As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, we thought it would be fun to help you get to know us by interviewing each other about our experiences as women in the environmental world, why we started ODP, and what keeps us going. We hope you enjoy!
Monica’s questions for Miro:
MM: How did your childhood illness shape your views about the environment?
MK: I was born in Kiev, Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster and part of the reason my family immigrated to the United States was so that I could receive medical attention for an illness that medical technology in 1980s Ukraine couldn’t diagnose. I’m happy to say that spending my childhood in California away from the contamination back home allowed me to regain my health, but for countless other Ukrainian children, their health (and even that of their children) is forever altered by the disaster. There are many reasons why Chernobyl happened but when the government doesn’t prioritize the health and safety of its citizens, the most vulnerable among us pay the price. I was given a second chance to get to grow up in this country and that motivates me to fight for our planet and ensure that all kids get to grow up in an environment that’s not poisoning them.
MM: You grew up very near the California fires. How hard was it to watch your home town and friends and neighbors go through that?
MK: I’ve said this before but the fires in Sonoma came within 200 yards of my family’s back door. It’s part luck, part the bravery shown by fire crews that our home was spared. You don’t really know what that type of panic and anguish feel like until your mom calls you to tell you that she can see flames coming from both sides of the hills or your friend who was evacuated cries as she explains what it’s like to try and find a safe place for her little boys to sleep that night. Sonoma was lucky compared to our neighbors in Santa Rosa but the rates of homelessness and housing insecurity have skyrocketed in our county, that’s been the most painful part of it all…..that and our President denying climate change which was proven to have made the fires so destructive.
MM: We write so many stories about the environment that are daunting. What gives you hope?
MK: I won’t lie, some days feel really dismal and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that our planet will be irrevocably altered by climate change as we’ve slow-walked action for decades. What gives me hope are political leaders like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and all the young people that are demanding that climate becomes a part of our national agenda and are forcing Republicans to talk about it. Also, green tech advancement, the staggering growth rates of renewables, and the millions of Americans who are beginning to see the light on how much they make sense is certainly a bright spot.
Miro’s Questions for Monica:
MK: You’ve had many interesting jobs in government. Were there ever instances when you were the only woman in the room and were you taken seriously?
MM: Yes and yes. I had the incredible opportunity to be the only woman on either country’s delegation during a visit to China in 2012 by Leon Panetta, who was then serving as the Secretary of Defense. I met Chinese President Xi Jinping (he was Vice President at the time) and attended several meetings in The Great Hall of the People, which is China’s White House and Capitol building combined. I did feel very conspicuous but was treated just like all my male colleagues on our delegation. I also have had the wonderful experience of being part of an all-female senior leadership team when I was the Principal Deputy Undersecretary at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration early in the Obama Administration. That was just as remarkable!
MK: What lessons have you learned through your career that can help young women who want to work in the environmental field? What advice do you have for them, particularly now?
MM: I have only two words of advice — passion and patience. It is trite but true that you can only excel when you are doing something that you love, so pick a field that you moves you, but don’t be afraid to change if you find yourself unhappy and unfulfilled. And, at the same time, be patient. The pendulum will swing back in favor of conservation — rather than being discouraged, be determined. We need to keep the faith that we can secure clean air, clean water, safe drinking water, the ability to enjoy nature and wildlife, and most of all climate action, provided that we are resolute. We started ODP to help to elevate environment, conservation, and climate change issues into the national political conversation, and I feel that we are closer to achieving that goal than ever.