Alex Holland, vice chair of Climate Reality Project’s DFW chapter, has been a member of CRP since 2020 and joined the chapter’s leadership team in 2021. In her day job, Alex is a licensed social worker (LMSW), and came to the environmental movement through learning more about the intersections of social work, social justice, and environmental justice. She’s especially interested in the intersection of environmental justice and public health, and hopes to continue doing research in this field. When she’s not volunteering or social working, she loves to bake and watch the Food Network. She’s also an avid (beginner) aerialist (think: Cirque du Soleil, but for normal people) and she loves, in her words, “to climb things!”
Sadly for us (but happily for the world), she is leaving our chapter's leadership team in a few months because she was accepted to a PhD program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she will study climate change and its impact on human health.
While she's still with us, we had a few questions for Alex about how she became a climate activist, how it affects her social work, and why her fellow activists help keep her spirits up when current events bring them down.
How and when did you become a climate activist?
I’ve always recycled and have generally been into eco-friendly stuff, but it felt like it was very surface level. When I was working on my masters, I started paying attention to climate change and then I took a class “Green Social Work” that was offered by Karen Magruder, one of my professors. In this class we discussed how as social workers, we’re committed to justice and equity, but social workers haven’t really been active in the environmental justice and climate movement. And if we care about social justice, we need to care about environmental justice. Karen was a member of Climate Reality’s DFW chapter, and she told me about Climate Reality and the trainings. I signed up for Spring 2020 training in San Antonio, but then Covid happened, so I was in the first virtual training instead. I eventually joined one of the chapter’s book circles, and from there I connected with other members of chapter leadership, who pulled me in and put me to work right away!
What do you do when you’re not doing climate work and (if relevant) how do you bring those skills to your climate work?
Since I’m a social worker, I’ve been trained professionally in advocating for my clients and those who face different injustices, so I bring these advocacy skills to my work in environmental justice. Along with that, what I do for my day job sometimes overlaps with environmental and climate work. I do public health research right now, but more in the behavioral and mental health side of things. However, my supervisor is super supportive and knows I want to do research on environmental influences on health and the environmental component of what’s called the social determinants of health (i.e. the conditions in the environment where people are born, live, work, worship and age, that affect their health and quality of life). Pollution is one example, and climate change is currently being discussed as another. If I put forward an idea and it’s related to health and environment, most of the time my supervisor lets me do it. It kickstarted the first research paper I'm doing now, which is about the relationship between green space and mental health after brain injury.
Particularly when most of the climate-related news is bleak, where do you find optimism and the will to stay engaged?
I find my will to stay engaged from the climate activism community and other climate advocates, because we have that shared understanding, that mutual connection of what we’re working for. We can be there for each other and rally each other to continue doing the work. Also, I understand that while it’s okay to pause sometimes, this is a fight we can’t give up and quit, because it’s a privilege to not be affected by some of these issues. Other communities don’t have the option because they’re living with the consequences of environmental pollution and climate change every day - from industrial polluters in their backyards, to having less tree canopy coverage to help in hot summers because of previous discriminatory policies. I come from a place of privilege, where I don’t face these problems every day, so it wouldn’t be fair of me to give up. It’s an honor to be able to work alongside these communities and elevate their voices, and I plan to keep doing it as long as we face the issues of pollution and climate change.
I do know, though, that it’s hard to live with this existential threat, and it’s OK to be scared and lose hope sometimes. To be honest, I don’t feel very hopeful in this moment (post-Willow and the recent IPCC report), but that’s okay - I’m doing the work anyways. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says we don’t need hope to act - you need to act so we can feel hopeful, and I think that’s a powerful thing.
Also, it’s OK to take a pause every now and then. The saying goes you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you’re not doing things that give you joy in activism, you’re going to burn out real quick. Same if you’re not resting. You have to incorporate joy and rest into your advocacy and your life in general, as this keeps us strong and in the fight. For me personally, I’m passionate about environmental justice and research, but I'm also passionate about working out and staying active, and I also have a space where I can just have fun (aerials) without climate change necessarily entering into the conversation. Not everything you do has to be centered on climate change (just some things!). Find activities that bring you joy, and do them wholeheartedly.
Amy Hunt is a Dallas Climate Reality Project leader. She can be reached at email@example.com. Any participant views or opinions expressed in the Blog section of this website are solely those of the author and do not represent those of The Climate Reality Project. The Climate Reality Project and the DFW chapter welcome all points of view and opinions, but reserve the right to remove posts and comments that violate our community ground rules or contain non-evidence-based claims.