Environment America Blog

A different kind of environmentalism

By Graham Marema
Clean Water Network, Digital Organizer

How I became a clean energy advocate

Photo: Graham Marema

My first brush with environmental activism came when I was in second grade. I formed the Save Plants and Animals club, or SPA for short -- an abbreviation that left most of my first meeting’s participants complaining of false advertising. We met during recess, and our agenda mostly revolved around picking up candy wrappers on the playground, discussing which animals were our favorites and making posters about recycling.

I don’t remember what exactly got me hooked on saving plants and animals. It might have been a science lesson about endangered species or something I saw on TV. But I still vividly remember the feeling I had when I formed SPA. It was an uneasy sensation that I continued to experienced for years to come. 

Since my first foray into activism, I’ve moved on to bigger playgrounds with more candy wrappers -- whether that’s environmental organizing on my college campus or participating in local river cleanups. But no matter the venue, I’ve constantly dealt with an intense anxiety that our planet is losing some of the things that matter most. As a kid, I worried that the tigers I read about in books, the silent deer that ate mint out of my mother’s garden, and the purple, wooded mountains where I grew up were in danger of disappearing. It didn’t seem fair that these things couldn’t fight for themselves.

As I grew older, that fear became more pronounced and less manageable. I fretted about my local rivers getting dirtier and animals going extinct. I worried about the glaciers sinking into a warming ocean. I agonized that we faced a bleak future devoid of the purple mountains and incredible plants and animals I cherished as a child.

That fear was part of the reason I became an advocate for renewable energy. Until I took my current job, my focus was on what we were losing. When I started learning about solar panels, energy storage, onshore and offshore wind turbines, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies, I became excited about what we could be gaining.

My family heading out into public lands around the time the Save the Plants and Animals Club was founded. Founder of the SPA Club stands in the middle, being characteristically dramatic. Photo: Graham Marema

When I was younger, if you said the word “environmentalism,” I would have thought about the candy wrappers littered on the playground and the stomach-churning angst I had about an ever-deteriorating planet. Now, when I hear the word “environmentalism,” I picture a society that embraces nature and all it has to offer. Rather than focusing on what’s destroying the world, I spend my energy thinking about ways we can harness sun and wind power.

I’m excited every day to lean into what the environment can give us. Because I know that with this work, we’re fighting for a society we all want to live in: One where we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and strong, vibrant communities powered by clean energy.

I think that’s the kind of movement SPA club members would join. And, that’s why I’m a clean energy advocate.