Inclusive Nature Alliance Manifesto Letter
[The Inclusive Nature Alliance was a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission was to bring the environmental community together. The Alliance was building a broad-based movement to change the narrative and culture of the broad community working towards that collective mission of environmental stewardship to be more inclusive, representative, and more effective. Unfortunately, the Alliance dissolved in August 2021.]
Not everyone has the same experience in the environmental community.
Joe Vaughn arrived at the National Park Service Academy in Grand Teton National Park a student struggling to adapt to college, not sure of what his future held. He had always enjoyed being in the outdoors, and working outside came naturally to him. He knew how to work hard and solve problems. Yet he had a hard time seeing how those could translate to what he could pursue in college and how he could turn them into a career.
In the shadow of the stunning Wyoming mountains, he saw a multitude of professional paths that conserve and protect our natural resources. More importantly, he was surrounded by other people of color who had similar hopes, dreams, and life experiences. Joe had finally seen a community of purpose and service that he could be a part of, and it sparked a new direction in his life.
He returned West for five years as a wildland firefighter, learning teamwork, leadership, and stewardship while protecting the unique natural beauty of our nation’s national parks. He transferred to the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and studied effective land management and best management practices, his drive and passion continuing to grow stronger. Since graduating, Joe became a procurement forester and is an emerging leader in forestry in the Southeast.
And yet, in his experiences outside of the National Park Service Academy, he hardly saw anyone else who looked like him who could mentor him along his path in the environmental community. Even though he knew he wasn’t the only person of color passionate about the environment like he was, he felt isolated and alone. In order to pursue his passion of service and stewardship to our natural resources, he felt he couldn’t be his authentic self and, to be successful, he needed to conform to the mainstream culture of the environmental community.
That experience of feeling alone, struggling to find role models and to see himself within the environmental community motivates Joe every day to build community wherever and however he can. He doesn’t want anyone else to feel like they can’t belong as their authentic self, like they can’t follow their passions and be a part of this community.
So he got involved, connecting and empowering those around him, acting as the role model that he struggled to find in his own path.
It was through his work with the Georgia forestry community that he met Brady Hummel.
Brady grew up in Pennsylvania, hunting, fishing, and hiking with their dad in the Appalachians. Exploring the mountains during the early years of their life planted the seed for a lifelong connection to the land, as it has for so many other people.
These formative experiences, however, were always approached through a lens of hyper-masculinity, reinforcing the traditional view of man communing with nature by overcoming and dominating it. From a young age, Brady knew that type of mentality didn’t resonate with them. Over time, they struggled to divorce their deep connection with nature from the “rugged individualism” lens and prescribed expectations of a young boy becoming a man through the outdoors.
Brady’s passion for the environment motivated them to study sustainable community development at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. They had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study international climate change at the UNFCCC COP20 in Lima, Peru. And they engaged with sustainability efforts on campus, building the College’s Sustainability Dashboard to visualize the progress the campus community was making towards becoming more sustainable. It was during those four years that Brady honed their data, communications, and strategy skill set, and established their guiding purpose of leveraging their background in sustainability and social justice to tell important stories that have an impact.
After graduating, they became a communications consultant and moved to Atlanta, and some of their first clients were in the Georgia forestry community. It was also in the years after college that Brady came out as queer and non-binary. It was a long journey of struggling with the tension between their authentic self and the hyper-masculine example of what it meant to be passionate about the environment that they grew up with, and they felt like they had to hide that part of themself in order to conform and be successful in contributing to the environmental community.
Even though they come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives to stewarding the environment, Joe and Brady recognized what they had in common: a love of the outdoors, a formative experience that connected them to the environment, and a passion and dedication to serve and steward our natural resources.
When Brady launched their creative audio agency, Ambedo Audio, Joe reached out with an idea - starting a nonprofit and a podcast series that brought under-represented groups in the environmental community together and supported them along their journeys to contribute their passion and skills to protecting our environment. From there, the two worked together to launch the Inclusive Nature Alliance, a broad-based ecosystem where we can all gather, support each other, and work together towards our two collective goals: addressing climate change, and becoming more inclusive.
The Alliance mobilizes a multi-pronged, long-term, holistic approach that is led by a diversity of groups and focused on both the internal (organizational and movement culture) and external (narrative and outreach) work necessary in order to achieve our mission of bringing the environmental community together. The three pathways to our success are:
Communications: Through our podcast & communications campaign, we’ll emphasize the commonalities we share - regardless of who we are, where we come from, what we look like, who we love, what our skill sets are, or what our abilities are - and highlight the contributions of under-represented groups to the environmental community.
Alliance-building: By bringing together organizations from across the span of the environmental community, we can support each other in the internal work we all need to do and lead the broader community in implementing effective changes. Our alliance will be a shining example both of the diversity inherent in the environmental community, and to the strength of that diversity coming together behind a collective mission.
Leadership development & scholarships: If we are to become more inclusive, we need to support the development and growth of the next generation of environmental leaders - from fostering their passion for nature, to helping them get a quality education, to supporting them throughout their careers - in order to afford them the opportunity to contribute to their utmost potential to our collective mission.
If we are going to become the community we need to be - where anyone can be a valuable member of the environmental community regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, what their skill set is, or what their abilities are - we need to build more relationships like Joe and Brady’s.
Because we are in the midst of a historic moment. Two tides of change are swelling - one, the looming existential threat posed by climate change; the other, the growing awareness and repudiation of systemic racism and inequality in America. These issues are not new. Yet, this moment is an opportunity for the environmental community to address both - to be more effective at stewarding and advocating for our natural resources, and to be more representative and inclusive. In reality, the two are so inextricably intertwined that it is impossible to achieve one without the other.
While the environment is a great unifier - we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, rely on the same earth for our survival - the environmental community has historically struggled with addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion disparities. Decades of research show that their recruitment, retention, and internal culture practices make it difficult for members of under-represented groups, who are equally passionate and qualified, to find their place in the environmental community. While efforts have recently been made to change both the internal culture of individual organizations and the public narrative of environmentalism, the mainstream environmental community is still predominantly White, male, and middle - to upper-class.
This is not representative of the entire environmental community, though, even if it’s what the predominant stereotype is. In reality, there are thousands of people from a diverse array of communities working in different capacities to protect our environment - from land managers, farmers, park rangers, scientists, researchers, educators, engineers, students, policymakers, activists, and business leaders working towards preserving our natural resources. Although we may all come from different backgrounds or engage with the environment in different ways, we still have a lot in common.
And we all need to be engaged together, through our diversity, in order to respond to this moment and to those two swelling tides of change. Because we know that building relationships is critical to becoming a more equitable community. As Bryan Stevenson says, in order to build equity:
We must get “proximate” to suffering and understand the nuanced experiences of those who suffer from and experience inequality. We cannot be effective problem-solvers from a distance. There are details and nuances to problems that we will miss unless we are close enough to observe those details.
We must change the narratives that sustain problems. Narratives that fail to acknowledge or accurately portray the reality of inequality only serve to perpetuate it.
We must stay hopeful about what we can do to end injustice.
We must be willing to do things that are uncomfortable.
We can’t achieve this alone - join us in bringing the environmental community together.