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Talia with her lovely green bike in London

Talia with her lovely green bike in London

Episode 2

30 Jan 2021

17 min 🎧

7 min 📖

Talia on Switching Language Background to Environmental Campaigns

In this episode, I spoke to Talia from London, UK. As a recent language graduate, Talia is building her green career through political campaigns in climate change.

A side note: The coming COP26 offers great opportunities to gain experience in climate change related work, such as the following:

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.

*At 13:37, the speaker meant to say ‘COP26’

Greensider: Could you please tell us about your background? What did you study and what is your current role?

Talia: I did my Bachelor in modern languages in Arabic and French. I really liked languages, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the future. Whilst at university, I became vegan and passionate about animal rights. I was a campus representative for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), campaigning for animal rights at the university. Through veganism, I found out about the environmental impact of animal agriculture. As I learnt more about the environmental issues and climate change, I realised that I wanted to work more in environmental activism rather than animal rights activism.

After graduation, I applied for many environmental jobs but didn’t get any offers. Since most of the jobs required a Masters degree in a climate change related field, I took up the online MSc in Carbon Management with the University of Edinburgh. Currently, I’m in my final year, working on the dissertation. However, whilst I was studying, I didn’t stop the job applications. Eventually, I stumbled across UK 100, a network of local authorities and local leaders in the UK committed to tackling climate change. I started off as a Campaigns and Operations Assistant, then became a Campaign Officer. I’ve been in this role for about five months.

Greensider: Would you like to share more details on how you got the current job?

Talia: I applied for a broad range of environmental or sustainability jobs, from environmental consultancy to promoting plastic-free and recycling, to publicity and operational roles. I just wanted to get my foot in the door. Knowing that I was still in the early stage of the MSc study and lacked professional experience related to climate change, I was ready to start from the bottom. I found my current company on I got the job and did a lot of work on COP. After about six months, I was promoted to a role focusing on COP26 in the coming November.

Greensider: Congratulations on your promotion! How do you transfer your linguistic background to working on environmental and political campaigns?

Talia: For me, there’s not much crossover. But in terms of communication, studying languages helped build my confidence. I spent time in Beirut, Lebanon with a minimal level of Arabic and some understanding in French. Many people there spoke English, but by no means everyone. I was thrown in at the deep end and had to come up with alternative means to communicate. That had honed my communication skills and gave me confidence. When it comes to campaigns, one important quality is to be able to speak to various audiences, who receive messages in different ways. What works best for a certain group of people doesn’t apply to others.

Another thing is that my experience in Beirut ignited the fire of my interest in environmental and social issues. I witnessed many problems, such as refugees struggling to survive. Then, there was the waste crisis, resulting in a huge surge of waste being dumped into the sea. Air pollution was also severe, because the local public transport was limited and most people relied on old cars to travel. All of these pushed me into wanting to make a difference, especially in the environmental sphere.

Greensider: Do you have any advice for people looking for green jobs, but lack the relevant degrees?

Talia: If you’re trying to transfer, it’s more realistic to aim lower than your current role. A lot of green jobs, if not all, are in the NGO sector, including mine. The pay scale is not the same compared to my other friends who went into corporations. At the beginning when I was applying for jobs, I went for the salary that I wanted, which didn’t turn out to be a good tactic. Eventually, I landed on an assistant role. I found that you might already have the skills, but you need the professional experience to be able to find the role you want. Therefore, don’t shun entry or lower roles. If you work hard and are passionate about what you do, it’s quite possible to move up again.

Another thing is to show your interest in climate change or sustainability. If you don’t have a relevant degree, try doing some volunteering or part-time work. Taking online courses is also a good way to demonstrate your knowledge and interest. Before I started the MSc, I did many online short courses on Coursera and Future Learn, many of which are free.

Greensider: What do you like about being a campaign officer?

Talia: The opportunities to work with different people and organisations. Most of them are elected officials, such as Members of Parliament or local authorities in the UK. Some of them are senior officers, who aren’t elected but work on climate change strategies and planning. I also like my work to the extent that I don’t feel like I’m working. Even if I wasn’t getting paid, I would still be doing the same thing.

Also, I like seeing real changes. UK100 have campaigns calling for more power and funding for local governments. It’s satisfying to see our campaigns reflected in white papers, MPs’ and local leaders’ words, and press coverage. Because of the political connection in our work, it is possible to see quick progress and the actual impact on the world.

Greensider: One topic that’s unavoidable these days is COVID. How has COVID impacted your work?

Talia: I started my job at the end of February, 2020. Three weeks later, we started working from home. One of the missions of our organisation is to allow local leaders to network with each other. We provide a platform for them to voice collectively because we’re stronger together rather than as individuals. Since the lockdown started, we had to adapt quickly by moving the networking online. It took a while to get used to having meetings on Zoom. But three months in, it became second nature.

In some ways, networking online has its benefits. It’s hard to get time in an elected leader’s diary. Organising an in-person event requires a long notice period, and such events could only happen once a year. Still, not everyone can make it. For example, if the event takes place in London, it takes a lot of effort to get people coming down from Scotland or from Northern Ireland. With things happening online instead, we can engage our members more easily and frequently.

On the other hand, the local leaders are keen to join our online events because climate change has become such an important issue for politics. Those who were interested but lacked the capacity can finally participate because COVID forced us to change how we work. We’ve managed to engage local leaders in a positive way.

Greensider: I guess that’s the real positive, positive. Finally, with COP26 coming to the UK, what’s your expectation for your career in 2021?

Talia: COP26 in November is one of the key focuses of my work for this year as I’m leading our COP26 campaigns. For my career, this will be a good opportunity to show what I’m capable of. Local leaders in the UK don’t get involved in COP, which usually happens abroad. The COP negotiations can be nitty-gritty or full of legal jargon. It is not uncommon for COP participants to spend three hours discussing two words or the phrasing of one sentence.

However, COP26 will be in Glasgow. This is a real opportunity to show climate ambition in the UK, and that the UK is a world leader. A lot of our members are world-leading. So one aspect of my work is presenting how our leaders are or want to go ahead of national government targets. While the UK government has pledged to be net zero by 2050, many of our members are moving further and faster, with carbon neutral targets by 2040 or earlier. They want to do more and understand the urgency of getting to 1.5 degrees under the Paris agreement.

Therefore, my campaign is focusing on how we can convey the local leader’s ambition, and how we can get the national government to give more power, funding and capacity for the local leaders to meet their ambitions. For that, we put a lot of political pressure on the national government to support local efforts, and include local climate actions in any future climate change strategy for the UK. I really hope that we will make a big media story and see some changes in the UK national government.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the mentioned organisations. Greensider Foundation does not accept sponsorship for the production of this content. The above interview transcript has been edited.