Ann Hayden

Getting stuff done

Meet Ann Hayden, Associate Vice President of Climate Resilient Water Systems at Environmental Defense Fund

Welcome to Getting Stuff Done: Election Edition. We met with some experts who told us all about how to get sh*t done. Because things are pretty crazy right now, and we have the power to make change.

Tell us about your work.

Environmental Defense Fund’s mission is to create a vital earth for everyone. A lot of my work involves creating a more resilient water future for agriculture, for rural communities that often go without clean and reliable water, and for ecosystems. Across the West, climate change is causing aridification—less water and higher temperatures. Right now in many places across the west, including California, we’re in a multi-year drought. There’s simply not going to be enough water to go around. All sectors—including rural communities and ecosystems—are suffering. It’s inevitable that the agricultural footprint will have to decrease.

How we manage that changing landscape is going to be really important. There are projections that in California’s San Joaquin Valley, upwards of a million acres of agricultural land may have to go out of production over the next two decades. That’s nearly 20% of total acreage and it could have huge, devastating impacts to the agricultural economy, including job losses, and could create a dust bowl from all of the fallowed lands. Plus, it could have a huge impact on the social fabric of the Central Valley.

So, EDF is focused on is working with farmers and community members to reenvision the future of the Valley and other arid places across the West. We ask questions like: how can we turn that threat into an opportunity and create a mosaic of new uses that require less water, while helping farmers adapt? New uses can include habitat corridors, community parks, or groundwater recharge basins that allow water to be captured during floods, which will eventually happen. Overall, there are a lot of options for repurposing lands to create a better, more resilient water and land future for California and across the West. But we have to be smart and work together to make sure that we have collaboration, funding, and the right policies to make that happen.

How to understand your ballot:

It’s really important that everyone does their homework, that they research the candidates, they research the initiatives that are on the ballot, and are thinking of bringing folks into office who represent their own priorities and values. That means taking the time to understand who’s out there, and voting for who you think is going to best represent you.

How to vote your values:

Who we elect into office matters on a local, state, and federal level. Right now, we need climate champions in leadership positions, so we need to make sure that we’re bringing our votes to those candidates who are willing to get us on a better path forward. We have a fight ahead of us, and we need strong, influential champions in office.

How to stay hopeful:

I stay hopeful by focusing on the long game. There are really good people- especially women- in environmental leadership roles who share that hope for the future and are also in it for the long haul. Plus, younger generations are stepping up and being ready to lean in in the way that’s needed. Even when laws are passed that aren’t in our favor, which is bound to happen no matter the administration that’s in control, I try to focus on the end game and do my best to figure out ways to continue to make that incremental progress through partnerships with stakeholders, start planning and creating a strategy, and ultimately getting the types of policies we need to have in place enacted.

How would you react if the person you were dating told you they didn’t believe in climate change?

That’s something that would probably come up very early on, and that’s something that’s a high priority to me. I would want to know sooner rather than later if we aligned on that particular issue.

How to talk to someone who has an opposing view on climate change:

This happens quite often in my work. I do a lot of listening to other perspectives and I generally find I learn some new things by hearing folks out. People need to feel like they’ve been heard, that they’re understood—so I take those opinions, I process them, and I try to put myself in other people’s shoes and really get an understanding of where they’re coming from before I respond with my own position.

How to start a career in environmentalism:

If you’re interested in working in the environmental field, it’s important to, first, build a foundation of understanding of environmental issues, broadly. Any opportunity you can have to expose yourself to different issues, different organizations, and agencies that exist that are working on environmental issues is a good thing. If you’re able to volunteer, that’s also an amazing way to gain some exposure to the field.

How to save water:

Probably the easiest way to conserve water is to limit outdoor irrigation. Lawns are really becoming a thing of the past, and there are all sorts of opportunities to replace lawns with drought-tolerant plants. Inside, we can take shorter showers, we can install low flush toilets, and we can also recycle water that we use indoors and use it for outdoor irrigation.

How to find easy, everyday ways to stay sustainable:

It’s really important to try to increase your own self-awareness of your own personal footprint, whether it’s water use, single-use plastics, or how much gas you’re putting in your car. Trying to pay attention to these things can actually lead to behavior change. When I put out our garbage, recycling, and compost every week, I pay attention to what’s happening to the volumes of each different trash can and why there might be more plastic going in one week versus another. Overall, we need to be a little bit more selective with the things that we’re consuming, as well as increase our attention to our daily behaviors. It all adds up.

How to stop doomscrolling:

I think some amount of doom scrolling is actually a good thing because it reinforces the urgency of the challenges that are ahead of us and may inspire folks to actually step up and take action. It’s also important, though, to balance that with positive stories of collaboration, partnerships, and innovation. I encourage folks to reframe what kind of news they’re looking for and be open to the positive stories out there, because they do exist.

How to unwind:

Hands down, the best thing for me is to get out with my family, my two young sons, and hike. We are really fortunate that we live near some great parks and natural resources, and getting out there is important for me to remember why I’m doing the work that I’m doing and be recharged in that sort of way.

What would you say to young people about the future?

Younger generations need to know that it’s not too late to actually make a difference and create the change that’s needed. Now more than ever, we need everyone to be leaning in and doing what they can to create a better path forward for us to minimize the impacts of climate change, stop increased temperatures overall, and create more resilience in our existing natural resources.