With more than 56 thousand followers on Instagram alone, and a blog and podcast to boot, Kristy Drutman (@browngirl_green) interviews leaders in environmental causes, advocates for diversity and inclusion, and creates educational material. She is part of a new generation of “independent content producers” currently raising awareness from the ground in Glasgow. Part of Moment’s ongoing Groundswell series on grassroots climate changemakers.
What do you see as your role in confronting the climate crisis?
I would say my role is definitely as a communicator and an educator. I’m trying to make information about what’s going on with the environment and the planet more accessible to more people using online media. I’ve created videos, I’ve created informational graphics, I’ve created posts that inspire engaging conversations. It’s a very direct way to cut through the bureaucracy of both academia and mainstream media to just get to what is going on, what can people do and how can folks can get involved with organizations and causes that are fighting for solutions.
I just posted an interview from a few weeks ago in Edinburgh with this amazing environmental advocate, my friend Selena Leem from the Marshall Islands, who is basically seeing her home going underwater. And I gave her a platform and a space to share that story. So a lot of my work is about amplification and storytelling, to make these issues just more tangible and accessible to that everyday person.
What is one way the climate emergency has directly impacted your life?
I am currently living in New Jersey, but my family lives in the Philippines. Having to witness what climate emergency has done to communities out there, right now—not in the distant future—and knowing that that could potentially happen to my family gives me more of a vested interest in this work. Especially with Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines a couple of years ago. My family has witnessed very big storms because of typhoons, which have caused mudslides in nearby towns. They haven’t been displaced directly, and we’re really lucky and privileged for that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t always be that way.
Where have you found community, allies, and connection in your work?
I’ve felt a real sense of community being out here in the UK with my other friends that are also environmental creatives and content creators, people who are really seeing that there needs to be more creativity and storytelling in the climate crisis. Because a lot of times people kind of put you either in a box, you’re either an activist or you’re a scientist. Content creation is kind of a new space in the environmental field, and it consistently gets invalidated. We’re put on these weird pedestals and boxes of what content creation means, and what is expected of us, and what we’re putting out. Getting to meet other creatives who have also had to navigate that has really given me a space to process my emotions and struggles being in this field, and trying to carve out a new pathway for advocacy through my own way and direction.
What tools or practices for processing the enormity of the climate crisis have you found within the Jewish tradition?
I’ve learned a lot through Judaism about how to practice forgiveness and how to process shame. There’s a lot of shame in understanding how much destruction has happened to the world because of humanity. And culturally, with Judaism, a lot of it is this constant question of, “who can consider themselves a Jew? What is a Jew?” There’s parallels between that and “who is an environmentalist and what is an environmentalist?” There’s a really big existential question in both things.
And I feel like asking myself who, or what, is an environmentalist has led me down this path of how many barriers of accessibility there are, how many interpretations of that term there are and how that really prevents people from being in the conversation. Similarly to my own exploration of Judaism, some people won’t even consider me Jewish, because I’m Jewish through my paternal side. But here I am reclaiming that identity, because I’ve grown up with Jewish culture and I feel the right to.
What other traditions and lineages do you draw upon?
My Filipino heritage has taught me a lot about resourcefulness, a lot about not being wasteful, a lot about connecting to my roots and not forgetting where my family comes from. My mom is an immigrant to the U.S. And drawing upon that, I also recognize the immense privilege it is to be in these conversations and in these spaces, because I’ve had access to higher education. And so I constantly check myself when I’m doing my work to recognize there’s a lot of people who can’t do this kind of stuff. And I have to hold myself accountable, asking, hey, is my messaging also inaccessible? Do I need to scale back, do I need to rethink how I’m talking about things?
In the lead-up to COP26, what have you been doing and feeling?
I’m not really going into this with the expectation that we’re going to change things, because a lot of these things are set. It’s more like, I really want to do some intentional storytelling and to meet people, especially people from the Global South who have been able to actually get a badge and go to COP, and record their stories and talk about what’s going on.
What aspects of the climate emergency do you think deserve more urgent attention?
I would say that Indigenous leadership and stewardship in general is so neglected and underestimated. Redistributing funds into programs that center Indigenous leadership is really important. And I would also say environmental justice organizations in general. People know climate and conservation organizations, but I don’t think they know specifically environmental justice focused orgs. People should check out the Jews of Color network, which is really centered around environmental justice initiatives.
A specific example is clean water for Newark. The water in Newark is similar to the crisis in Flint—it’s a polluted, contaminated water supply that’s not been properly regulated by the State of New Jersey. And basically, they’re having to rely on imported water, plastic bottles and things like that, and having to advocate to get their pipes changed. So I think people should start doing more research into people who are fighting for clean water in their area, or even Indigenous groups or groups fighting against pollution. There’s plenty of them all over the country. No matter where you live, someone is fighting against an extractive industry.
How do you find meaning and hope as you navigate the climate crisis?
I find meaning and hope through the people that I build relationships with. I think if I was just relying on my own journey, I wouldn’t get there. So I would say all of the people that I meet along the way that are also trying to fight for solutions are literally what keep me going.
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