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Climate and Environment

Here's What Your Fellow Angelenos Are Doing About Climate Change On A Scale Of NBD To Whoaaaa

Kelly Majewski, left, and Christine Johnson, right, talk to two people at Echo Park. Majewski and Johnson co-founded Climate Jam Project with a mission to get people talking about climate change. "We obviously need to look at it because it's going to get worse," Majewski said. (Courtesy, Kelly Majewski)
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By the end of the century, California will have more "extremely wet and extremely dry weather seasons -- especially wet," UCLA researchers predict.

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In addition, warming weather could threaten our water supply, sea levels could rise up to 6 feet or more, the risk of wildfires will grow and the state's air quality will worsen. That's all in a reportprepared for the state by the California Natural Resources Agency.

But many Angelenos aren't waiting for the ocean to overflow and the plants to fry to do their part to make L.A. a better place. They're doing things as simple as picking up trash in their neighborhoods, to things as intense as giving up air travel and writing a book.

Meet a few of these climate change superstars, who told us what they're doing to save the planet in the best ways they know how.


If you're strolling Echo Park during a weekend, you may see a tent with a chalkboard propped up near it. Written on the chalkboard is an invitation to come talk about climate change.

If you take up this invitation, you'll meet Kelly Majewski and Christine Johnson, who met through mutual friends and joined forces to establish the Climate Jam Project earlier this year.

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The project is still in its infancy in terms of all the things Majewski and Johnson dream of doing, but they're currently bolstering a website filled with information and resources related to climate change. They launched a podcast just days ago.

"It's really just trying to get people to start talking," Majewski said. "Start from wherever you're at. Start with the things you see around you."

Majewski's friend, Ashley Atkinson, 39, calls Majewski "a little angel on my shoulder" as she debates whether to take up climate change with her mom and begins to think more critically about the role of plastics in her life.

And that's exactly the goal of Climate Jam Project.

"If we can normalize (climate change), we can start to look at the different aspects of it," Majewski said. "A lot of people are already talking about the things they care about."

Sara Kay founded PDR Trash Fairies, a volunteer group that picks up little around Playa Del Rey. "Wouldn't it be amazing if Playa Del Rey was trash free?" Kay remembers asking herself. "That was really the start of (the trash fairies)," she said. (Courtesy, PDR Trash Fairies)


Sara Kay, 36, was walking home one night in June when she noticed the trash littering a Playa Del Rey park. There were alcohol bottles, food wrappers, and even diapers, she said.

When she woke up the next morning still feeling grumpy over what she saw, Kay decided she didn't want to wait for someone else to clean up her neighborhood.

Within weeks, Kay founded PDR Trash Fairies, a group of volunteers who dedicate at least 20 minutes of their time once a week to pick up trash in designated areas around Playa Del Rey.

Kay calls them "fairy zones."

A before-and-after photo of trash pickup in Playa Del Rey. Photos like this are regularly posted to the PDR Trash Fairies Facebook page to boost morale among volunteers. (Courtesy, PDR Trash Fairies)

The frilly vocabulary, mesh tutus and fairy wands (trash grabbers decorated with pink stripes and glow-in-the-dark stars) are meant to put a positive spin on trash pickups and leave volunteers with a greater appreciation for the community.

Volunteers, who Kay said range in age from 4 to 84, also post before-and-after photos of their fairy zones on the PDR Trash Fairies page on Facebook, often to the praise of fellow fairies.

The hope is for 20 minutes to turn into 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and so on, and for volunteers to invite their friends and family to join.

And for those not able to give 20 minutes a week, Kay started "Casual Fridays," in which community members are encouraged to pick up just one piece of trash and post about it.

"It's just about exposing people to a mindset and an idea that if there is a problem, we can just fix them in our communities," Kay said. "We don't have to wait for the city to do it, for someone to respond to our complaints."

Admittedly, Kay -- who teaches pilates and meditation, runs corporate wellness seminars, and pet-sits -- didn't establish PDR Trash Fairies with climate change at the forefront of her mind, but she understands its mission and impact also improves the condition of the planet.

Kay doesn't have plans to expand Trash Fairies beyond Playa Del Rey, but she said she's happy to give guidance to those who want to establish similar groups in their own neighborhoods.

Catherine, who lives in the San Gabriel Valley, took three years to revamp her front lawn with water conservation in mind. "I dug up the lawn myself so it took years to do it, but it was very therapeutic to take my aggression out on water-grabbing grass and see the landscape evolve under me," she told LAist. (Courtesy, Catherine)


When Catherine, 60, moved to California from Tucson, she was appalled by the amount of water flowing down her street as neighbors watered their front lawns.

She'd call her local officials to complain, and urge them to address the issue. "I would kind of narc on some of our neighbors," she said. She asked her last name and city of residence not be used in this story.

"I vowed that when I finally had my own property, I would return the land to a drought-resistant state," she said.

The SGV resident did just that, and gave her yard a makeover. She removed the grass and added drought-resistant plants. Three years later, Catherine said her neighbors compliment her yard, and one woman even admitted to strolling through her yard to smell the plants.

A plant in Catherine's drought-resistant front lawn. (Courtesy, Catherine)

Better yet, Catherine's water usage was about 12 units of water (you can calculate that in gallons here) per month when she bought her house, she said, but her yard revamp help reduce her water bill to 2 to 3 units.

"I recognized that when I moved to California from Tucson, that California is really a desert," she said. "People should think that we're in a desert and treat it that way." (Some people might disagree with that designation.)

More recently, Catherine installed solar panels on her home. She even got a check from her electric company, Southern California Edison, because she contributed more energy than consumed over the course of a year, she said.

Catherine's passion for the environment, though, isn't limited to home improvement projects.Her lifestyle changes have spanned decades.

She is a self-proclaimed plogger (a trash-collecting jogger), drives an electric car ("Rentals are available for the rare occasion I might need to power up a mountain," she said), and, more recently, she's experimenting with cooking more vegan foods. The vegan brownies she brought to her office were a hit, she said. Only afterward did Catherine's colleagues learn that was one of the ingredients was beans.

"Quiet conversion seems to win people over," Catherine said.

She's also doing her best to remember to bring reusable bags and containers with her to grocery stores and restaurants. Sometimes she forgets.

But what all these changes have in common is that they're not chores. She's genuinely interested in doing her part to preserve Earth.

"You just kind of do things, give it a shot," Catherine said. "If it works, then you've made another subtle change in your life."

Edible plants and a rainwater tank are among the additions to a front yard at a home in L.A. County, with help from Water LA. Arielle Lopez-Ibarra, who works for The River Project, is heavily involved in the nonprofits efforts to capture rainwater at homes in Southern California. (Courtesy, Arielle Lopez-Ibarra)


From afar, Los Angeles is cast as a big city surrounded my natural beauty: beaches, mountains and deserts. But if you look closer, you'll notice a lot of concrete. Too much concrete for Arielle Lopez-Ibarra's liking.

Arielle Lopez-Ibarra is a community engagement coordinator for The River Project, a Studio City-based nonprofit with a mission to promote sustainable water management in L.A.County. Working at The River Project has "really brought me to understand everyone's concerns," she said. "We're all on the same boat, we're all worried, and we all want to do our best." (Courtesy, Arielle Lopez-Ibarra)

The 24-year-old -- who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and has an environmental science degree from Humboldt State University -- is a community engagement coordinator for The River Project, a Studio City-based nonprofit with a mission to promote sustainable water management in L.A.County. She spends much of her time working on the organization's Water LA, a program which equips households with tanks, plants and more to help capture rainwater.

It's disheartening to her that much of the rain that falls here flows back to the Pacific Ocean. That's 7.6 billion gallons, according to Water LA.

Her hope is that capturing rainwater becomes the norm across the region, but said a huge obstacle she and her team face is getting residents to care.

"As my dad likes to say, s--t sometimes has to hit the fan before people wake up," Lopez-Ibarra said.

Water LA has launched programs in Whittier, Firestone, Bassett and Altadena. Lopez-Ibarra said those interested in bringing the program to their neighborhood are encouraged to partner with their local officials. And residents thinking of taking on water conservation projects on their own may be pleased to know there are some rebate programs out there.

Peter Kalmus, right, poses with his son, Zane. Kalmus became interested in climate change more than a decade ago and has made several changes in his life, including giving up air travel and riding a bicycle to work. "I'm actually more optimistic now than I have been at any other time," Kalmus said. "People are starting to wake up, they're starting to speak." (Courtesy, Peter Kalmus and Sharon Kunde)


Peter Kalmus has a six-step plan for tackling climate change. Four of them have to do with talking about it openly with people you know, people you don't know, people who share your opinions and people who don't. The other two steps involve making changes in your life. It gives authenticity and immediacy to those conversations, he said.

Kalmus, 45, would know. The Altadena resident, climate scientist and activist became consumed with climate change after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth" and attending a colloquium by climate scientist James Hansen when he was a graduate student at Columbia University.

As a result, Kalmus shifted his career from astrophysics to climate science, and started assessing his own carbon emissions more critically.

He gave up air travel in 2012; he travels long distances by train or electric car. He became a vegetarian (and to his surprise, liked it). And he started biking to work, about 6 miles one-way. Then, he wrote a book about it.

Kalmus envisions a future in which air travel is nonexistent -- and while he knows that's a longshot, at least for now, Kalmus is energized by the increasing volume of everyday people, scholars, and media outlets rethinking facets of daily life in relation to the climate crisis.

"The grassroots efforts that we've been seeing over the last year or so, is driven by physics," Kalmus said. "It can't go away now. It's going to get stronger. I've been waiting for this moment for 13 years."


These Angelenos didn't make sweeping life changes in a day, and you don't have to either.

Catherine from the SGV doesn't expect everyone to dig up their front lawns or install solar panels, but she's happy to be a resource for her neighbors who have questions.

"There are so many things you can do that you can feel good about," she said. "Just pick up one piece of trash that you see a day. It's just a little thing, and then you start to get some positive reinforcement, and then you feel good about yourself, and you can build on it."

Peter Kalmus, the climate scientist who wrote a book and gave up air travel, is toying with the idea of climate cafes -- a place where people gather to drink coffee or beer or something and talk about, you guessed it, climate change. The whole point is to tap your creativity, your interests, and figure out how to shift climate change culture so that more people are educated about it, he said.

And before Climate Jam Project was a thing, Ashley Atkinson remembers going to a movie night at Kelly Majewski's home a couple of years ago -- but Majewski required her guests to listen to a presentation about climate change.

"I think it was her birthday party," Atkinson said.

Simply put, you do you -- but keep the future of the planet in your thoughts and actions.