Volunteer Spotlight: Shahir Masri & Athina Simolaris
By Bob Taylor
The membership of CCL’s Orange Coast California chapter includes two academics from nearby University of California at Irvine (UCI). One of them, Dr. Shahir Masri, is an air pollution scientist who has already brought his expertise, respectful manner, and youthful energy to local presentations and meetings. The other, his partner, Athina Simolaris, is an educator with a strong desire to make a difference. Together they are planning a 10-week, coast-to-coast climate action road tour through 35 states beginning on August 1.
On the journey, this young couple will organize speaking engagements in communities and on campuses to advocate for climate action, promote green energy, and identify effective strategies for climate communication. They will be calling on fellow scientists and educators to speak out about the dangers of climate change, and urging fellow citizens to make climate change policy a central issue in the 2018 midterm elections.
This is a huge commitment for young professionals. It would mean interrupting your careers, taking leave from jobs, and foregoing weeks of income. Why are you doing it?
Shahir: In short, because it feels right. I’ve spent a decade studying air pollution and the impacts of climate change, even publishing peer-reviewed studies in recent years. Meanwhile, climate action across the world, and particularly the U.S., has remained minimal. Most scientists such as myself are convinced of the existence and danger of climate change. However, our voices are typically channeled through technical analyses and studies that the public never reads. I think it’s time for scientists to become outspoken advocates for science and carry the message of climate change directly to the public. Some already have, and I’d like to join them. “On the Road for Climate Action” is our manifestation of that. I believe it’s a worthy cause.
Athina: Following my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to travel abroad to many countries and was exposed to unique lifestyles and values people have around the world. These experiences were eye opening. Since I met Shahir, I have learned so much about climate change and the critical point we are at as a global community. I am not a scientist, but the science seems clear. I believe it is our responsibility to get involved and do something. In our busy lives, it is easy to look the other way. But I have a craving to make a difference, and I think this journey can be the beginning of change.
Tell us your action plan.
Shahir: Come August, we’ll make our way east across the northern United States. Our ultimate destination is Washington, D.C., where we’ll knock on the doors of Congress around late September. We’ll then make our way back to California via the south, covering another 15 or so states. All the while, we’ll be speaking to communities about climate change and how each of us can contribute to a solution. We’ll also be doing a fair amount of listening to learn what about climate change is most important to people, and how this differs across the country.
Athina: The action plan is to educate, make connections, and listen. We want to ask questions, and give individuals the opportunity to share their stories. Unfortunately, the climate conversation has become very politicized over the years. We’d like to correct that, and bring climate change back to a safe conversational space.
Organizing dozens of speaking engagements and events around the country and fitting them into your time constraints must be a huge challenge. How do you plan to go about it?
Shahir: Currently we are corresponding with over a dozen CCL chapters, as well as several Rotary clubs, Toastmasters groups, and indigenous tribal communities along the northern leg of our trip. We have several tentative speaking engagements, but are still waiting on final schedule confirmation. I have already confirmed speaking events leading up to our departure, including two upcoming radio interviews and several speaking engagements across UCI and neighboring grade schools, with more in the works. In total we plan to make between 30 and 50 stops during the trip. The range is wide because it really depends on how much interest we can galvanize leading up to and during our journey. We are certainly willing to add stops as we go, particularly as new communities catch wind of our tour. However, the goal is to have most of our stops booked ahead of time.
What are you hoping to achieve?
Shahir: One word: “action.” Whether it be engagement with a local chapter of an organization such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby or a phone call to Congress, we want to inspire people to act. Unfortunately, climate change is not going to correct itself. Nations and industries are the keys to solving climate change, and they respond to public pressure. By spreading awareness, we hope to empower the public to demand climate action. We’d also like to bring the “climate conversation” back to the dinner table. Sadly, climate change has become somewhat taboo to discuss. This is not only unfortunate; it is dangerous. We’re talking about an existential threat. Now is not the time for silence.
What are you most looking forward to on your journey?
Athina: I am really looking forward to getting on the road and meeting individuals from near and far, and from all different backgrounds. Our country is diverse and unique, and I’m excited to speaking to as many people as we can on the road!
Shahir: I’ve read about all I can get my hands on about climate change, but I haven’t gotten to engage enough with concerned citizens who are being affected. I’m anxious to hear people’s individual stories and learn what they care about. Through our video blogs, I also look forward to sharing those stories with the pubic.
How can fellow CCLers help?
Shahir: CCLers can help tremendously by sharing our website and video trailer on social media. Also, CCLers can write press releases to their local newspapers to help us publicize the mission. We’re happy to help by providing interviews just as we’re doing now. Lastly, CCL chapters may reach out to us if they’d like us to pay a visit. Our contact information, video trailer, route description, blog, and donations page can all be found on our website at www.roadforclimateaction.com. Any overnight lodging invites are also welcome!
Athina: If you have friends, family, or connections in any of the cities or towns that we are visiting, encourage them to come see us and bring their friends. If you have friends or relatives who have been impacted by the changes in the climate, connect us to them so we can share their story.
Bob Taylor is a volunteer in the Orange Coast chapter in Newport Beach, California.