doing better & giving back
environmental advocate, writer, photographer, producer - johnie gall
Johnie Gall explores the relationship between humans and the environment through digital, print and film photography. We spoke with her about her projects and how she amplifies stories of climate change activism, public lands policy, and responsible outdoor recreation as a tool for advocacy & positive change.
Often kayaking, running and rock climbing are all about stoke, adventure and van life. While that has value, too, I really think we can leverage our personal experiences with nature into generating advocacy and action around pressing global issues.
Those of us that work in the outdoor industry talk a lot about how we live in an echo-chamber. Sometimes it feels like we’re all repeating the same rhetoric to each other, so it’s eye opening when you step outside of your “bubble” and get that reminder that not everyone thinks the same way you do. I work in this huge industry built around outdoor adventure. We can yield this for good. Outdoor recreation and advocacy don’t have to walk in separate lanes - they can walk hand in hand.
I was recently asked to document the first unsupported kayak crossing of the Florida Straits. Three friends paddled from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, over the course of 27 hours to raise awareness for refugee policy reform. We were able to speak with Cuban migrants who have since become citizens of the U.S., and then see firsthand what that passage looks like for so many documented and undocumented migrants. It was athletes using something they love — kayaking — to better emphasize with an issue they cared about.
Culture shifts take a long time and they start with a groundswell. The more you start conversations with people outside your “bubble” the more of an impact you’re going to have. So, I’m a big believer in using the tools that you have at your disposal and starting from there.
The more you start conversations with people outside your bubble the more of an impact you’re going to have.
we need to start shifting the mentality away from our personal experience with nature to something that can generate advocacy and action around pressing global issues.
After the Trump administration announced it planned to drastically reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah, some friends and I organized a weekend-long, 250-mile relay run across Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. We wanted to speak to the importance of preserving these sacred places in their entirety, not just because of their recreational value, but also because they don’t belong to us — they have a lot of historical and cultural significance to the indigenous tribes that call these places home and advocate for their protection.
We wanted to put our feet on the ground and map out what was going to be lost if the boundaries changed, but we also wanted the run to also symbolize people from diverse backgrounds coming together in the midst of a divisive political landscape. We had professional runners, Patagonia athletes, members of the Navajo nation, and climbers who had never run more than a mile come out and join. It was amazing to see how something like running could bring awareness to the political and environmental issues at hand in such an impactful way — so many people reached out wanting to do something, to help in some way.
I actually want to encourage people to think small. I don’t think it’s productive to denounce small efforts because that’s what eventually creates big impact. Some people get hostile when I talk about straw bans on social media because they see it as such a small part of such a massive issue. But it’s something, right? It’s a step in the right direction, and it makes people more aware of their overall plastic usage, which maybe they’d never thought about before.
My husband and I spend a lot of time in the ocean - surfing, diving, kayaking - so we’ve unfortunately seen a lot of plastic pollution firsthand. We decided that instead of looking at plastic pollution as something insurmountable and depressing, we’ll lean into this curiosity we have about it and learn as much as we can.
From glaciers in Alaska to reefs in Florida, I’ve been exploring waterways around the world to observe and learn about the effects of plastic pollution. In each region, the hope is to meet with non-profits and individuals working to mitigate the effects of plastic pollution, and learn how their grassroots, community-based efforts impact the problem on a global scale. How can we share what’s happening in a community in Indonesia with the Florida Keys or a coastal community in California navigating similar issues? What we share as a global community is so important.
When I was in the Florida Keys this summer, I met with the founders of Reef Relief in Key West - they do a lot of amazing work cleaning up reefs and advocating for reef protection. Straws were the third most common type of plastic product that they find in their beach cleanups.
Instead of looking at plastic as something insurmountable and paralyzing we’re leaning into this curiosity about it… and looking at what we can do to reduce our personal footprint
I’m against denouncing small efforts because eventually, that’s what creates a big impact.
So, Reef Relief took the issue into their own hands and worked with a local aquarium to create simple placards that read: ‘We only offer straws on request.’ They went around to bars and establishments in Key West and asked if they would put the sign up. Their campaign has been a huge success; they have a number of participating bars, and it’s creating a groundswell of influence.
That’s one example of a small community effort that could be mirrored in other small cities. Pretty fascinating how quickly they were able to mobilize and how receptive people were - and getting someone to think about whether they really need a straw could make them more aware of other single use plastics that could eliminating from their lives. You don’t have to wait for a politician to hand you a straw ban, you can go to your local restaurant yourself and explain the benefits of only offering straws on request.
You know, you have to start somewhere! If you’re out somewhere and see trash, pick up the trash. There is a campaign - Take 3 for The Sea - and all it asks is that you pick up three pieces of trash when you’re outside. You don’t have to sign up for a beach clean up to do that. It’s so easy, even your kids can do it. It may not feel like you’re making a huge difference but if everyone picked up three pieces of trash every day, just imagine the effect that would have.
And, I think eventually it will just be part of our culture to bring our reusable cups and utensils with us, but it’s amazing how there is still push back in a lot of the world. You get the weirdest looks if you bring your own cup to a coffee shop, even still! Some airlines say “no” when you ask the them to fill your reusable water bottle. In a few years or decades, it may be the norm, but were not there yet. We will get there though.
I think some people feel they have to wait until they have to reach a certain status, or gain a number of followers on social media to start something, but I’m such a believer in the ground-up approach. Even if you’re only talking to a small subset of people, influence those people. You can do that today. You can go on social media or call a local official or sign up to volunteer. Use the tools at your disposal to tap into what you’re really passionate about and start spreading those important messages.