Hi there! My name is Rachel Rothman, and I am the Community Outreach and Conservation Advocate intern at the Oregon Wild office in Eugene this winter.
My work here the past three months has centered around environmental policy- forest protection, the wolf plan, aerial spraying, and other conservation issues. But outside of the work I do in the office, the other half of my position has been trying to rally college students to understand and advocate around these causes. What I found? That this is pretty difficult.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon, I have been focused on environmental issues and policy since the beginning of my college career. But like many of my peers that I communicated with about my work here at Oregon Wild, my passion for these topics was not innate.
Growing up right outside of Washington, D.C., I spent most of my time indoors. When I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, the environment never really crossed my mind. All I knew is that I wanted to make a positive difference in the world. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school where I attended a rally in Boston for the Paris Climate Agreement that something clicked for me.
“Environmentalism is the gateway to understanding how interconnected the world’s problems are.”
To see the intersection of social justice and environmental problems play out in action- hearing the stories of community leaders and marginalized people showed me one thing: If I care about people, then I need to care about the environment and the ways in which we manage it.
And if I was going to start caring about the environment, I figured I might as well try to enjoy it a bit too. Numerous hikes, classes and field work later, I’ve found my love for experiencing our environment to be just as strong as my love for wanting to help people. This meeting point was the sweet spot for me in terms of outreach. As I communicated that environmental issues are human rights issues, I saw faces change and hands beginning to raise as this connection was made more apparent. Explaining how aerial spray is poisoning rural Oregon communities, or how clear cutting destroys not only natural ecosystems but one of the most important carbon sinks in the world became my method of trying to make these issues relevant to everyone. While you can’t make anyone care, you can give them the tools and information to understand- which can make a world of difference.
Through my time at Oregon Wild, I’ve been able to not only get a firmer understanding of the relationship between nonprofits and state government, but have also learned an incredible amount about community outreach and engagement. Moving forward, I hope to use what I’ve learned here to continue organizing within my community around environmental issues and protect Oregon’s natural spaces.