Meet Natalia Ortiz, Director of Development at the CLEO Institute, which educates and empowers people on the science, impacts, and solutions to the climate crisis.
Tell us how you got started working to combat climate change.I was always aware of climate change, and I knew humans were responsible, but I really wasn’t worried. I thought the impacts would be felt hundreds of years from now. I was an inventor of children's products with two kids, a husband, and a dog. Never did I imagine I would end up working at a nonprofit for climate change. It wasn’t until I went to a climate lecture at The CLEO Institute that I realized I had to become involved. I pretty much went from zero to 100 after that lecture. It completely devastated me when I realized that not only were the impacts happening now but that my kids’ lives were at risk. When I realized as a mom that my kids weren’t going to have the same opportunities, and their life was going to be much harder, not just for mine, but for kids in general, it turned me into a climate ambassador immediately.
How does climate change relate to the election?Unfortunately the climate crisis has become politicized, very much like what we’ve seen with COVID-19. The climate crisis is real, it’s happening, and top climate scientists are telling us we need to do more to lower our global warming pollution, but people still refuse to listen and that includes the current administration. People need to know that our Environmental Protection Agency is rolling back regulations that were put in place to protect our air and our water. We need those regulations to protect ourselves, and they are getting dismantled. Instead of investing in renewable energies, this administration wants to expand offshore oil drilling. We’re going backwards not forwards. People on both sides of the aisle need to come together on this issue because hurricanes and wildfires don’t care who you voted for. So we need to hold our elected officials accountable for what they are and aren’t doing to protect our planet.
What national policies should voters pay attention to related to climate change?The biggest one I can think of is the Paris Accord. The U.S. is one of the world's top polluters, and it’s the only country that has pulled out. While some people like to point fingers at what other countries are failing to do within the Paris Accord, I always like to ask, would you let your kids say they’re not going to clean their rooms because the neighbors' kid doesn’t clean theirs? The U.S. is a world leader that should be leading the charge to clean up our act, not pointing fingers and blaming others as an excuse to not deal with our own mess.
What can voters do on a local level to effect change when it comes to the climate crisis?Take the time to get educated. Just like you do research on a new job interview, or when you’re looking for schools for your kids, do your research on who you intend to vote for. Call them and let them know you care about this issue. We as a society need to become more civically engaged. We also need to talk to each other more and find common ground on this issue.
How can people get involved with the work the Cleo Institute does?There are many programs that we offer for young people and adults at The CLEO Institute. We are always hosting webinars that you can attend to learn more. We also invite people to become climate speakers through our CLEO Speakers Network. The more people talk about this issue within their community and with family and friends, the more engaged they will become.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?We are always getting really bad news from our science community, and as a mom it’s hard to know what’s coming and what my kids will have to face if we don’t do more now. People often say that the next generation will do better, but the problem is that by the time the next generation can do something it will be too late. The last five years have been the hottest on record. Our parts per million of carbon dioxide haven’t been this high in over 800,000 years, so the time to act it now!
What advice would you give people just starting out in climate change awareness/the fight against climate change?It’s a beautiful journey of self-discovery. You don’t have to be the perfect environmentalist, you just have to do what you can, and do it to the best of your ability. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. The question I always get is, what can I do? But the real question should be, what can I do next? We need to keep evolving and making this part of our lifestyle. We have to learn to respect and cherish what nature has given us and do our part to live in harmony with nature, not impose ourselves on her. There are a lot of emotional moments along the way, and that’s a good thing, that means you care. There’s a whole movement of people that need your support. We welcome you!
How do you stay optimistic and persistent in the fight against climate change?Knowing that there are other people like me out there doing their part. We’re not alone in this fight. There’s a huge movement of people, nonprofits, elected officials, and companies out there fighting alongside us. I know that when people understand what’s at stake they become empowered. I always like to quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” I believe that most of us are good people, and when they understand what’s happening they want to do their part to become part of the solution.
What change do you hope to see in the rest of 2020?I want elected officials to stop playing politics with science. Science is science. We need to put people before profits and start behaving like adults. There are so many solutions that we can enact to save our economy, while protecting humanity and our biodiversity. COVID-19 has given us a chance to “return to a better normal,” and we all need to do our part to be part of this. We can’t keep “passing the buck” to the next generation. The buck has to stop here, with us.