“When women are included in sustainable natural-resource management, clean energy deployment and infrastructure development, as well as policy decisions, this brings in the diverse perspectives needed to ensure that approaches to climate resiliency are successful.”
How important is climate literacy and action, for young people, women and across communities to build a more equitable and resilient future? Nicole Rom, Executive Director of Climate Generation, with over a decade of international experience across education and environmental science, talks to us about the importance of intergenerational collaboration and the crucial role women play in achieving a sustainable planet. [8 minute read]
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: Could you tell us a bit about your professional journey?
Nicole Rom: I was always interested in the environment and have always been passionate about addressing environmental challenges through education and policy. In college, I majored in environmental studies and minored in education. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Tanzania for my junior year in college that I realized I was interested in pursuing a career specifically in either education (teaching) or the environmental nonprofit sector.
I returned for my senior year and applied to the Peace Corps to figure out whether I wanted to pursue a teaching career or nonprofit career. I served two years in the Republic of Kazakhstan as an environmental education volunteer, where I taught ecology in Russian and in English to 5th-11th grades and worked with a local environmental NGO. Through my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, I decided to pursue graduate school in environmental policy and education, to build upon my academic foundation from college and eventually end up in the nonprofit/NGO sector.
After graduate school, I was able to secure a job at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as an educator, working with several nonprofits to offer place-based environmental education programming. I managed their high school environmental leadership program in Detroit as well. After a few years at NWF, I was given the opportunity to move to Minnesota to begin building a new nonprofit established by polar explorer Will Steger, who was motivated to start a nonprofit by the disintegration of ice shelves in the Polar Regions and the lack of education and action to address climate change.
In 2006, I moved to Minneapolis to launch what was then the Will Steger Foundation with Will Steger. Now Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, we empower youth, educators, decision makers and the public to foster climate literacy and action with the goal of building a more equitable and resilient future.
We have over ten years of experience delivering high-quality education, public engagement and youth leadership programming, reaching over 75,000 people, 35,000 students and 17,000 educators since 2006.
In 2014 and 2015, we were recognized by The White House’s Climate Education and Literacy Initiative for our work engaging educators and the public. Each year we reach 5,000 educators, 3,500 youth and thousands of people through public outreach.
TRS: What does your current role as the Executive Director of Climate Generation entail?
NR: I have been the Executive Director of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy since 2006, which has included starting and sustaining the organization by providing visioning and development activities for the team and our climate change education and youth leadership programs. I work directly with our 13-member Board of Directors and 20+ member Advisory Board to develop strategy and oversee the implementation and evaluation of our programs. I am responsible for raising and managing the organization’s approximate $800k annual budget. I directly supervise 4 of our 10 employees and oversee our Education, Public Engagement and Youth Leadership program implementation and evaluation.
Climate Generation is a non-profit dedicated to engaging individuals and their communities in climate change solutions. We work with local, state, and national decision-makers to craft sound climate and clean energy policy; we build leadership development and action planning programs for youth across Minnesota; and we develop and deliver educational curricula, professional development, and public education initiatives that achieve climate literacy and community solutions.
Our work is centered on creating climate-resilient communities that are connected and able to work collectively to address climate change. In order to achieve action on climate change, we must build the capacity of communities at a local level by connecting people to their community, to resources, and ultimately to decision makers.
As a small non-profit, our work depends on effective partnerships. I work with a multi-disciplinary team of internal staff to cultivate and manage relationships with funders and partners from across Minnesota, the Midwest, nationally, and internationally. I have worked with the U.S. EPA, the Norwegian and Canadian governments, advocacy organizations, businesses and philanthropic foundations. I am well versed and connected in the climate change arena, particularly in Minnesota and across the Midwest through our work with the RE-AMP network and member organizations. In 2015, I was honored to be recognized by Midwest Energy News as a 40 Under 40 clean energy leader.
TRS: With a focus on Sustainable Development Goal 5, why does promoting gender equality help make the planet more sustainable?
Gender equity is paramount to a sustainable planet: when women succeed, communities are stronger and when communities are stronger, we all benefit.
Around the world, women are often the caretakers in their communities, and that includes serving as stewards of the natural resources. When women are seen as equal, this perspective receives the importance it deserves.
What’s more, climate change is having and will continue to have a disproportionate impact on women, and sharing their stories is critical for raising awareness of the issue.
Women bear the burden of these changes because they are traditionally the food providers, water collectors, and child-rearers in their family – they are particularly attuned to changes happening in their communities. Apart from climate impacts, women’s sense of agency is critical to enabling a low-carbon and clean energy transition.
When women are included in sustainable natural-resource management, clean energy deployment and infrastructure development, as well as policy decisions, this brings in the diverse perspectives needed to ensure that approaches to climate resiliency are successful.
TRS: How can men in particular lead on the empowerment of women?
NR: As the leader of a small nonprofit with a staff of mostly women, I’ve seen the benefits that come from the empowered female voices we have on our team. I have also seen the men affiliated with our organization recognize and champion this women-centered leadership as a strength.
Our founder Will Steger, for example, has always surrounded himself with strong, driven women who have helped him succeed throughout his career. Men should be able to step aside to let women lead, recognizing that diversity in leadership allows for more open-mindedness, creativity and innovation.
TRS: Through your work and experience with young leaders, what is your key message for young people globally, looking at the problems faced by our world?
RM: Climate Generation recognizes the importance of empowering youth as a key strategy in transitioning to a just and sustainable future for all. We believe in the inherent genius of youth and know from experience that mentorship fosters powerful youth leadership at the community level.
Our youth leaders are inspiring peers, family members, and local decision-makers to take critical action on climate change solutions. Young people are key stakeholders in public policy decisions that will directly impact their future and quality of life.
When youth are mentored on public policy, political organizing, and communications strategy, they can affect local action at their schools, in their communities, and ultimately in their state or national capitols.
We’ve seen this happen with our phenomenal young leaders again and again…
– so my advice would be to step up and lead from wherever you are. Don’t let anyone tell you that just because you can’t vote, you can’t make a difference.
We know the burden of climate change falls heaviest on young people today, but as a young person, your capacity for vision, hope and innovative ideas for a better future are powerful. You can lead from your own experience and perspective to inspire action among your families and communities, and meaningfully advance climate change solutions.
TRS: What gives you hope?
RM: It’s easy to be hopeful when things are going well, but when you most need to be hopeful is when things are at their worst. I’m not talking about disengaged hope, but radical, resilient hope; hope that allows us to dig in and be the climate champions that future generations need us to be – that is what drives me and our work.
Climate Generation’s core mission and values are deeply rooted in the hope that comes from working with young people, educators, and committed individuals.
What we’ve learned doing this work over the past 10 years is that the most important thing is building bridges, not focusing on what divides us. The most effective way forward on climate change is connecting around a value or concern we genuinely share, and there is no shortage of ways climate change affects us all.
We know this starts through the power of story, a guiding philosophy our founder Will Steger instilled in our work, because now we are all eyewitnesses to climate change.
Now, more than ever, it’s time to champion local and state-level efforts of communities and leaders advancing equitable low-carbon solutions. The desire for change is real. The momentum is with us.
We are seeing it in private sector leadership, a growing clean energy economy, and countries honoring their commitments to meeting the goals laid out in the Paris climate agreement. We’re seeing it in public engagement here in the U.S. – from deeper engagement at the local level, to nationally-coordinated resistance efforts.
With an administration in place that shuns accepted climate science, environmental protections, and so many social justice issues, public demonstrations such as marches are powerful ways to highlight Americans’ resistance to this destructive platform. More than a form of resistance, however, marches are turning into vehicles for unity, hope and inspiration. All of this together…
– in short, the work I am privileged to do every day alongside passionate, committed and creative people – gives me hope.