Welcome to April. A month when we celebrate rebirth. Growth. The essence of spring, the recognition of Earth Day. As we change seasons and continue to reconcile the past 12 months — our shifted mindsets, tolerances, and perspectives — mending is top of mind. We’ll get there not by pointing angry fingers about all that’s wrong and who is accountable for a lack thereof, but instead by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.
In the spirit of getting-it-done and Earth Day, let’s look at the work that is already in motion. Below are short interviews with five community stalwarts for whom environmental preservation, education, and awareness are ingrained in their being. You will notice common themes in each conversation: We are all accountable. There is no act too small. Working collaboratively makes all the difference.
Let their words remind us that we’re all stewards of this planet. Divisiveness only widens the gap between digress and progress.
(I would be remiss to not do a shout-out for Clean Up The Lake, Clean Tahoe, SWEP, and many, many others — this roundup is a small sampling of the incredible work being done locally.)
Founder & Director, Shane McConkey Foundation
Over a decade ago, ski legend Shane McConkey, known for his offbeat sense of humor and daredevil feats, acknowledged the troubling future
of our planet.
“We have a lot of environmental issues to conquer,” he stated. “Time is of the essence.”
Shane’s untimely death in 2009 shattered the skiing world and our local community, but many of his legacies live on and his passion for the environment is a landmark. In one of the arms of the Shane McConkey Foundation, founded by his wife Sherry and dedicated to making a positive difference, young people everywhere are invited to protect the environment and fight climate change themselves.
Kind to her core and very wise, Sherry’s commitment to protecting our planet is connected to community, her daughter’s future, and another way to honor her beloved.
The Shane McConkey Foundation was established in 2012 and four years later the EcoChallenge was created, empowering students from across the globe to have a voice in protecting the planet they’re going to inherit. How did environmental stewardship, climate change, and working with students become a key focus?
I had always wanted to incorporate an environmental aspect into the foundation. Working with students was purposeful not only because they are amazing, but they’re also very conscious. As adults it’s difficult to change our habits, but if you start creating and implementing good stewardship practices at a young age, they are more likely to stick and become customary.
What are some of the stand-out EcoChallenge project submissions you have seen?
There are so many! We make a point of acknowledging every project that gets submitted, which is a conscious effort to uplift through the process. Kids need to believe that they can effect change and we want to reinforce that. One student started collecting golf balls in Monterey Bay and by shedding light on a significant trash problem, Pebble Beach Golf Course committed to monthly clean-up days. A team from Whitefish, Montana, banned Styrofoam in their town by making changes at school — bringing their own plates and utensils; washing their dishes — and then the whole community got behind it. A Truckee team from Donner Trail Elementary collected 900 pounds of plastic lids for their Don’t Drop The Top campaign, and now they are getting benches made for our town. It’s simply incredible, the creativity we see.
Have you seen a shift in the problems students are identifying and feeling passionate about solving?
There are a number of environmental issues students are trying to solve, so the range has always been broad. What I’m seeing is a feeling of empowerment shift to feelings of frustration when they fight for change with viable solutions and get ignored. When they demonstrate courage and speak in front of leaders and get called “cute.” It’s discouraging for kids to see a lack of real action from leaders, and that in turn impacts their motivation.
What concerns you? What gives you hope?
I’m worried that we’re not working fast enough to implement change; that we’re not working hard enough to protect this world for our kids. A parent’s greatest fear is losing a child but we’re not thinking about the planet we’re leaving them with; the drastic impacts our behaviors have on their future. I’m excited because I’ve never seen so many people committed to the work.
Shane McConkey Foundation Impact:
- The Shane McConkey Foundation has raised over $550,000 for charitable causes and organizations.
- 1,300 students have participated in the EcoChallenge competition.
CEO, Tahoe Fund
At the helm of a growing number of Lake Tahoe’s preservation projects and environmental stewardship campaigns is Amy Berry, CEO of Tahoe Fund. Her regional project approach and innovative fundraising tactics have resulted in trail development across the Lake Tahoe Basin, educational campaigns to promote stewardship, and regularly imparting a simple, yet powerful message: “Take Care.”
You lead two organizations: Tahoe Fund and Take Care Tahoe. Tell us about the evolution of both and where we’ve seen your work.
Almost 11 years ago, Tahoe Fund was organized by a diverse group of local leaders who wanted to see projects that improve Lake Tahoe’s natural environments come to life. Soon after, I was hired as CEO and together, we have built the organization from scratch with an action-oriented approach. From the start we leveraged private funding to secure public dollars, while raising awareness about issues that were/are hugely impactful to the Basin. Our strategy was simple: identify the problems and help to fix them with our partners. Our work ranges from infrastructure projects like the East Shore Trail in Incline Village to regional signage that educates — in a cheeky way — the simple, everyday practices of stewardship. Take Care was born out of frustration for how people were treating Tahoe. We quickly learned that we can’t expect people to take care properly if we don’t educate them on expectations. It has been our pleasure to be the fiscal sponsor of Take Care and work with more than 50 partners on initiatives to support its purpose.
What’s your shared message to Moonshine readers this Earth Day?
“Take Care” of the things you love the most. That’s a personal commitment to leave a place better than you found it. And while simple and broad, it’s committing to finding out what taking care means to you; defining what that looks like and then taking action. There are so many opportunities to get involved — in whatever way that works best for you.
Tahoe Fund Impact:
- Tahoe Fund has leveraged $3 million of private funding to secure over $50 million in public funding for local projects.
- There are more than 50 projects in its portfolio.
Education & Outreach Director, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center
For over 15 years Heather Segale has fostered stewardship programs that inspire interest in environmental science. Working with school-aged children as well as adults, she establishes a culture of environmental awareness while also fostering a mindset of personal responsibility.
There are layers of experiential programming in your work, from hands-on exhibits to a robust lecture series, to a recently updated Citizens Science Tahoe App. Tell us about the range of work you are doing.
We operate two science centers (in Incline Village and Tahoe City) where interactive exhibits provide engaging information about Lake Tahoe, the latest findings from our world-class research, and how we can work together to protect this precious resource. Our school programs for kids are designed to stimulate curiosity and motivate environmental awareness early on. Our Tahoe Science Center in Incline Village explores everything from water quality and lake health to monitoring climate change. We raise awareness about microplastics and ways to reduce plastic usage in every household. Our monthly lecture series covers a broad range of topics, and we recently updated our Citizens Science Tahoe App that encourages individuals to share observations — identifying litter hot spots, water quality issues, algae growth, and more to help researchers with their work. We talk with people about the basics: the importance of picking up trash (The beach is not an ashtray!), disposing of dog waste (There is no poop fairy!), lake-friendly gardening, and engage regularly about solutions.
How can visitors and residents alike demonstrate stewardship?
When we reopen, visit the Tahoe Science Center in Incline Village to learn about our research programs — I assure you it is worth the trip! Attend a lecture and follow our social pages to increase your awareness of what’s happening on a local level. Download the Citizen Science Tahoe App, which is a powerful tool to help communicate what you’re seeing on our public lands and beaches. Our research teams evaluate and utilize this information, and it is an easy way to volunteer a small portion of your time. Simply take care — pick up trash, reduce plastic usage, make changes in your everyday life and engage in conversations about climate change. Every action, small or large, makes a difference.
- Since 2005, the Tahoe Environmental Research Center has raised $6.416 million for exhibits and education programs in the Tahoe area.
- Over 161,000 people have come through the Tahoe Science Center.
- TERC has educated more than 58,000 students.
Chief Strategy Officer, League to Save Lake Tahoe
The Keep Tahoe Blue sticker is one of the most recognizable statements from the region. Adapted decades ago, it continues to be widely shared and referenced. Behind the slogan is the longest running (local) advocacy organization, whose influence goes well beyond volunteerism and outreach. Jesse Patterson is the chief strategy officer and talks with us about what environmental progress looks like.
From trash clean-up days to combating aquatic invasive weeds, your team is on the front lines of preservation and stewardship. What are some of our biggest problems?
The perception that everything is fine — that Lake Tahoe is blue. By the time we actually see a problem, it might be too late. There are a number of pressing threats to our environment; part of the League’s mission is to make sure everyone knows they can and must play an active role in Tahoe’s preservation.
What are some of the tactics you’re using to engage Tahoe’s diverse community of visitors and residents to address these problems?
We lead by example and offer a range of programs and experiences to reduce the barrier of entry for people who want to get involved. Whether it’s 15 minutes or four hours, there are many ways to make a difference. Keep Tahoe Blue clean-up days require a bigger time commitment, but we have people who travel to Lake Tahoe to participate because the experience is powerful. We worked with TERC on the Citizens Science Tahoe App so that people without a lot of time can protect while they play by providing meaningful information to researchers in real-time. Ninety percent of people are doing good things. We share their stories, thank them, and honor their work. We have an inclusive and clear mission that’s easy to get behind.
In your nine-year tenure with the League, what are some of the biggest policy changes you’ve seen?
Most noticeable is more coordinated region-wide education and engagement. Collectively, we’ve moved away from agency silos to address stewardship with a more holistic approach. It’s encouraging to see and feel that change; it has truly benefited the lake and our community. While there are a number of large-scale regional plans and visions, we see small successes and improvements year to year through our efforts, and that progress is exciting. Pilot projects are the first step to broader implementation. Small successes breed larger successes.
League to Save Lake Tahoe Impact:
- The League to Save Lake Tahoe has engaged more than 7,000 volunteers in hands-on cleanup efforts to Keep Tahoe Blue.
- Together, have removed nearly 48,000 pounds of litter from Tahoe’s environment.
- The League has created three citizen-science programs and trained over 1,100 volunteer participants who have conducted surveys and gathered data that have been used to combat threats to Tahoe.
FAMILY AFFAIR: The Jones family attends climate marches together. Photo by Ming Poon
Professional Snowboarder; Founder of Protect Our Winters (POW)
Follow: @protectourwinters and @jeremyjones
The hook of winter touched Jeremy Jones at an early age. The season shaped his life in two ways; first, by inspiring a deep-rooted passion for snowboarding — he is widely regarded as one of the most legendary big mountain riders and explorers of all time. Second, because he started seeing changes in the weather and became committed to protecting winter against climate impacts while also uniting the sports community to take a stand and effect change at the highest level. Protect Our Winters (POW) was founded in 2007 by Jones to advance nonpartisan policies that protect the planet today and for future generations.
You have used a number of media formats and educational tactics to discuss climate change. From major films and podcasts to social media campaigns, what have you found to be the most successful platform in communicating these issues?
Longer format mediums are my preferred method because climate change is a big issue and it’s hard to communicate the layers of science, research, technology solutions, and the cultural shift that’s needed in a social post. Social media has incredible reach, so I don’t want to minimize the power of that visual sharing tool, either.
Protect Our Winters influences policy change and some of your programming is formed around political will — voter education, engagement, and lobby camps. Tell us why that matters.
Changes in policy. That’s what is going to get us there. We need the masses to align and build a movement to shift cultural norms. Our political leaders need to embrace renewable energy, transportation alternatives, and new technologies. Addressing climate needs to be a top policy priority. There is no room for climate deniers, but there is an opportunity to further expand and connect the climate issue to people and places. POW focuses a lot of efforts on education, reiterating the importance of electing climate advocates, and shifting our nation’s response to the climate crisis. To have large-scale CO2 reduction we need systemic change. We should all live an examined life, but we won’t get there without policy changes.
How do you talk to your kids about climate change? What conversations do you have as a family to shed light on what’s happening to our planet?
Inevitably my kids pick up on conversations because the environment as a whole is part of our family dialogue. What I don’t do is create fear. I communicate the importance of rolling up our sleeves to do the work but in a positive tone. We go to climate marches; we activate their knowledge with outdoor experiences so their love of the planet is just as strong as my own. I don’t want to share the burden of what could be if we don’t make changes.
On a local level, what can we as a community do to improve our environment and activate change?
We need to think bigger and get beyond leaders and agencies stopping progress. We need to ask, what if — what if Tahoe/Truckee had a solar farm? How can we make that happen — who needs to make that decision?
POW Impact: 2020 data:
- Protect Our Winters engaged with 33 million voters about climate policy ahead of the 2020 election to educate and boost political will.
- In 2020, POW hosted 80 virtual events with 7,050 attendees.
- POW launched the #CrushIt4Climate social media campaign to connect climate advocates with athletic achievements. The campaign reached 5 million people and raised more than $1 million.