When I was growing up, my family spent every summer at the beach house my abuelo built by the Pacific Ocean just south of Rosarito, Mexico, where my father also spent his youth. I have vivid childhood memories of playing along the pristine Baja California shoreline, learning to surf and fishing with my dad.
I’d wake up each morning and look out the window at the massive kelp bed just offshore from the crashing waves and for a moment before running out to surf, I’d marvel at the blades dancing back and forth in the water.
Now I am a 25-year-old thinking about starting my own family one day. The kelp is nearly gone. My children may never see it.
I can’t help but wonder what else the next generation stands to lose.
As the California conservation coordinator with Wildcoast, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and addresses climate change through natural solutions, I’m inspired every day to make sure future generations have opportunities to experience ocean life like I did growing up.
It’s easy for young people to feel helpless about climate change and the rising temperatures of our oceans. We are bombarded with negative news and dire warnings on a daily basis and have been for most of our lives. But I want my generation to know that we have hope.
While transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy is important, it shouldn’t be our only focus. More and more, new science is recognizing the wisdom and expertise of Indigenous peoples’ approach to natural resource use and management, such as the use of fire to support healthy forests. And according to Nature4Climate, our efforts to conserve, restore and better manage our oceans, forests, grasslands and wetlands — often referred to as “natural climate solutions” — can help us achieve one-third of the emission reductions we need by 2030.
One of my favorite projects at Wildcoast provides young people opportunities to explore and learn about “blue carbon” ecosystems, such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass beds, that sequester carbon naturally out of the atmosphere every day. First, we gather mud samples from California’s San Dieguito Lagoon in order to measure the amount of carbon that can be stored in the natural environment. From there, we are able to demonstrate the incredible value communities can receive when we invest in restoration and conservation projects.
We also engage high school and college students in restoration efforts like removing invasive plant species, replanting native species and maintaining trails for all to enjoy in these vital wetlands.
The more ecosystems we can restore, the more carbon will be naturally stored and managed — not only reducing atmospheric carbon but preserving critical ecosystems for future generations of families to enjoy.
Focusing on natural solutions to climate change is also key to building a workforce that can help us combat climate change in more and different ways. Many of us younger millennials and members of Generation Z increasingly prioritize meaningful work as much as where and how we do our work.
We also know millions of Americans are quitting their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey from Pew Research Center shows workers under 30 were much more likely to leave their jobs by choice than older generations. Workers ages 23 to 28 are also experiencing the lowest levels of job satisfaction and highest levels of burnout, according to MetLife’s latest annual employee benefits report.
Thanks to organizations like Wildcoast and others such as The Nature Conservancy, there are tons of internship and work opportunities for young people with different interests and skills.
Whether it is restoring coastal ecosystems in California, building capacity for forest restoration in Minnesota or implementing agroforestry in Iowa, people all over the U.S. are finding ways to marry their passions with our collective need to combat climate change. Let’s pay attention.
I hope all Americans and policymakers will realize the significant opportunity natural climate solutions present to provide young people opportunities to find jobs they love and help us save the planet.
For me personally, I couldn’t ask for a better career. I feel great when I’m out in the field. I get to focus on my passion for the ocean, be around beautiful wildlife and feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.