Climate Career Summit 2023: Empowering youth to make change

Panelist Arieann Harrison introduces herself

On July 12, over 300 Enterprise community members attended our second annual Climate Career Summit for the chance for youth to explore the world of climate careers. Eight speakers from a diverse set of careers relating to climate justice, sustainability, environmental education, and public policy spoke about their career pathways and answered prepared questions from our interns. Speakers introduced themselves and their careers then joined a breakout room for more intimate conversations with youth. In the breakout rooms Enterprise program assistants worked as moderators, asking the presenter a series of questions previously submitted by Enterprise youth.

Along with the rest of the Enterprise staff, I attended the summit, to support the speakers and the youth, but also to listen and learn. I’m 19, just a year out of high school, and I think most of my generation would agree with me when I say fears about the ‘impending doom’ of the climate crisis are always in the back of my mind. Along with those fears, though, I feel an overwhelming urge to help fix it, and an overwhelming sense of confusion that boils down to, “How do I even start?”

The world is big, the problem is big, and me and most of my peers’ first mistake is thinking the solution must also be big, too big for any one person to make a difference. But listening to the speakers, it becomes clear that’s not necessarily the case.

Freddy Coronado, Residential Zero Waste Specialist at SF Environment

“Pursue a career in climate. Whether it’s law, policy, private climate business, administration, education. There are so many jobs opening in the sector. All you need to do is look.”
-Freddy Coronado

I was in Freddy Coronado’s room. Freddy works with San Francisco’s Environment Department as the residential zero waste specialist. His list of responsibilities is diverse and ever-changing, but as a general rule he focuses on the implementation of new waste reduction policies and programs, as well as the management of current ones. 

Working with the city, Freddy has been able to develop an understanding of what the largest sources of waste are. And while there’s no denying that things like plastic use and car emissions are massive problems, he stressed that some of the biggest issues here in San Francisco, and in much of the world, are food waste and textile waste. As he explained it, the resources that go into producing food and textiles are valuable, and when people let that food go to waste, or discard their clothes when they can still be worn, those resources, like water, plant fibers, and fertilizer, go to waste as well, and often damage the environment in the process.

“I liked the diversity in the speakers, I think it helps to show that anyone can make a difference.” – Pamela Cruz

After learning this, it felt obvious, but I hadn’t even considered it before. When I thought of damage to the climate, I thought of things like private jets, factories that pollute the air, and deforestation. To hear from a waste management professional that, in fact, some of the biggest problems are issues I as an individual have even just a modicum of control over… it was surprisingly empowering.

Arieann Harrison was another speaker at the summit. She founded and runs the Marie Harrison Community Foundation out of Bayview Hunters Point, named in honor of her mother. Her foundation advocates, educates, empowers, and provides training for underprivileged communities. On top of that, the foundation has organized protests, started sustainable development projects, and worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the reality of environmental racism. On their website Can We Live, they write “Our community is filled with passion and undiscovered talent,” a perfect representation of Arieann’s motivating belief.

Arieann Harrison, environmental justice advocate and founder of the Marie Harrison Community Foundation serving SF’s Bayview-Hunters Point

Arieann focuses on healing the damage of climate change, and her focus is personal. It’s her neighborhood, her city, her community, and those around her. Just like Freddy turned the causes of climate change from a big concept into a problem manageable by personal choices, Arieann showed that mitigating the effects of climate change starts in your own neighborhood.

However, it was the combination of all the speakers that rewrote my definition of what a climate career can be. During this summit alone, we heard from entrepreneurs, activists, community organizers, and policy advisors. There was Kaitlin Mogentale, founder of Pulp Pantry, an entrepreneur who makes snacks using food pulp in an effort to reduce food waste. Sergio Missana, accomplished author and Executive Director of Climate Parliament, which is a network of legislators who work globally to combat climate change. John Reynolds, Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission who creates change by promoting more climate-conscious policies and legislation. Caroline Chick, sustainability expert and Senior Associate at Activate Capital, a company that invests in clean energy and sustainability solutions. Ilana Cohen and Alexia Leclerq, both young environmental activists, both incredibly accomplished, with Illana co-founding two organizations, Zero Hour NYC and Fossil Free Research, that push for sustainability and climate awareness, and Alexia founding Start:Empowerment, an organization that has been recognized by the NYC Department of Education for their efforts to implement justice-focused education in schools and community spaces. 

“Arieann Harrison showed me the importance of community, and inspired me to take action to improve communities whether I’m a part of them or not. Because it takes all of us!” – Andres Montoya 

It was, undeniably, an impressive group of speakers. Hearing about their hard work renewed my belief that there will always be people working for a better future. But seeing their passion filled me with hope for what I might be able to do.

I stopped thinking about how I could change myself to fit with what I imagined a proper career in environmentalism is, and started thinking about how I could use my strengths for the most good. There are so many avenues that lead to environmentalism, more than imaginable, and what I realized during this summit is that even if I can’t find a path that fits, with enough dedication I can forge a new one. At the end of the day, my job title won’t be the thing that makes a difference. It will be the work I do.

Our Speakers! From left to right: (Top) Freddy Coronado, Kaitlin Mogentale, John Reynolds, Alexia Leclerq, (Bottom) Sergio Missana, Ilana Cohen, Arieann Harrison, Caroline Chick

Since its inception over 50 years ago, Enterprise for Youth has been working tirelessly to widen the scope of what high schoolers and young adults can do. The Climate Career Summit is one of our events that has been instrumental in doing so. Many of the attendees later expressed that the summit, and the speakers, were eye-opening and inspiring.

“This helped me realize that every effort does count, even if it doesn’t lead to the outcome you wanted on the first try.” – Hannah Chung

At the end of the summit, when everyone regrouped to thank the speakers and hear some final words of encouragement and advice. I felt optimistic, empowered, and most importantly I felt excited. The door to climate careers had been opened, and I was and still am curious how I can incorporate climate justice into my future career, whatever it may be.

Thank you to all of our amazing speakers, to Enterprise staff for coordinating this event, to our PAs who did such a great job moderating the breakout rooms, and to all the Enterprise youth who showed up ready to learn! 

By Francis Orkin, writing intern, 2023

By Francis Orkin, writing intern, 2023