Helping the Environment

Hand holding a small plant

Rotary scholars and peace fellows put expertise into helping environment

Will climate change bring more poverty? Will we be able to stop its worst effects? Former Rotary scholars and peace fellows who studied environmental issues offer their thoughts. They discuss the struggles they face working to combat climate change, and what solutions give them hope.  

Francesco Menonna, senior power and renewables analyst

“Climate change could destroy the livelihoods of millions of people and create much greater migratory pressures than we see today,” says Francesco Menonna, Rotary scholar.

Menonna graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., in 2014. He works as a senior power and renewables analyst at Fitch Solutions in New York City, where he focuses on electricity markets and renewable energy in emerging and developed economies. 

Q: What do you struggle with most as a professional working to combat climate change?

A: I inform businesses and investors about the opportunities that clean energy creates. My biggest challenge is the lack of urgency many people feel in relation to climate change, since they are often removed from its most negative effects.

Q: What potential solutions give you hope?

A: There is an exciting trend of innovation and technical advancement in the field of clean energy, especially in how we store electricity and how we make our electricity systems more efficient and intelligent. This is fostering advancements in the electrification of transportation, which will be key in reducing the impact of cars on climate change. The spread of clean energy and electric mobility is going to accelerate over the coming decades, and this makes me hopeful about the future.

Our climate change series

Rotarians understand that the whole world is their backyard. They can see the effects of climate change in communities they care about, and they haven’t waited to take action. They’re tackling the problem the way they always do: coming up with projects, using their connections to change policy — and planning for the future.

Sahar Mansoor, founder, CEO of zero-waste personal-care and home products company

“I am a climate optimist, but it’s up to us to act fast— to stop burning fossil fuels right now and start transitioning to clean energy,” says Sahar Mansoor. Rotary Scholar.

Mansoor, who earned a master’s in environmental policy from the University of Cambridge in England in 2014, worked as a researcher at the World Health Organization in Geneva and as a policy analyst for the Selco Foundation, which focuses on sustainable energy solutions. She is the founder and CEO of Bare Necessities, an enterprise that produces and sells zero-waste personal-care and home products. 

A: What do you struggle with most as a professional working to combat climate change?

Q: We live in such a politically divided world. Having worked at WHO during the Ebola outbreak, I witnessed the power of unity when countries get together to meet a goal. Unfortunately, there is no strong consensus on environmental issues, which stalls meaningful action to combat climate change. 

A: Do you believe humankind will be able to stop climate change?

Q: Based on the best scientific evidence available to date, we have less than 12 years to mobilize a complete conversion from fossil fuels to green energy, or we risk dangerously destabilizing Earth’s climate.

Alejandra Rueda-Zarate, founder of strategic thinking initiative 

“My biggest fear is that climate change will bring more poverty into the world,” says Alejandra Rueda-Zarate, Rotary Peace Fellow

Rueda-Zarate studied energy and resources as a 2008-10 peace fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. She founded a strategic thinking initiative in Colombia called NES Naturaleza (NES stands for nature, energy, and society). Its goal is to balance environmental, social, and economic forces by working with farmers to improve sustainable practices in agribusiness. 

Q: What do you struggle with most as a professional working to combat climate change?

A: I work with small-, medium-, and large-scale farmers in Latin America and encourage them to embrace sustainable agriculture. One of the biggest issues I face is persuading farmers to switch from traditional practices to more responsible ones. However, once they become aware of the risks and future challenges, many are willing to switch. 

Q: Do you believe humankind will be able to stop climate change?

A: I don’t think we can stop it, but I believe we can mitigate it and adapt to it by using better practices. 

Q: What potential solutions give you hope?

A: The multiple possibilities of recycling; renewable fuels, such as those made from plants instead of petrochemicals; and smart agriculture.

Gabriela Fleury, Rainforest Trust

“We are utterly dependent on the delicate interlocking web of life, and climate change will make it difficult for humans to thrive,” says Gabriela Fleury, Rotary Scholar.

Fleury completed a master’s degree in conservation biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in 2016. She focused on human-wildlife conflict mitigation with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and now works for the Virginia-based Rainforest Trust.

Q: What do you struggle with most as a professional working to combat climate change?

A: Climate change is theoretical to many people, and its effects take time to manifest themselves. This makes it hard to express the direct impact that climate change is having on our world, but it’s essential that people understand this impact to make the changes that are needed. 

Q: What potential solutions give you hope?

A: My organization, the Rainforest Trust, has safeguarded 19,654,506 acres of rainforest in the last 30 years, working with more than 75 partners all over the world. That proves there are many people who recognize the importance of conserving areas like rainforests to lessen the effects of climate change.

Sallie Lacy, consultant on climate change

“We need radical changes to the way we consume and produce, as well as enormous investment and political buy-in. This is not happening fast enough," says Sallie Lacy, Rotary Peace Fellow.

After her 2006-07 Rotary Peace Fellowship at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, Lacy worked on climate protection for developing countries at GIZ, the German government’s international development arm. She is now based in Switzerland, where she works at the consulting firm EBP, advising public- and private-sector clients on issues related to climate change. 

Q: Do you believe humankind will be able to stop climate change?

A: I believe some countries will adapt better than others, but I also believe the Earth is like a life raft, and you cannot keep just part of the life raft afloat. Solutions need to be for everyone. 

Q: What potential solutions give you hope?

A: I am hopeful when I see advances in the spread of renewable energy, the phasing out of coal in many places, as well as the significant efforts that are happening in the world’s cities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Technology will play an important role in offering solutions, but we should not expect technology to fix everything. A big part of the solution is changing business-as-usual practices; making investments in resilient, low-carbon infrastructure; and changing consumer habits.

Taylor Cass Talbott, project officer for WIEGO 

“I believe we are working too slowly and that many people will suffer before we truly change course,” says Taylor Cass Talbott, Rotary Peace Fellow.

Talbott was a 2011-13 peace fellow at Tokyo’s International Christian University. She is a project officer for WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), a nonprofit that focuses on securing livelihoods for the working poor, especially women, in the informal economy. 

Q: What is your biggest fear related to climate change?

A: I fear there are many sources of climate change that we don’t yet understand. For example, recent research shows that plastic in the environment emits methane. If this is the case, we may be very far from a viable plan to reduce the impact of climate change.

Q: What do you struggle with most as a professional working to combat climate change?

A: We are so bombarded by environmental problems that we are creating siloed solutions. For example, many of the urgent responses to ocean plastics include the establishment of incineration facilities, which exacerbates both climate change and wealth disparity. We must think of these issues holistically, and we must listen to the voices of marginalized people, who are suffering the worst effects of climate change.