Alumni Voices: Climate Action on the Ice
By Guest blogger & Sustainability Studies Minor Alum Laura Dorle
Laura Dorle here. I was in your shoes three years ago. It was then that I was a senior at the U studying Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management with a focus on policy (or for those of you in that major – ESPM, PPLS track). I really had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated (a Master’s program? Law School? Join the Peace Corps?), and I was anxious to figure it out. That semester I was interning at the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota in their Government Relations Department. I had a great supervisor, and I remember her telling me that many people in college tend to think about their career in terms of future schooling, and that is in fact what she had done going to law school, but that that was not really the best route to take. It is important to get out and have some real-world experience. She encouraged me to apply for fellowship opportunities, and so that’s what I did.
So whilst procrastinating one day in the library on a paper, I made a spreadsheet of different fellowship opportunities that interested me. A lot of them, however, were research-based. While I liked research, it was not what I was most passionate about. In addition to the internship, I had the opportunity during my time at the U to work under a few different professors in the Department of Forest Resources and the Department of Agronomy. I learned so much in that work, and I still consider the professors I worked under to be close mentors, but I also learned that academic research was not something that I could see myself doing long-term.
One other thing that I spent a lot of time doing in college was activism. During my time at the U, I worked with a then-newly created student group called U Students Like Good Food and a national organization Real Food Challenge on a campaign to get the university to put their money where their mouth is in terms of sustainability by committing to purchase 20% local, sustainable, humane, and fair food products by 2020. I had a great time getting to work with other passionate students to strategize, meet with dining officials, sustainability staff, and even the university president to tell them about our project and convince them that it should be a priority for the university. At the end of my senior year, we had changed the minds of all of these people and gotten a commitment from dining services to track the food using our “Real Food Calculator” system at one of the dining halls. It was a small victory, but a huge step forward and an important jumping off point for the students that have carried on this initiative.
It was that work that led me to apply and take a job with Impact. Impact is a non-profit project of leading advocacy organizations, including Environment America and USPIRG, that runs grassroots campaigns. It’s a full-time, two-year commitment to work for our environment, our democracy and our future.
I was flexible, but wanted to be on the coast so they offered me a position in Maine working with Environment Maine. I got to work on our Global Warming Solutions campaign, building support for the U.S.’s most historic climate policy yet, the Clean Power Plan. Here in Maine, we have two very important U.S. Senators, an independent and a moderate Republican, that we wanted to make climate champions. How? By raising the voices of community leaders who we knew supported climate action, but were not necessarily plugged in to the policy and politics around it – everyone from doctors to fishermen. One thing I am particularly proud of is planning and implementing a plan to organize ice fishermen, a key constituency in Maine’s winter climate. I started by meeting with one activist and his wife, getting their feedback, and then actually got out on the ice with a clipboard talking to people about their thoughts on climate change and how it was impacting Maine. One angler showed me how to use the auger and then offered later to give me a tour of the fish hatchery he runs.
I have enjoyed the work so much and learned a lot. I decided to take the opportunity to take on my new role as Environment Maine’s Campaigns Director, planning and executing our campaign plans and raising money so we can do even more. I am not going to lie, it is hard work, and still today I am nervous for a lot of what I do, but it is so worth the experience gained. I know that I will have many doors opened to me in the future.
Feature article courtesy of Laura Dorle. Photos courtesy of Laura Dorle.