into creating Our Climate Story. Though witnessing the breathtaking solidarity of thousands of people can be isolated as the moment I knew I would create the project, none of it would have been possible without experiences from the months prior.
How are you experiencing climate change where you live?
Currently, I live in Orange County in Southern California, and though the California drought is affecting the region as it is affecting the entire state, I can't say that climate change is largely impacting daily life in the region. Climate change will impact low-income communities of color first and foremost, and actions that worsen climate change, such as fracking, deforestation, and more, have historically been done in developing nations and low-income communities. It does pain me to see such an affluent community completely disregard the fact that the decisions they make daily are leading to the Pacific Islands becoming uninhabitable for thousands of people and the destruction of rainforest communities and ecosystems in Indonesia, but it's also motivation for me to continue taking action to educate and empower the community however I can.
You're deeply involved in grassroots environmental activism, do you see change happening at the community level?
I believe very strongly in grassroots environmental activism and its importance in making substantial change when politics internationally and nationally remains stagnant. It's difficult for me to measure the change that happens at the community level, but I'm gradually seeing a slow shift, particularly in high school and college aged youth, towards an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. What that means to me is a decrease in the usage of plastic water bottles and products with conflict palm oil of those around me. Mind-shift change takes decades for communities and so for now, I'm simply hoping to plant the seeds for future activists to build upon.
What's next on the horizon for OCS?
With every month that passes, it seems like at least one aspect of Our Climate Story drastically progresses and expands. As I leave for college in exactly one year, I can very confidently say that I have no idea what is on the horizon for the project. Before I leave for college, I do hope to have strong leadership in OC to continue community workshops and campaigning, but as for the storytelling of the project, one aspect I will continue is gathering the stories of the people I meet and places I go. The next four years of my life will be turbulent as I grow as an environmentalist, student, and person, and Our Climate Story can be a strong platform to document these years and the different experiences I'll undergo.
As the Rainforest Action Network's Palm Oil Action Leader in Orange County, what's your best advice for those feeling hopeless about the effects of palm-oil?
I completely understand that people who are just finding out about the palm-oil crisis can feel completely overwhelmed and hopeless. I only discovered the issue last year and felt as if I couldn't do anything without eating or using a product with palm oil in it - not a false sentiment as palm oil is in about 50% of processed products but one that doesn't often lead to any productive action.
Self-education and community awareness are key to those feeling hopeless! It's hard for me to look at pictures from palm oil plantations or to read reports done on palm oil, but it's so vital to remembering why I fight the good fight. Community awareness is an amazing solution to hopelessness, because the general response I've received after talking about palm oil has been astounding - nobody wants to be eating something that contributes to mass extinction or deforestation. Talking about it to others helps you feel like you're in a community, and of the many environmental communities I'm a part of, the palm-oil community continually amazes me with its dedication and support systems. The problem with palm oil is a lack of education; I believe that once we reach the tipping point and enough consumers know about the destruction and prevalence of palm oil, corporate power and inefficient governments will only be stepping stones to a sustainable future.
What one item would you make palm-oil free if you could?
If I could make hot Cheetos palm oil free, I would. I loved Cheetos when I was younger and was heartbroken to learn that they had conflict palm oil in them. Even worse, they're from the company I spent the past few months campaigning against with RAN - PepsiCo!
If you'd like to connect with Our Climate Story further, like them on Facebook or add them on Instagram and stay up on the stories they share. Also, if you want to read our feature on OCS, click here.