We had the pleasure to speak with and learn from Marlow Baines, a young climate activist, author and speaker. Marlow works for the Earth Guardians program as a Youth Director, has presented at climate conferences globally and is the author of Little Black Book: A Young Activist’s Love Story.
Marlow shared with us her journey of becoming an activist, where her hope and inspiration comes from, the importance of poetry in her life and her recent experience attending COP26. She also gave excellent recommendations for people who are starting their activism journey and advice on how to combat feelings of eco-anxiety.
Marlow speaking at the 2019 October Climate Strike, CO, USA
Q: Where did your inspiration for being a climate activist come from?
I grew up very immersed in what we call ‘nature’. I was homeschooled in first and second grade, so, my mom taught me basic principles of mathematics using pinecones and stones. We would go to the desert in Utah and I would learn that cryptobiotic soil is a living organism, and that you respect the land underneath your feet.
As I grew older, we moved from Seattle to Evergreen, and Evergreen to Boulder, Colorado, where my mom got involved in the anti-fracking movement. All of a sudden, I was going to these talks about glaciers melting, and polar bears losing their homes. I learnt what CO2 meant from Bill McKibbens, the founder of 350.org. There were a lot of influences at that time.
There was a song from an artist called MC Yogi, with a line that says, be the change you want to see in the world just like Ghandi. I remember walking back from school thinking that there’s this thing called climate change and I’m supposed to take action on it. The adults keep saying we need to take action, but why aren’t they doing anything about it? Don’t they know that they need to be the change? Then, during sixth grade there was a flood in Colorado that was later called a one thousand year flood. It left me feeling pretty unsteady, like the rains were trying to wash something away. I began to realize that this climate change thing could be experienced through wildfires, floods and extreme snowstorms.
When I entered 9th grade, that was really the defining moment. I went up to Standing Rock North Dakota, to support the water protectors with their stand against the Dakota access pipeline. I remember right before we left, I stood on the hill between the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (o-che-ti sha-co-ee) water protectors camp and the Dakota Access pipeline. I remember feeling so much grief and determination because I realized I was standing at the duality between our current reality. On one side, there was human collaboration and an attempt to work together, and on the other side there was human competition for resources that should not be up for debate.
For some background, there was an Indigenous youth group that first brought attention to Standing Rock and it was a mental health collective. They did a peace run to Washington, DC because they realized if people feel a connection to their culture and draw to the land, there’s more incentive to stay alive. So, they were one of the initial groups that began the encampment at Standing Rock. I look back and that explains it all. A bunch of human beings realizing it doesn’t take anything special to get involved. This made me realize that no ONE was going to do anything about this climate crisis, and that I had a part to play in this. I knew I wanted to be a part of the change and the change could begin with me. So, I got involved with Earth Guardians and very quickly my life changed forever.
Q: Can you talk about what Earth Guardians is and your role within the organization?
Earth Guardians (EG) trains and empowers youth to become effective leaders at the intersection of environmental and climate justice. What that means is we train youth to be leaders, then empower them to step into leadership positions within their own communities — or on a global or national scale. Currently, EG is working on in-person training as well as something called ‘project grants’ to fund our grassroots youth leads. This means youth can be supported in their communities financially to do the projects they want.
What makes this program unique is that there’s a support structure built in. The youth are interconnected with our staff, our regional directors and youth council members, so they’re supported from beginning to end. Any project that EG does focuses on equitability and regeneration. So, really making sure youth feel supported and there’s an equitable exchange of time and resources as well as making sure they’re prioritizing regeneration in their projects.
My role within earth guardians is Youth Director. What this means is that I’m supporting our youth programs by making sure there’s cohesion and collaboration between our different teams. I act as a liaison for our youth leaders to make sure they have all the resources they need. Currently, I have been working on building a wisdom and advisory council. There are two components of it; first is that we want to engage with youth who have previously been involved in EG for advice or to be facilitators or teachers. Second, is that any adults that have worked with us previously can act as a support for our programs.
Over my time at EG, I have worked in many positions. I started as crew lead, then I was a regional director, global crew director then youth director. We have something called a crew network with crews all across the globe, and we lead them through onboarding, basic leadership skills and then support them in tackling an issue in their community.
Q: You mention climate justice, what does climate justice mean in the framework of Earth Guardians?
You cannot have climate justice without social justice, and it’s particularly important for the regeneration aspect of Earth Guardians. We need to empower all people and provide equitable resources and opportunities for those that may not have them. One example that comes to mind is our youth council bringing forward the question of who has the power in EG. This made us look at the organization’s funding and power structures and encouraged us to ask ourselves, “How can we create a more equitable and supportive community?”
Out of that process, we realized we can run EG virtually, so anyone anywhere can engage with the program. Realizing equitability in the community took a lot of active listening and support – particularly supporting those on the ground. We realized the need to talk about climate change and racial and gender inequalities. We knew we needed to bring marginalized voices to the table …. not only bring them to the table but give them a seat and give them power. Our new executive director is from Tanzania, Africa so our staff has now been able to be global. A big focus has been uplifting the voices of our BIPOC youth and bringing them into staff positions. For example, five of our youth that were on our youth council are now staff members.
Q: What has your personal journey of becoming an ally looked like?
As a white, tall, slim, blonde haired woman, I check many boxes of privilege. I realized pretty early on that I wanted to act as an ally, but I needed to learn how. Throughout my journey, what I’ve learned to be the most impactful and productive is listening – deeply listening. This lesson comes out of experiences working with many people from many backgrounds. I’m going to tell a story about a time at EG when I learned about deep listening. We were having a conversation about equitability in EG that was a taxing experience for me. But it was not as taxing as for those who are black, Indigenous and people of color. What we spoke about, those traumas of tokenization, are something I had to learn about, but not experience. In this space, when I hear my BIPOC friends need support I can speak up and put that weight on my shoulders. When people say, “I’m very exhausted,” I can step up and say, “I’m hearing this person needs extra support. How about we rearrange some things so we can support them.”
It’s really about listening to a person’s needs and being able to advocate for those needs in a way that is supportive, collective and collaborative. When stuff needs to be called out or called in (people’s accountability to be called in) it’s important to speak up. There’s a delicate line between being present and actively listening and stepping back so those whose voices are not prominent within the space can step forward.
This process is super scary and uncomfortable, but we need to use the privilege we have been given to be active allies. We want to work towards a place where everyone can speak up and feel comfortable. I’m grateful that I recognize the practice of allyship. But, just recognizing isn’t enough, you need to move beyond the readings, and the education towards the actual practice. In this practice, imperfect allyship will happen, you’re going to mess up and say the wrong thing, but you need to step up and support people who need the support. When people say, “I’m so scared”, I recommend thinking about a time when you wanted to feel heard and someone brought forward your needs. How did that feel? If you can understand the feeling of someone supporting you, then it’s not as scary because you know that you can do that for another human being.
Q: I also want to talk about your poetry. What made you choose poetry as a form of communication and why do you love it?
I think like many people, when I was younger I was very creative, but I was also very structured in my creativity. I would go to the kitchen, put my art smock on, get my warm milk and sit down to the eisel. I have always loved words and been drawn to creative writing and novels. For many years I pushed that part away from me. When I was in 12th grade, I went back to a Waldorf school and was in a transcendentalism class. We were reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and all of a sudden it clicked for me that people could write poetry the way that I write. I have a poem that goes …
I always write in incomplete sentences
so, your mind can fill in the blanks
I have always had an issue writing fragmented sentences, but I realized I can use that as a power. I can use my love of words and turn that into feeling and expression. All of a sudden, I got this well of inspiration. I bought this little black notebook and that’s why my book is called Little Black Book: A Young Activists Love Story. I started writing poems and it became a therapeutic process for me. At the same time, I was able to guide people in a way that made them feel things. I see this a lot in the movement – using art in a way that inspires people. My friends were into music and writing and it made me feel something. You can have facts, but when someone tells a personal experience and is able to tie it into why the facts are so important it has a much greater impact. That’s why I like poetry so much, it’s a tool to tell people what’s going on with the climate, while sharing personal experience and helping people resonate. We can collectively understand something through this type of structure.
Marlow speaking at 2019 Climate Strike
“No one is going to do it, but everyone can.”
Q: You talk about leadership starting with our imagination on your website, can you talk about what this idea means?
Something I love about Earth Guardians is the idea of a bunch of people coming to the table with all different experiences, passions and ideas. There have been such profound experiences when we’re faced with a topic or problem and we have to imagine, using all of our collective experiences, an idea. This idea is then passed to another person, and we rebuild the next iteration of it. This comes back to the concept that it doesn’t take anything special to be a leader, we all have something to contribute in the moment. No one is going to do it, but everyone can. The idea is not to limit yourself because of a structure but recognize that the structure is a container in which you can create whatever you want to see happen. Know that the container can be taken away at any time if you want it to, and recognize you have that ability.
Q: Is there something in particular that keeps you going or gives you hope?
I have a poem that starts:
Mother of three looked at me
“But, you have to feel hopeless!”
Again, I try to explain that my
sphere gives me
I think this subject can be a lot. The only way to feel grounded is knowing that this is going on at a global scale and that people can resonate with you, but not to get lost in how large of an issue it is. If the issue feels too large, make it smaller. Start smaller and then expand. The most impact we’re ever going to have is at the local levels and we must start from the bottom up, not the top down. Whenever we’re getting super lost about the climate crisis, and politics, and what is going on around the world we must see it, feel it, and process those feelings. Use that anger and frustration and transform it into hope, inspiration and continuation. The tool I have used is definitely community.
Marlow at Haven Coleman at the Denver State Capitol
Q: Eco-anxiety plagues so many people, do you have any advice for people who feel debilitated by this feeling?
1. Ground yourself in the natural world
One practical tool is going outside. Whether you’re in the city or in a forest, find a bench or somewhere to sit next to a tree, or on a patch of grass. Look at the little bugs in the grass in the summer, or if it’s in the fall look at the leaves falling. Take a deep breath, because we have to learn how to breathe through all of this. Then recognize that you’re not alone. Inherently when we take a deep breath we can imagine the connection we have with every single person. But also, the connection of where our oxygen is coming from and what we contribute back using our out breath. That is the first step, grounding. When you feel the urge to be like “now I want to take action”, find a place where you’re heard and seen. Know that there are so many amazing people and organizations that can support you, you don’t have to start your own.
2. Find community
There’s this interesting moment between feeling completely petrified by what’s going on and wanting to take action. If you find yourself there, it’s important to find a place, like an organization to get involved in because you’re not the only one feeling those things. Social media is a great tool you can use. You can start following a few climate activists. The algorithm will give you the content you want and all of a sudden your feed will be full of climate and social justice content. Social media is a great tool to find people too. You can start by looking at all the speakers on @earthguardians and following them.
Q: Are there people that come to mind that you think people should follow?
If you’re into outdoor sports Caroline Gleich is one of my favorites. She’s a skier, a runner and a badass climate activist. Melati Wijsen, is from Bali and she started an organization called Bye Bye Plastic Bags and is now running a company called Youthtopia, which has very similar mission statements to Earth Guardian. I also think @intersectionalenvironmentalist is great to follow because they feature so many great people. Kiana Kazemi is one of my favorites to follow who is involved with Intersectional Environmentalist.
Q: What would you say to people who are beginning their climate activism journey, what are some first steps?
There’s this idea that our own personal actions don’t have that much of an impact on the world. This isn’t true. Start by looking at your daily routine. You may realize that instead of throwing things away you can compost, recycle and have a small trash bin. Then, something clicks, and you start thinking about all aspects of your daily behaviour. You look at your food, and if it’s accessible, you can buy local produce or support local farmers. You can make your coffee in the morning, bring your own reusable cup, bring your water bottle around — there are simple things you can start to think about. When you start using new products, begin to research them by looking up ‘environmental impact of _____’. Here, you can start to educate yourself. Look at your daily routine, begin to become conscious of your consumerism, educate yourself and as you begin to educate yourself start to have conversations with people. A simple conversation can change your life and another person’s life, so share what you’re learning and begin to have a dialogue with those around you.
“The most powerful tool that we have as a people powered movement is community.”
Q: Can you share the most valuable thing you took away from COP26 this year?
Weirdly enough, I left feeling more hopeful than I ever have from any big climate conference. Locality is a huge takeaway from this event — localize, localize, localize. Localize your actions and then network with other cities and towns that are doing something similar and connect with people on a grassroots level. What I saw at COP is that politicians and corporate leaders are just people, they want to take action so desperately, but they’re missing the mark every time. So rather than being existential about that, we need to recognize how the local community, city council and municipality can change things locally. What I have noticed with my activism in Colorado is that when you take action in your own city, you inspire people in other cities to take action, then you start networking with those other cities that have taken action, then you start to coalition build and all of a sudden you’re at the state level changing policies through legal action. Do not limit yourself by the existentialism of how large and broad this issue is. The most powerful tool that we have as a people powered movement is community. Every single choice that we make is an opportunity to learn. Recognize that your actions ARE making an impact. We often want to see things change drastically, but things take time. Recognize that you as an individual have the agency to make change.
COP26 Conference in Glasgow
Q: Do you know of any networking platform that people could look to make connections?
There’s a person on Instagram, Kristy Drutman who compiles green jobs, she just launched a website where she will continue to add green internship and job opportunities. The other few I can think of is of course Earth Guardians. There’s also Future Coalition, which is all about empowering people to get involved in networking and coalition building. This is a great way to build more community. The third is ACE, which stands for Action for the Climate Emergency. They’ve done a lot of climate education and storytelling. Those are a few organizations where people can start. If something speaks to them off the website, take those key words and plug them in like “climate activism opportunities” or “climate strikes”. That’s another one too, the Fridays for Future Climate Strike.
We’re so grateful to Marlow for taking the time to speak with us. If you want to hear more from her, check out her website and Instagram.
All images for this article were sourced and given to us by Marlow Baines.
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