Rebecca Anderson is the Director of Education for Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), a nonprofit on a mission to educate young people about the science of climate change and empower them to take action. Reb has worked with ACE for over a decade, and has served as the Director of Education for the last five years, running their educational platform and managing their video storytelling efforts.
During her time at ACE, Reb has loved being able to connect with and educate young people across the country about climate change and has helped give them the tools to take action and have their voices be heard. Digital storytelling has been an important part of the work that ACE does, and it helps them spread their message around the world. One of their recent campaigns, Class of 0000, shows how powerful a story can be when it is both unique and familiar.
I was able to speak with Reb recently about her work with ACE and hear about how impactful digital storytelling has been in sharing the powerful stories of students across the country.
Hi Reb! Thanks so much for being here with me. Can you start by telling me about your role and involvement with Alliance for Climate Education?
My husband saw a post for the job on idealist. I was just out of grad school and I wasn’t really looking for a job because I didn’t even think there was a company out there whose mission was to educate young people on climate change, and before ACE, there really wasn’t. I decided I wanted to start educating students on my own, so I went to high schools around California to talk to classes about my research, until my husband showed me this post from idealist and said “check this out!”
ACE was founded in 2008, so 11 years ago, and I came on board shortly afterwards. In grad school I studied climate change, paleo-climate actually, and was really feeling like the science of climate change is not where the work needs to be done, it’s much more in solving climate change and educating people and communicating about the problem. ACE was just getting started back then and it felt like the perfect fit for me. Their mission was really what I wanted to be doing, especially engaging young people on climate change.
How do you use digital storytelling to promote your mission and spread the word about climate education?
Storytelling is something we’ve always done, but it has evolved to become a greater focus of our work over the last ten years. We use storytelling in two main ways. One is helping young people and sharing their stories through video storytelling. We have on our resource site a collection of videos, accompanying lesson plans, and an interactive clickable map with young people telling their stories all across the country. It’s a really amazing and personal way for students to talk about how they’re experiencing climate change in their lives and how they’re taking action. So it’s not just the impact but it’s also these individuals being agents of change.
The second way we tell stories is through a youth leadership development program that helps young people tell their climate stories in personal narratives. With these fellows, they share their narratives in interviews, they’re keynote speakers, in articles, and lots of other powerful mediums. So we use storytelling in video form, but also as a foundation for our organizing work.
Why do you think these video stories are so impactful?
They really put a face on climate change. It’s not just about far off impacts of future generations, nor is it about polar bears in the arctic. It’s about young people, and anyone in the US right now who’s experiencing climate change, whether it’s through wildfires or sea level rise or hurricanes and flooding. Putting a young person in front of the camera and letting them tell that story makes it so relatable to other young people, and also shows how important the issue really is.
What are your favorite digital storytelling tools?
We definitely have lots of online resources, which teachers and students can use. We post the climate stories on social media, but we also use these platforms in other ways as well. We sometimes do short click videos on current climate topics in a partnership with students. We pull a video together, but we ask a student that we work with to turn the camera on themselves, taking selfie videos, and we stitch them together to share their information and perspective. We do this mainly on Facebook and Instagram. Also, when we’re at climate events we will literally hand our accounts or phones to a young person and let them take over our Instagram account to be the voice of what’s happening and tell the story from their point of view.
Do you think these stories have helped grow ACE’s following?
I think so, because there are a ton of unique audiences on different platforms that we’re able to reach with this storytelling. We get a lot of our youth audiences on Instagram, but we also work with and are followed by a lot of teachers who hear our stories and interact with us the most on our Facebook page. So I think that having multiple pages is helpful for attracting people from all sorts of backgrounds and spreads the stories even further.
Do you have a powerful story you’ve heard from working at ACE?
One of the young people that we work with, Maxine Jimenez, is originally from the Philippines and came to the US when she was nine years old. She tells this amazing story about what a visceral change it was to go from growing up in a community in the Philippines that is very connected to the outdoors and nature, to then step out onto the tarmac at LAX and be surrounded for the first time by nothing but pavement and concrete and buildings. It was a shock for her. That has pushed her into doing both climate work and food justice work to give people in low income communities in cities access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting to hear her speak about her story and her experience was really incredible.
What’s been a favorite memory you have from working at ACE?
Last fall we participated in the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. One of the things we did there was youth reporting, so we had access inside the summit with our fellows. They had credentials and badges and it was an amazing opportunity for them to be a part of. They were interviewing both high level attendees of the summit from different countries around the world, as well as other young people.
These big international UN events are very adult lead, and they aren’t a very welcoming space for young people. But this cohort really created a spot within this very adult world where young people could gather and share stories with each other. I was really proud of them for carving their own space of a really adult lead environment and holding their own.
What do you think is the hardest part about the job?
People have started calling climate change the climate crisis. I think that’s a really accurate name for it because it really is a crisis and it really feels that way all the time. There’s this constant sense of urgency and emergency and so to be working under those conditions long term you have to learn the balance of the urgency of the issue with trying to be in this as a long term endeavor. That can be really hard sometimes because the science coming out isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. The pressure to act is always ramping up, so dealing with that on a daily basis can be really hard.
Can you tell me a little more about the Class of 0000 Project?
This was a very student driven campaign. We worked in partnership with what we call the Student Leadership Team. This is a group of young people, some in high school and in college, and the idea for the project was to use the moment of graduation as a real opportunity for students to speak out about the urgency of climate change and the need to take action. The goal of the campaign was to use that moment to demand climate action. A sixty second insert was written and graduation speakers across the country were asked to say those exact same words. So dozens of young people spoke out at their graduation. And we also had a few instances of young people wanting to give the speech but being told by their administrations that they couldn’t, it was too political. This ended up kind of backfiring because the media picked it up and calling it what it was, which was censorship. NowThis even did a story on it.
One thing we found is that young people, what keeps them going and fighting climate change with all the sense of impending doom and urgency, is often working together with other young people together and feeling that connection with others across the country. And I think this campaign gave them that. They were all giving the exact same speech together.
What do you think makes a story effective and able to connect with other people?
I think the more personal the better. Sharing those really concrete details is somehow is paradoxical - very unique to you but also universal and relatable at the same time. So many people, but young people in particular, have this really amazing capacity to be very brave and very vulnerable at the same time. That combination of opening themselves up and making themselves vulnerable is just so compelling, and I really think it helps people listen and understand the message we are trying to send.
This article is part of a series that features creators, the projects they’re working on, and how they use digital storytelling tools like Kapwing to share their messages with the world. Are you a creator who’s interested in being featured in a spotlight?Shoot us an email at [email protected]