By Lauren Harper
In February, a panel of current Columbia University graduate students discussed climate change solutions at an event hosted by Millennials World. The event aimed to highlight how millennials are working to shape the future of sustainable development, climate action and environmental policy. Prior to the event, I sat down with each panelist to find out why they chose their career paths and how they plan to use their professional degrees to tackle climate change issues in the future.
Miriam Nielsen is a graduate student in the MA Climate and Society program. Prior to attending Columbia, Nielsen attended Middlebury College. She is currently a freelance video creator and animator, and has prior experience working with Vox Media and CBS Digital Media. After graduating from Columbia, Nielsen hopes to continue her science communications work to further educate the public about today’s most pressing issues.
Why did you choose your career path?
Before coming to Columbia, I got my undergraduate in environmental studies. I worked my way through college as a photographer and videographer. Primarily I worked for my school’s dance department filming their performances and making cool projects with the dancers. Afterwards, I started working in broadcast communications with news organizations, and eventually found my way to science communications. While many of the other programs seemed fascinating, I ultimately chose Climate and Society because it balanced climate dynamics and science with real-world applications, like how climate change is affecting us and how we’re affecting climate change.
Did being a millennial in the age of climate action influence that choice?
I feel like I am a part of a generation that has always been aware of climate change issues and has a substantial understanding of science-backed decision-making. That somewhat influenced my career choice because I felt that I could help educate people about science though video and media. Under those platforms people forget that they are learning so scientific information can be better received, especially if put into laymen’s terms.
Do you feel that millennials and other non-baby boomer generations are solely charged with solving the world environmental and climate issues?
I am unsure about how linked millennials are to being designated to solve climate change issues. As stated by a coalition of NGOs to the Guardian, “To change everything, we need everyone.” I certainly hope that we (millennials), as a passionate and energetic generation, can help fix climate-related issues, but we must collaborate with other generations to help us take action now. Resilient action is the best concept for mitigating climate change impacts, and a better investment. If we wait for climate change impacts to become more frequent, it is going to be more difficult and costly to make infrastructure and health adjustments.
“I feel like I am a part of a generation that has always been aware of climate change issues and has a substantial understanding of science-backed decision-making.”
What are your long-term career goals when it comes to tackling global climate change challenges?
I have a lot of options to consider for my long-term career goals, but the program has allowed me to learn more and better understand climate dynamics, carbon cycle, and policy development around those topics. I could see myself conducting research, and with science communications also tell my research story using video platforms, combining my media and academic backgrounds. If you can explain research to people and make it interesting for them, it can then spark their interest in science and make them more aware of issues like climate change.
What you think will be the tipping point when it comes to advancing sustainability practices and lessening environmental impacts in the next 30 years?
Ideally, when there is a combination of green, sustainable products and practices becoming more trending and exciting, that is when I think we will see advancements in sustainability and a reduction in environmental impacts. For example, when owning a Tesla, having solar panels on your roof, and government investing in sustainable development become more widespread, that will be when we see larger shifts within society. When a sustainable substitute exists that is equally or less expensive than a current product, that is when we will see the social-behavioral shift in the use and awareness of sustainability practices.
What motivates you and keeps you hopeful in tackling these long-standing issues?
There are a lot of people within all communities around the world that don’t want to see negative shifts or changes in their ways of life. That keeps me motivated because I know that they will eventually unite to mitigate climate change impacts in order to protect and improve their well-being.
Check out this featured video from Miriam’s Youtube Channel zentouro
Lauren Harper is an intern in the Earth Institute communications department. She is a graduate student in the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.