If you ever thought that the celebration of Earth Day doesn’t accomplish anything, meet Lisa Kaas Boyle, environmental attorney, mother, and activist on behalf of a just and sustainable future. Lisa started her mission to save the planet on the very first Earth Day when she was just 6 years old and she has been relentless ever since. Some would argue that her determination can be intimidating. Too bad for them! If not for committed warriors like Lisa, we will continue to face a grim, horrific future that includes climate change pollution and diminishment of natural resources.
I interviewed Lisa in the hope she could offer all of us regular folks some insight into the magnitude of the problems we face and some direction on what we can and must do to help. Let’s get real. We all need to become activists and take action to fight the environmental problems confronting our planet.
I know you as a friend and as a fellow mom; however, you are a serious environmental badass. When did your passion for the environment begin?
My passion began at the age of 6 on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. As part of that great event, my first-grade class crossed the street from Spring Harbor Elementary in Madison, Wisconsin to take a “nature walk” in a small wooded area. During this welcome escape from the classroom, wearing the green and white ecology button passed out by my teacher, I learned to look at the world around me with heightened appreciation. I was hooked.
What drives your activism?
My activism is driven by my love of life. I find tremendous joy in nature and in humanity – I love to explore this planet (even my own city), to meet new people, and to exchange ideas and share positive experiences with others. I feel alive when I am feeling my connection to nature and to other living things. This love of life leads me to want to protect it. Jacques Cousteau said we protect what we love. I want future generations to have the same access to nature and each other that I enjoy today. For example, the simple joy of swimming in a clean ocean, river or lake. This right is threatened by our pollution. How can I enjoy these activities with my children and not work to ensure that their children and all others will have this pleasure? For me the joy and the advocacy is inexorably intertwined.
What are the most important environmental issues we face?
Instead of looking at what is deteriorating fastest, air, land or water, the climate, which species… I would rather examine the cause of all the destruction. Greed. It’s completely covered in the best environmental book ever written, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. We were given a perfect habitat for life, for us and every other species. But we got greedy. We wanted more and more without considering the consequences. No other species creates waste that is not useful. No other species has stepped outside of the natural web of life and tried to dominate it. The closer we can come to mimicking nature in our creativity, the longer we will survive as a species and stop killing off other species.
How do you maintain hope?
Often, I feel despair when I see that conditions for life are getting worse. But this is not a reason for me to give up. In fact, it is a reason to try harder and to engage others in the effort. I am sure that I will die having accomplished very little of my mission, but if I am able to pass on the baton to another and hopefully many others, that is enough. On the bright side, I have already seen tremendous change from the actions of small groups: the plastic bag bans, the plastic microbead ban, flame retardant ban… Smoking is down to the lowest percentage since statistics have been kept! We can impact behavior with legislation and education.
How does your family feel about your activism?
My family is not yet as involved as I am in trying to change the world. They care and do their part, but they have other concerns at the forefront of their lives, like most people. We do our best as a family. Our cars are electric. We all have reusable water bottles and bags. My children are primarily engaged in educating themselves and preparing themselves for independence through college. They vote, they try to tread lightly on this planet and to engage in the issues of the day, but they are busy learning. My husband is busy supporting our children’s education and our philanthropy! My husband and I attended law school together. Guess which is more lucrative, entertainment law or environmental protection? I know I am blessed to have a partner whose income subsidizes my charitable work, and my husband is personally dedicated to being sustainable in his living practices. Sadly, our society and economic system does not reward preservation as much as it does production and even destruction.
Is technology hindering or helping us to survive?
We have become almost like the electronic devices upon which we rely. We are like robots, losing our humanity to repetitive functions apart from each other. We exercise on treadmills instead of trails, we eat prepackaged and artificial food, and we fail to connect except through electronic devices. To save our species and to live happily, we need to reconnect to the real things: nature and each other. We should not reach backward in time, like some would wish, to a time before the modern social rights and scientific progress and technology. We can easily reconnect with the elemental goodness of a walk in the woods, buying our food from farmers, a home cooked meal with family and friends, a visit to a museum and a real live conversation. Technology can dominate our time uselessly, or it can free us to become aware as never before possible of ongoing research, best practices around the globe, and allow us to mobilize to stop injustices. Of course, technology may help us to live sustainably and in harmony with nature instead of abusing it, like harnessing solar power for our energy needs instead of burning fossil fuels. Some foresee a time when technology can replace people with robotics and recreate a habitable environment even on another planet. However, I for one believe that technology will never replace our need for each other or come near to adequately replacing our environment. We should focus all our abilities, technical and humanitarian, on preserving the environment we have and fostering a better life here on earth for the succeeding generations.
What can others do to help?
I encourage everyone who cares about enjoying our natural resources during our lives and leaving the same rights to the next generations to vote locally and nationally for candidates who share this value, to join activist groups that will keep you updated on issues important to you, to consider political activism, to learn to live lightly, use less, buy less and appreciate what you already have, to spend your money on services and experiences, education and art instead of disposable things in disposable packaging. I also encourage everyone to get outside to our parks from local to national and to support them.
Lisa is a Vanderbilt double major in English and Fine Arts and graduated cum laude from Tulane Law School. She is the co-author of California State legislation to ban plastic microbeads from consumer personal care products which law served as the model for national legislation signed by President Obama in 2015. Lisa worked with her alma mater Tulane Law School to produce the first law journal dedicated to the issue of plastic pollution and wrote the forward to the journal. Lisa was part of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) team traveling to The Rio Earth Summit in 2012 where she spoke on the health impacts of plastic pollution. Lisa is a co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition and gave a TEDx talk on global legal policy solutions to plastic pollution. Lisa began her legal career as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office where she served for 7 years. Lisa also served as Legal Policy Director for ocean protection nonprofit Heal the Bay and has served on the boards of many nonprofit organizations including 5 Gyres Institute. A recognized expert in legal policy to stop plastic pollution, Lisa has produced panels and spoken before audiences around the globe including at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The United Nations. Lisa is a featured expert in the award-winning documentary Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
This interview originally appeared on Fiftiness.