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Any job can be a climate solutions job: Ask this teacher, electrician or beauty CEO

Ciara Imani May founded Rebundle, a Missouri company that makes biodegradable hair extensions.
Rebundle
Ciara Imani May founded Rebundle, a Missouri company that makes biodegradable hair extensions.

What does it mean to have a "climate job"?

Some are obvious – think a solar panel installer or an environmental scientist.

Other jobs? Not so much.

We're telling stories about climate solutions. So we talked to three people whose jobs address climate change in unexpected ways.

Nate Johnson is an electrician in California. Carolyn McGrath teaches art to high school students in New Jersey. And Ciara Imani May founded Rebundle, a Missouri company that makes biodegradable hair extensions.

How to work climate action into being an educator

Carolyn McGrath teaches art to high school students in New Jersey.

Carolyn: I've been doing art lessons for the last several years that look at issues of climate change, climate justice and biodiversity.

Have you found that your students are already interested in sustainability when they come to you?

Carolyn: For a lot of my students, it might be a little bit surprising to discuss sustainability or climate justice in an art class. So making art about it helps that process. And it's been interesting to see the ways that students evolve to feeling comfortable expressing their concerns, both through art and then to articulate that through words as well.

Do students tell you that what you do has helped them change the way they live, the way they consume, or maybe just the way they think about the planet in the future?

Carolyn: One of the things that I try and stress through my lessons is the power of collective action. And also the power of communicating through art, and the way that that ripples through society. And so one of the things I really want to impress on my students is the ways that they can plug into bigger movements that are happening in our culture and society today.

For a lot of students, it might be a little bit surprising to discuss sustainability or climate justice in an art class, Carolyn McGrath says. So making art about it helps that process.
Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images
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Getty Images
For a lot of students, it might be a little bit surprising to discuss sustainability or climate justice in an art class, Carolyn McGrath says. So making art about it helps that process.

Being an entrepreneur leads to new opportunities

Ciara Imani May founded Rebundle, a Missouri company that makes biodegradable hair extensions. What does it take to turn bananas into hair?

Ciara: Essentially, we use a chemical process to turn the fibers from straw-like to hair-like, and our team that's based in St. Louis has gotten really good at refining and calming the fibers so that they have as much motion in them that resembles hair as much as possible.

What first got you interested in this work?

Ciara: What I realized a couple of summers ago was that most plastic synthetic hair is made out of PVC, which is not only a really toxic material to wear on your body, but it's also really hard to recycle. So with those two factors combined, I recognize that if I was going to continue to wear braids, I would need to do so both comfortably and sustainably, which led to the creation of our first product which is called Braidbetter, and is made out of banana fiber.

Ciara Imani May founded Rebundle, a Missouri company that makes biodegradable hair extensions.
/ Rebundle
/
Rebundle
Ciara Imani May founded Rebundle, a Missouri company that makes biodegradable hair extensions.

How to make a career transition toward climate solutions

Nate Johnson was actually a journalist covering climate policy, and then he decided to become an electrician. How did you decide to reboot your career?

Nate Johnson: Many, many reasons. But in the context of this conversation, one of them was that I was listening to people talk and talk and talk. And it felt really satisfying to take my two hands and start solving the problem by helping people electrify and get off fossil fuels.

How do you incorporate climate action into your work as an electrician?

Nate: Well, I think that climate action really just comes in terms of providing good information to people, it's in that sense, it's not so different from being a journalist, when someone wants to do something with their home, there's usually a profound information asymmetry between them and the contractors that they choose. And they're really relying on those people to tell them what's going to work and what doesn't, and what's cost effective and what's not. So I see my role is being an honest broker and coming in and really being up to speed and giving them all of the different options.

I was listening to people talk and talk and talk. And it felt really satisfying to take my two hands and start solving the problem by helping people electrify and get off fossil fuels.

When people find you, are they at a point where they just want to make this drastic change? Or are they usually just kind of curious?

Nate: Well, I live in Berkeley, California, and so people are generally interested in climate action. And there's a certain amount of sort of social pressure, you know, people want to get induction stoves to replace their gas stoves, not just because it's climate action, but because everybody's doing it. But there are people who oftentimes just come to me and say, like, look, I want to make the right decision in terms of dollars and cents. And I think that's sort of the most interesting case for me, because the technology is there, it can almost always make sense to electrify, and there's some cases where you have to do a whole bunch of work to update the electrical system where it doesn't, but if you're thinking about the long term, it usually does, so it's that kind of education process. That's most interesting to me.

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Advice for someone who wants to incorporate efforts to slow climate change into their work

Ciara: I encourage everyone to start with what you're already involved in with the way you live your life and a problem that you have that is core to who you are, and see what you can make out of that that can be more sustainable for yourself and other people.

Carolyn: I just want to reiterate what Ciara said, because she said it so beautifully. It's not about overhauling your life. It's about plugging into what you already do, where you're already passionate about, and finding the intersection between that and between climate action. For some people, it might just take a little bit of imagination, but there's so many ways that everybody can do it.

Nate: Dive into the research and the more you're continuously learning and improving, the less likely you are to end up doing sort of greenwashing type things and actually make a real difference.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 3, 2023 at 10:00 PM MDT
An earlier version of this story referred to the hair line Braidbetter as Bright Better.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ally Schweitzer (she/her) is an editor with NPR's Morning Edition. She joined the show in October 2022 after eight years at WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington.
Lisa Weiner
Lisa Weiner is a line producer on Morning Edition. For NPR, she's covered the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and traveled to Ukraine to cover the Russian invasion in 2022. Prior to joining NPR, she held positions as an editor at WTOP-FM, as an engineer at Radio Free Asia and recorded audio books for the Library of Congress. Weiner has a master's degree in audio technology from American University. She got her start in radio working the late-night shift as a student DJ in the basement of WRUR-FM at the University of Rochester. Weiner has lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Budapest, Hungary.
Arielle Retting
Arielle Retting is a growth editor for digital content at NPR. In her current role, she helps the newsroom develop digital skills so NPR can expand our storytelling to meet our audiences where they are.
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