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She may be in her first year at Harvard, but don’t call her a freshman. Chloe Maxmin is a self-professed “freshwoman,” and an extraordinary one at that. The 19-year-old environmentalist has been making waves on the eco-conscious front since her days at Lincoln Academy, where she started a Climate Action Club as a sophomore to combat global warming. When not studying environmental science and public policy, she runs the website First Here, Then Everywhere to educate and inspire others on all things green.
What first interested you in climate change and where did you learn about it?
Chloe: I first got involved with the movement at age 12. I grew up in Maine, which has the largest tract of undeveloped woodland east of the Mississippi. There was a development approval for that area, which includes the largest lake in the state—a huge company wanted to create resorts, parking lots, golf courses and completely develop the region, which was a travesty because it’s an ecological gem and such a unique area in terms of state history and national importance. I got involved by writing letters to editor and testifying at public hearings to protest this development. It was during that time that I started the Climate Action Club (CAC), and Plum Creek was one of first projects that we worked on to raise awareness and get people to look for alternatives.
So the club was born out of the Plum Creek project and then it grew from there?
Chloe: At first, I started it because I wanted to get my peers involved with the Plum Creek campaign; it was a really big issue in the state at the time. Our school didn’t have a club, so we ended up taking that role. Since our school wasn’t very green conscious, we started with basics like recycling cartridges, recycling batteries, and doing an energy audit. Our mission was to provide opportunities for people in our school and community to fight climate change.
Which club accomplishment makes you most proud?
Chloe: I’m so proud of the commitment and dedication of the students in the club. We started off as five people trying to change our school and the behavior of our peers and the faculty. [As we went on], people knew about what we were doing in Sweden and England and Australia—it was unbelievably inspiring and powerful to see how dedication could make a difference. At the end, we won a grant to install solar panels on our school, which was a huge accomplishment. We just applied for grants and did it all in our own. That’s why I founded First Here, Then Everywhere (FHTE): to show people we can make a difference and change the world. A lot of people are cynical about the environmental movement, but it just takes dedication and a willingness to understand your audience.
Did you encounter any resistance from those that don’t believe in global warming?
Chloe: Most of the resistance is around whether it’s an epidemic; most people can agree the earth’s climate is changing, whether for better or for worse. Not many people object to being green because it’s not particularly harmful and can be very easy when done correctly. [To draw people in], we tied a lot of our projects to financial incentives. For instance, we received a dollar for each cartridge we recycled, which was then reinvested back into our school.
How did your passion for the environment play a role in your college search?
Chloe: I wanted a school where environmentalism was present both on campus and in curriculum. All the schools I applied to I had that in mind: Middlebury, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard. They have a really vibrant environmental activism community here with a broad range of interests, and the resources here are unbelievable as far as professors. The institution is aware of the importance of being green.
Tell us about First Here, Then Everywhere.
Chloe: FHTE stems from my experiences with the CAC. My goal is for it to be a network and hub for young environmentalists. We regularly feature different initiatives to show how youth are making a difference and changing the world. It’s the vehicle for a message.
You spent a year in South America and China studying environmentalism. What did you learn and how did it change your perspective?
Chloe: I knew that to be an environmentalist, especially in the US, you have to understand other perspectives. I first went to Bolivia to study Andean religion, which is centered around Mother Earth—it’s their way of life and they have a spiritual connection to nature. I was then in Shanghai where I saw stars and blue skies maybe three days out of three months I lived there. How do you create environmentalism where people have no connection to the environment? What I noticed in China was that it was mostly foreigners who were running the environmental movement in Shanghai; it wasn’t on the radar screen of the population.
In China, the movement was almost solely focused on education, whereas in the US, the movement is based on action and doing stuff without really understanding why. I believe education is necessary for any sustainable change, so my new mantra is a combination of these strategies: “Educate to change; act to sustain.”
You’re also part of an international student think tank called CliMates. Tell us about that.
Chloe: CliMates is an international think tank of students working to find innovative solutions to climate change with different delegations for each country. I just did a project focused on rural communities and how they are adapting to extreme weather (like Jackson, MO, and Midwest towns affected by tornadoes). What I like about CliMates is it creates an individualized approach and solutions specific to each country. One of the reasons why current climate conferences aren’t succeeding because they’re trying to create an overarching solution for such a diverse group of countries. I think it’s necessary to start on a national level and create policies that are meaningful and viable for their own country.
Do you have any advice for young environmentalists who want to follow in your light carbon footprint?
Chloe: Start anywhere. If you don’t have to have a platform to stand on, you can create it yourself. Nothing is impossible. It sounds idyllic and slightly corny, but it’s so true. Get other students involved, because that kind of community and camaraderie is what will fuel you and inspire others as well. Apply for lots of grants and just educate a lot.
How can young girls help their families go green?
Chloe: Do anything from reusing to installing energy-efficient light bulbs to not idling cars. These small individual actions create behavior changes that will last for a long time and can have a very large impact. Individual actions really do matter.
Question: What’s one simple thing you could add to your daily lifestyle to become more green? Share your thoughts in the comments!