This blog was authored by Environment America intern, Tiffany Canate
My passion for environmental conservation started around when I was 8 years old. In the summer of 2006, I first attended the Everglades Youth Conservation Camp (EYCC) and experienced one of my all-time favorite memories. We were going on a hike through the marsh, and I was in my brand new two-piece yellow sunshine outfit. As kids do in muddy water, I turned that beautiful outfit into a new gray-scale of yellow. My mom wanted to strangle me when she saw it. Beyond that fun, at camp, we got to learn about the different Florida ecosystems by exploring them hands-on. It’s one thing to read about ecosystems from a textbook in science class, but a whole other thing to spend a week outdoors fully immersed in nature.
While my early trips to camp gave me some hands-on training, the first time I truly learned about climate change was in 7th grade. I remember feeling panicked and overwhelmed because I thought the polar ice caps would melt immediately and my whole state would be underwater within a year. Middle school is a rough time for everyone, but I had a lot of climate anxiety, so I loved my return trips to camp throughout the years because I felt like I was a part of a community united by a passion for conserving our wild places.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. I discovered the field of public health. This ignited my passion for creating a more just and equitable society that benefits everyones’ health at a larger scale than just the individual. One of my favorite professors often said: “Global is Local, and Local is Global.” He meant we are all interconnected regardless of location or scale.
Currently, I am doing several things. I am completing my master’s degree in public health, focusing on environmental health and health policy and law. I’m also working full-time and interning with Environment America. On Sept. 16, I was honored to deliver testimony at the Bureau of Land Management public hearings. I shared my support to end oil drilling and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Refuge is an incredible place home to many animals, including endangered polar bears, caribou and many migratory birds. This land, and its vibrant biodiversity, are sacred to the indigenous people who live there. The Gwich’in tribe refers to it as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” I centered my testimony around the fact that the original environmental impact review conducted by the Trump administration was profoundly flawed and wildly underestimated the climate change implications of drilling in this area.
My favorite part of joining the hearing was listening to all the diverse perspectives testifying. Someone spoke about his passion for rock climbing in the area. Another person talked about the immense biodiversity in the soils of the tundra. Another shared her concern about the cascade effects that drilling in the Arctic would have on the marine ecosystems along the Florida coastlines. We all came from widely different perspectives and backgrounds, but our genuine concern for protecting the Arctic Refuge was the main thread that linked us all.
Although I haven’t been to the Refuge and experienced its wonders firsthand, that is something I hope to change soon. I never imagined that I would one day testify to this natural jewel. However, after I testified, I felt like I was floating on cloud nine. Using my voice to help amplify others’ voices was an empowering and elating experience.
In the end, Environment America turned out nine people, including myself, to provide verbal testimony and more than 8,000 people to submit public comments. The Biden administration will now process all public comments and the testimony. Hopefully, this input will guide a new environmental impact survey that uses the best possible science and concludes that we should never drill in the Arctic Refuge.