Why I Am An Activist, #4

By Amy Knight, SanDiego350

It started when I began volunteering my Saturdays. It progressed when I got excited about giving up entire Saturdays. The feeling seemed all too familiar, but new. A laser-like focus, inexhaustible, melting hours away as if they were minutes. A flush of excitement came to my face whenever ice core records were mentioned.

Okay, maybe ice cores aren’t your thing. But, odds are that everyone has experienced these feelings in some way, about something. Perhaps it’s when floating on a surfboard, about to catch the next wave, or when about to take down a chess rival. It could even happen to some while tackling the intricacies of a tax return. If you’re getting a big return, that is…

I get that feeling when I’m teaching the science of climate change.

Amy teaching children about the ocean

Teaching children about the ocean. Photo courtesy of the author.

I didn’t magically wake up one morning and realize this was my passion. I realized it at 3:06 PM on a Saturday while listening to a University of Miami climate scientist explain the biogeochemical processes of ocean acidification. This was supposed to be my day off. Why was I here? Why was it transporting me so?

A year ago, I was teaching high school Psychology in Miami, Florida. My students were from predominantly low socioeconomic, minority communities sitting literally at ground zero for bearing the economic and social impacts of climate change. I’d spent the previous two years involved with Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) outside of school hours, learning the science behind climate change and helping teachers incorporate climate change into their curriculum. The hours were long, the scientific concepts demanding, and the political climate in Florida somewhat short of supportive.

I loved it. Well, except for that less-than-supportive thing.

All of this I did for free. As a teacher, I was already working many hours outside the school day tutoring, grading, running clubs, and coaching volleyball. In a sense, my early professional life was shaped by sacrifice of money and time for a larger purpose: my students.

While this type of sacrifice is not sustainable, and there is a deep and urgent need to pay teachers a higher wage, I believe these experiences directly shaped the context of my role today. They gave me the courage to take bold risks in the face of uncertainty, and to speak up for what I know to be right.

My deep commitment to climate justice, to the idea that those who have done the least to cause climate change should not suffer the majority of its effects, compelled me to apply to graduate school.

When I was offered a place in the Climate Science and Policy program at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, it was time to face the fork in the road. Like most people, I had a few (deep seated) fears. Would my inadequacies in high-level math cause me to fail climate science courses? What if my skills and experience don’t align with everyone else’s there? I also had fears about moving to a new city alone, and about the financial insecurity that comes with being a student. Really, I feared that I could be making the wrong decision.

Then I thought of the Saturday afternoon spent at that CLEO seminar. I thought about those ice cores. I thought about the world that my students might inherit, and that feeling came back to me. It made me feel capable, and I found the courage to rededicate my life.

Now I’m a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I followed my passion rather than turning from it in fear.

Few people are able to make a career-changing move like this without trembling. Fear is a natural safeguard, and therefore appears during times of seismic change. While I credit my decision to become a full-time activist to my support structure, which includes my parents, friends, students, and professional circumstances, I also credit my passion. It allowed me to overcome my fears and look optimistically into the future as an advocate for climate justice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with some ice cores…

Amy Knight graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Psychology, then taught high school for 3 years. Now she is following her passion to educate environmental leaders of the next generation by attending Scripps Institute of Oceanography and getting her degree in Climate Science and Policy.


  1. Angela Deegan says

    I had the pleasure of working with Amy when we gave an SD350 presentation on Climate Change to a Hawaiian social club in Spring Valley. I really admire that she’s following her passion and really making a difference.

  2. Joyce Lane says

    A wonderful article about Amy’s passion for climate science and making a change in the world!

  3. Aunt Suzy says

    Good for you Amy! I admire you for following your passion and your heart! If I were younger you would be my idol – but I’m too old now to do what you’ve done! Keep it up! I’ve seen you carve a turkey. You have what it takes!!!!

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