Dr. Lauren Gifford: “If We Don’t Have Hope, What Do We Have?”

Climate and hope with Dr. Lauren Gifford

Dr. Lauren Gifford may be CHOOOSE’s Advisor and Carbon Market Expert, but the scientist’s vast resume has her dealing with matters of the Earth and its future in more ways than one. In our latest profile, we pick the Doctor’s brain to talk about her career journey and where hope and action meet in order to change the future.

 

What is it that you do? What does that look like?

I am a human-environment geographer, and my research examines the intersections of climate change policy, conservation, markets and justice. I have a PhD in Geography, and years of experience working on climate policy across scales, from advising local governments on ways to lower carbon emissions, to regularly attending United National climate negotiations. I consult with governments, NGOs, foundations, and start-ups like CHOOOSE to help them better engage with the complex tools used to address climate change. I also teach a course on human-environment relationships at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

How did you first become interested in carbon markets and GEOGRAPHY? Was it something that called to you as a child? Do you remember the specific moment you saw this as your calling, so to speak?

In 2007 I began working on issues related to climate justice. This was the point when carbon markets were really emerging as a tool for climate change mitigation. I learned that there is a lot going on behind the scenes in global climate action, and that many of the policies and financial mechanisms are so complex that most people don’t fully understand them. At that point, I decided I wanted to focus on these complexities.

The question that guided my doctoral research was: “What is a forest carbon offset?” My field research took me from the Peruvian Amazon, to the forests of Maine in the northeastern US. I attended United Nations negotiations and carbon trading professional association meetings, took carbon accounting certification courses, and had lots and lots of interviews with policy-makers, practitioners, scholars and other experts.

Coming to this world as a researcher puts me in an interesting position. I can question everything and shift my research without having to stick to an organization agenda. It offers a lot of freedom to really learn how climate change policies work.

How did you first learn about CHOOOSE?

I first learned about CHOOOSE through friends at Earth Guardians. CHOOOSE and Earth Guardians have some great partnerships going on. Check it out!

What caught your interested about CHOOOSE? How is it different from other climate action initiatives out there?

CHOOOSE is doing a lot of cool things. They developed a platform to get everyday people engaged in global climate action. That’s a challenge! CHOOOSE has linked up with fun, on-trend events– not explicitly “environmental” activities– and provides a way for participants to offset their carbon. In doing so they are simultaneously placing climate action into mainstream conversations, while supporting sustainable, clean energy projects through carbon offset programs.

Behind the scenes, the CHOOOSE staff are serious about doing the best, most effective work possible. They work to ensure their offset investments go to strong, viable renewable energy development. I’ve been impressed at their openness and effectiveness every step of the way.

What projects are you involved in that aim to have a more positive influence on the future of our planet?

I’m working with a group called 500 Woman Scientists, whose goal is to amplify women’s voices in the scientific community. The group is dedicated to training more diverse scientific leaders, and using the language of science to bridge divides and enhance global diplomacy. They have local pods around the world, and everyone is welcome to get involved: https://500womenscientists.org/

There is a lot of climate anxiety out there that makes people paralyzed in action. Do you have hope for our planet? If so, how would you encourage others to keep their hopes up too?

If we don’t have hope, what do we have? But I also think relying on hope is ineffective and dangerous when it comes to addressing climate change. We must truly acknowledge and accept that climate change is an urgent, all-encompassing, catastrophic environmental shift that is already underway. It’s not a joke, and it’s not something we can reverse with just positive ideals. But we need to find a balance. Sure, be hopeful, but we still need to make some great structural and institutional shifts.

I personally find a balance between working as hard as I can to support real, large-scale, effective change—mostly by leaving the oil in the soil and embracing renewable energy infrastructure—and enjoying everyday life as a precious gift. We need to enjoy our friends, enjoy our communities, get outside, be grateful and respectful of others, and foreground social justice and equity. So, fight for real change, but also remember to laugh when you can. And take time to get your mind off the weight of the world. I often binge watch Project Runway 🙂

What is your favorite aspect about what you do?

To be able to think deeply about complex issues is a real privilege. I feel it’s my responsibility to share my knowledge with others to help ensure climate change is addressed in ways that are both effective, and don’t harm frontline communities—the folks feeling the effects of climate change first and most acutely. Humans are all experiencing climate change differently, and it’s important that we recognize this unevenness and do what we can to amplify the plight of those experiencing the impacts of climate change already. I am humbled to be able to contribute to this mission.