“All jobs are climate jobs": Climate leadership students take action

Separate portraits of two people. On the left, a woman wearing a blue winter coat smiles, with a wintery scene in the background. On the right, a woman wearing tan and brown and seated in the centre of the frame looks directly at the camera.

They come from the same province but have different backgrounds.

One moved around small-town Alberta with her family, the other grew up in Edmonton.

One worked in municipal government, the other travelled and toiled in the hospitality industry.

Where their paths intersected was in their passion for the environment and their desire to make a career of making a difference.

Their paths also crossed at Royal Roads University, where Kerra Chomlak and Ali Greenslade are students in the Master of Arts in Climate Action Leadership (MACAL) program.

And now, while still completing their studies, they’ve both started jobs that have quickly put their education into action.

“All jobs are climate jobs,” says Greenslade, a former bartender who is now climate engagement coordinator and policy analyst with Métis Nation of Alberta.

“The sector is growing and growing,” says Chomlak, who’s executive director of ClimateWest and notes a marked increase in just the last few years in climate-related job postings on websites such as LinkedIn and Indeed.

“What does it mean for my backyard?”

Chomlak, who previously earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Physical Sciences from the University of Alberta, started at RRU in May 2021. She credits her interest in environmental issues to her parents, who inspired in her a love of nature built during family camping trips and talks about respecting plants and animals.

“Deep down somewhere, I am inspired by nature and feel connected to nature. It’s all those stats on biodiversity loss that get me in the heart,” she says.

“I want to have an environment where my kids can experience some of the great things I got to: camping as a kid at lakes and rivers around Alberta… and having that sense of connection to nature because of the quality of life that it can bring.”

Her professional experience includes working as manager of environment for the city of Leduc, Alberta, and at ClimateWest, a non-profit regional hub for climate services in Canada’s prairie provinces, she’s focused on empowering people to recognize and address risks caused by climate change.

“People need a translation service to understand what climate means in their communities,” she explains. “Most people see pictures of polar bears and icebergs and sea level rise and think, ‘What does it mean for my backyard?’

“We’re helping people understand what their risks and vulnerabilities are, and how to plan to be resilient in the face of climate change.”

“We have solutions, but we need political will”

Greenslade, who also did undergrad environmental studies at the University of Alberta, agrees about the pressing effects of climate change and their effect on her career plans, saying, “I felt like it was such a massive issue that I never felt compelled to do anything else. I couldn’t ignore it; I knew I wanted to learn more and see how I could be involved in the space.

“It’s not something one person can solve,” she says, noting the importance of the word “leadership” in the MACAL program. “We have solutions, we have answers, but we need political will.”

There is leadership in community, Greenslade says, and points out that the climate change team of Métis Nation of Alberta, which is less than two years old, is focused on initiatives and projects that engage with its community.

She also says the interaction between her school and work lives is continuous. “I really feel I have the ability to read a paper for school and bring that knowledge to work the next day.”

MACAL cohort is a climate community

As well, Greenslade says her MACAL cohort has provided a powerful sense of community to the practice of remote learning. In addition to learning with and from peers who’ve worked in the climate space, she says she has made friends with whom she’s regularly in contact.

Chomlak echoes her classmate’s comments about the importance of their cohort, calling it a support network that’s important to students’ sense of belonging and commitment.

“People are there because they all want to make a difference and they all think it’s important,” she says, adding, “I really appreciated being with likeminded people. And it is amazing to learn from others about how they’re applying [their education] and how what we’re learning can fit into so many different sectors.”

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