350 Bay Area is made up of a dynamic team of volunteers, experts, leaders and donors. Jan Kirsch is all of the above! Read about her work and passions below.
What inspired/inspires you to work for action on climate?
It was 1975. I was an anti-nuclear activist and pre-med student at UC Berkeley. I clearly remember sitting in the health sciences building talking with a bright friend talking about what was then called the greenhouse effect. Its unfolding seemed at least as frightening as nuclear war. But fear did not turn me away from working on this issue; it actually motivated me. I began talking to people about it, sometimes making me a pariah at parties. Then, as time went on some of the science reached the public eye, thanks to folks like Dr. James Hansen and writer Bill McKibben. Over time, despite fossil fuel industry-funded disinformation, Americans are waking up to understanding one of the greatest existential threats that we have ever known.
At times I am still concerned and fearful, of course; that’s human. The difference is that now there is a social exhilaration that comes from working with others on behalf of a planet graced by life.
Why 350 Bay Area?
There is something for everyone at 350 Bay Area. Before I fell in with the wrong crowd and went pre-med, I was an actor, so now I lead our Speakers’ Bureau. If I were gifted digitally, I could be doing very important digital organizing. If I were a singer, a writer, or loved to deal with legislative issues I could make a positive impact for climate justice in those ways. You can pick your own passion and use what you’re good at to do what we all greatly need.
How do you support 350 Bay Area’s work?
I focus my energy on education and outreach. Climate education is a real juggernaut with decades of disinformation and lies to dismiss. I help dispel the disinformation – it’s hard, but what a calling! I train speakers and do outreach to the general public. Many Americans who know about climate disruption usually don’t know just how urgent the problem is, and how even one person can make a difference in a global issue.
I also donate! I view donating as making up for some of the time that I can’t spend organizing. This way, in a sense I’m a 24 hour activist!
Which strategy to combat the climate crisis are you most excited about and why?
We’ve got so many options and we need all of them…
I’m excited about how we are forming a united front with all age groups involved: young people and people who’ve been doing this work for decades.
I’m also excited about how we are drawing attention to the crisis with peaceful civil disobedience and peaceful non cooperation with the fossil fuel industries and the projects they promote.
The climate emergency campaign is similarly encouraging. Some of it is symbolic, but we are making inroads into getting climate action done at the local level through this effort.
The No Coal in Richmond campaign is exciting! With the Fossil Fuel Resistance campaign, we effectively combine actions at city council hearings, meetings with the boards of supervisors, as well as peaceful resistance to the power of the fossil fuel purveyors.
What do you do professionally?
I’m a doctor who is also trained in public health. There is a special power to approaching environmental concerns from a medical standpoint: people care about what you say when they know that you care about them.
Other than climate activism, what do you do for fun?
I sing in a wonderful choir and practice yoga. I love to read, including fiction.