Caption: Goats and sheep return to camp after a day of browsing in the brush along a seasonal river in the foothills of a mountain range along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Severe flooding during the rainy season in 2020 washed away the donkeys and camels that once belonged to this community, but the smaller animals were able to avoid the torrent and survived. Because of climate change, seasonal rains, if they come at all, are more unpredictable and violent than in previous years. MCC's partner, Afar Pastoralist Development Association, are bringing nutritional support to drought-affected women and children, as well as veterinary care and fodder to the goats and sheep on which the communities depend. MCC photo/Rose Shenk
Photo courtesy of Clara Weybright
Nearly a year after my own graduation from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), I found myself back in the middle of an EMU class that I’d taken my junior year – Environmental Risk and Policy.
The class, taught by Doug Graber Neufeld, professor of biology and director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS), had introduced me to the world of environmental policy and eventually connected me to the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC U.S.) Washington Office.
Now, I had the opportunity to return to that same class to teach the students how to advocate for just policies that address climate change – an issue that has become my full-time job this year through a fellowship with CSCS, in partnership with MCC U.S.
In addition, our faith mandates that we confront injustice. Migration, public health and food production are all impacted negatively by climate change.
At the end of the class, the students met with staff in their U.S. senators’ offices to discuss federal funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The fund, which is supported by multiple countries, helps low-income countries adapt to the pressures of a changing climate and reduce their own emissions.
You too can write your legislator about supporting the Green Climate Fund through this action alert.
The students were attending these meetings at a strategically beneficial time. Currently, Congress is beginning the annual appropriations process, where they decide which programs to fund and at what amount.
None of these students had met with staff in a congressional office before. Understandably, some of them were nervous, but they carefully prepared a series of talking points and went into their meetings equipped to share their perspectives. Accompanied by either Neufeld or myself, they told stories and asked questions of the congressional staff members.
What follows are excerpts from five students’ reflections after their meetings. I’ll let them tell you, in their own words, why you should start advocating for improved climate policies:
Rodrigo Barahona, a sophomore who met with staff of Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia
Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Barahona
As much as we can change our lifestyle to promote sustainability and environmental consciousness, we cannot deny that policies play a massive role in the way environmental issues are handled in a country.
I think that meetings such as this one are essential in that they provide a unique opportunity of connecting with those who have the capacity to achieve major strides on any particular issue in a country. While meetings might have felt short and inconsequential to some, just the act of letting policymakers know what we, the public, deem as important could make a big difference in the long run.
Andrea Troyer, a sophomore, met with staff of Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia
I found this experience life-giving in knowing that I was making some positive impact on a sustainability issue that I deeply care about. The worries and tension eased up a lot when we learned that Senator Warner would very likely support appropriating funds to the Green Climate Fund and that energy and the environment are topics that he finds important. [The staff member] even said, “I wish Senator Warner was on this Zoom because he would agree with each of you,” which put a smile on my face.
I think it’s important that we continue advocating because it brings the perspectives of all people to light to address issues that citizens care about! I would tell others who are considering visits to their public officials to DO IT! We need political participation more now than ever and it’s life-giving to advocate for an issue one passionately cares about.
From Anika Hurst, a first-year student, met with the staff of Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania
[The meeting] was a little frustrating because it felt like we were not going to make a drastic difference in the decisions or opinions of the congressman and his [staff]. However, I think that it was still a good experience that taught me a lot about advocacy and the importance of voicing opinions and beliefs even if there might not be an immediate result.
I would tell others [interested in advocating] to continue to find ways to reach out and connect with their local officials. If more and more people connect with them and voice their opinions, then the representatives will gain a better picture of … the public’s beliefs, and they may be more willing to do some more research and advocate on the public’s behalf.
Levi Geyer, a junior who met with the staff of Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa:
I wanted to make sure I conveyed my passion for the subject and decided to use the story of my own family’s farm to accomplish this. Story has a powerful honesty, a non-aggressive way of taking a firm stand. I spoke of our farm and how we are making various changes to be more environmentally friendly. […] I wanted to show [the staff member] that we were willing to make changes, and imply that he and other Iowans could, too.
Micah Buckwalter — a sophomore who met the staff of Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia
Photo courtesy of Micah Buckwalter
"Climate change is something that I am very passionate about fighting, but sometimes it feels overwhelming to think of how much destruction has already been done and how much needs to happen for us to make significant change.
"Through this experience, however, I realized that advocating [to] our senators and representatives to show them how important this issue really is can be a great way to have a real impact."
What about you?
The advocacy that these students did is something anyone can do.
Not sure how? Check out How to Be an Advocate.
Visiting a legislator’s office, either in person or virtually, is straightforward, and you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of the policy for which you’re advocating. You simply need to understand the relevance of a policy in addressing climate change and connect it to your personal convictions and stories.
Every year, MCC U.S.’s advocacy offices are joined by the committed efforts of thousands of constituents around the United States. Now, the world has gained 15 more young advocates who are equipped and empowered to advocate for climate justice.