Journey with Ayana Johnson
2023, Senior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Urban Ocean Lab and All We Can Save
7/18/2050, 11:23 a.m.
Noon approached. The sun climbed higher, eager to assume its shift watching over the melting world. I had a lingering awareness I was alone on this beach.
The last beach on Earth.
Merely three decades ago, people built skyscrapers to escape rising sea levels and most moved away from coastlines altogether. Suddenly, beaches tragically transformed from leisurely havens into waste repositories.
I was deeply concerned. I love the beach wildlife, the golden sand caressed by undulating waves, and sounds of seagulls blessing my ears. But this beach was different. This beach reeked of decay. I watched the lifeless ocean with unbearable disappointment. If humans could go back and atone for their mistakes, would this wreckage be salvaged? Or would excessive greed still override the desperate need to save our planet?
Overcome with emotion, I walked straight into the ocean and dove in. Dark and dead water consumed me. I could almost feel toxicity penetrating my skin. Undeterred, I continued on, desperate to grasp the situation’s gravity. Akin to a mirror, the seafloor illuminated a new world replete with blue oceans, golden beaches, and thriving ecosystems. Dazed, I gently reached for it. My fingertips passed through, entering that world of vitality. The mirror immersed my palm, my arm, and then whole body. I fully entered, now standing on a beach that might have existed had humans combatted climate change.
A woman stood beside me. Her piercing eyes glowed with energy. She asked, “What do you think?”
“Where am I?!” I blurted confusedly.
“A world saved from disaster,” she said proudly.
“Unbelievable! How does this exist?” My heart raced.
She smiled. “I and other like-minded people did some impressive work. Let me show you.”
I blinked and suddenly found myself alone, floating in a blank world. An empty canvass gradually filled with fractured pieces of floating memories from people in this world. I saw hovering memories of government officers, policymakers, and students.
“I am Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.” Her voice emanated through this blank world. “At your age, I had deep passion for environmental science and oceanography. This inspired me to fight to conserve oceans and combat climate change throughout my career.
“Your career? Like…a marine scientist?”
“Yes, a long, winding career that began with research studying how international collaboration can reduce climate change impacts on island states.”
A government officer’s memory from the Maldives drifted over and consumed me – I became the officer. As such, I read a report regarding upcoming visits from foreign scientists. Climate change had plagued my state, and I was increasingly concerned about the future. Yet, I became inspired with hope after witnessing Dr. Johnson and her team’s efforts to stimulate in-depth discussions between foreign scientists and our own residents. These critical discussions distilled optimal regional solutions for fighting ocean degradation, including coastal vegetation restoration, as foreign scientists brought advanced scientific knowledge and local residents provided specific regional traits. The apparent impact of this close, effective collaboration blanketed me with warm relief. But then I paused in a moment of déjà vu as another memory struck me. Years ago, Dr. Johnson clearly urged for “a rapid response to marine environmental shocks, to be achieved at least partially through global cooperation and information-sharing.” Since this groundbreaking study, she and her team started rescuing my country and people from the horrific impacts of climate change!
Suddenly, I returned to the blank world.
Dr. Johnson continued excitedly, “I then co-founded Urban Ocean Lab, aiming to cultivate rigorous climate and ocean policy protecting coastal cities.” Her voice radiated delight and pride.
Another memory engulfed me. I found myself embroiled in the mind of a Hawaiian environmental policymaker. Surrounded by other representatives, I was listening to policy suggestions presented by Dr. Johnson’s Urban Ocean Lab regarding cultivation of offshore renewable energy, coastal infrastructure, community resilience, and ecosystem restoration. Listening meticulously, I carefully jotted, “State and federal waters along continental U.S., Hawaii and Great Lakes have technical potential to supply >2,000 GW of offshore wind power,” acutely aware this suggestion could help achieve zero-emissions by 2045. Immersed in discussions amongst my colleagues, I started imagining the potential benefits as this project is enforced into the future and smiled alongside my colleagues. Our smiles represented hope and relief. In this moment, consents were made – the consent that scientific research, such as the innovative work by Dr. Johnson’s group, would be key to providing critical solutions for both Hawaii and the world.
I emerged from the memory.
Dr. Johnson continued, “I also gave speeches in Ted Talks, Science & Society, and Chicago Ideas Week, and co-hosted How to Save a Planet with Alex Blumberg.”
I eagerly approached and dove into a swirling memory nearby, becoming a 16-year-old student, just as I had been about 30 years ago. I watched Dr. Johnson’s Ted Talk and listened to her podcast, sketching my own Venn diagram as she had proposed, considering suitable climate actions based on intersections of my interests and abilities.
I deeply admire Dr. Johnson, particularly her trenchant perception that “all too rarely are we asked to contribute our special talents, our superpowers, to climate solutions.” I imagine myself growing into an impactful environmentalist like Dr. Johnson, courageously acting to save our earth from climate change while inspiring younger generations.
More memories appeared, reminding me her contributions were vast and far-reaching – Blue Halo, All We Can Save, and March for Science all exemplify her immense efforts. Swimming amongst these memories, I witnessed the efforts of countless scientists like Dr. Johnson and innumerable lay people who work collectively to combat climate change. Whether calling for international collaboration, improving environmental policies, or simply picking up trash and living a green life, every action is impactful.
The blank world waned, and I stood on the beach again. Seagulls sang delightfully, people played joyously. The refreshing, salty ocean wind reminds me that I am out of the memory world. But my mind lingers still. I say to Dr. Johnson, “That was quite a journey,” looking into her eyes before turning back to the blue ocean. She smiled, pleased but concerned, like a hero who knows disaster never truly ends but nonetheless will never stop fighting.
Art is a medium to convey information in compelling fashion. Thus, art is an ideal method to introduce climate heroes to the general public. My goal in this piece is to introduce a climate hero – largely unknown by the public – through a captivating story, while also inspiring appreciation for the step-by-step, collaborative efforts of those who fight for a healthier planet by combatting climate change. I first met Dr. Johnson when she gave a speech at Tabor Academy, my current school. Intrigued by her fascinating career, I did some research about her after the speech and therefore sought to highlight her in the Ocean Awareness Contest. While conducting research for this piece, I was ceaselessly amazed by myriad people like Dr. Johnson who work tirelessly on climate and environmental issues. Ultimately, I hope more people will recognize the journey of combatting climate change never ends and that we need everyone’s collective efforts to secure a bright future. Thus, every individual can absolutely be an outstanding climate hero themselves to help save the planet.