Julia Jackson is a passionate climate activist who’s committed to identifying and scaling game-changing solutions to the climate crisis. The second generation proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, Jackson founded an organization called Grounded, focused on advancing those solutions and supporting “solutionists” – changemakers working on the frontlines of environmental change.
SEE Change recently spoke with Jackson about her social venture, its unique mandate and the various projects and climate activists she’s working with toward urgent action.
What inspired you to launch Grounded? What was the gap that you felt wasn’t being fulfilled in the climate solutions space?
After losing my father at the age of 22 to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, my journey into environmental work began. During his diagnosis, I read a lot of books on cancer and every single book discussed the link between environmental degradation and the rise of diseases. That link between our internal state of health and how we treat our environment was a profound realization for me while experiencing a devastating loss.
Throughout my early and mid 20’s I began to read about climate change, and the more I read, the more fearful I became about the future of life on Earth. It wasn’t until experiencing the Tubbs fire in Northern California, where I lived, in October 2017, that I realized that the climate crisis was not some future existential threat; it was happening right here and now.
As I was evacuating from the Tubbs fire, the raining ash lodged itself into my lungs and I couldn’t breathe. I remember driving down the freeway and it looked like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. The hospital was on fire and so was a huge portion of the town of Santa Rosa. That fire ended up causing $9 billion worth of damage.
In the aftermath of that fire, I heard many discussions around resiliency and building back stronger, but I didn’t hear a lot of conversations around addressing the root cause of the why the fire happened in the first place. I was beginning to see parallels between cancer and the climate crisis. Our Earth seemed to be in proverbial stage 4 cancer and the fire was an expressed symptom of the deadly diagnosis. It was after that fire that I began a lifelong obsession and quest to address the root causes of our earth being terminally ill.
As I was healing emotionally from the Tubbs fire, I read the book Drawdown. Drawdown puts forth 100 solutions to reverse the climate crisis, a constructive and optimistic departure from the doom and gloom that typically accompanies discourse around the climate. Reading a solutions-based approach to addressing the climate crisis was not only healing for my environmental angst, but it also ignited a spark and resolve to get behind solutions and seek them out.
My organization Grounded was born several months after the fire and my research on climate solutions. By living through the climate crisis firsthand, I had a powerful sense of urgency while also feeling optimism about finding solutions. The vision of Grounded was to connect and mobilize the many climate solutions for a summit in March of 2019, which brought people together from around the world to talk about tangible, scalable climate crisis solutions. Due to the pandemic, we have shifted this format online and believe part of addressing the climate crisis is education. We are making the information on our website available for free and as accessible as possible to all.
While there were a lot of great solutions and efforts out there, it felt like everything was super siloed and there was a lack of collaboration. On top of that, less than 2 percent of all philanthropic donations go towards the environment so a lot of these organizations are competing for such a small percentage of funds. We felt that by bringing solutionists together and building a movement around climate solutions, more of public would build community around action. Whether it be rewilding native species, restoring mangroves, grafting coral reefs, harnessing the law, addressing food waste, implementing regenerative agriculture and permaculture, or honoring Indigenous guardianship, there are so many much-needed solutions that must be implemented immediately.
At Grounded, we’re hyper focused on finding Earth-based solutions and cross pollinating all sectors of society. By convening solutionists, scientists, environmental attorneys, activists, and the public we’re able to facilitate meaningful connections and drive action-based education. This is what our climate crisis requires today – and that’s the gap we fill.
What sets you apart from other philanthropic organizations dedicated to supporting efforts to fight climate change?
The need for massive action across all sectors of society has never been more critical as we approach 1.5C global temperature rise. Currently, less than 2 percent of philanthropic giving goes towards climate-related initiatives. And only a small percentage of that goes to frontline climate organizations. There is very little focus from mainstream environmental organizations on Indigenous communities, even though they are the world’s first line of defense against deforestation, biodiversity collapse and global temperature rise.
A lot of the time large philanthropic grants made to larger environmental NGOs known as the “big greens” will not make it to the communities on the ground. It is imperative that more financial resources are directed to communities that are safeguarding ecosystems so that these ecosystems do not collapse.
Rising temperatures don’t only ensue from the use of fossil fuels and from industrial industries, these emissions rise with every old growth that is chopped down and with every acre of biodiversity that is destroyed. The protection of these mangroves, boreal forests, tropical forests, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands, prairies and many more ecosystems are imperative to ensuring temperatures stay below deadly limits. Key communities fully safeguarding them, besides conservationists and passionate environmentalists, are Indigenous communities and they need more allies.
There are so many solutions needed to address the climate crisis. Each and every solutions-focused organization will have its place. My concern is that a lot of people will get desperate and start throwing money towards geo-engineering and marvel tech utopia like carbon capturing and quick band-aid fixes that address way too much carbon in the atmosphere, but do not account for mass biodiversity collapse.
At Grounded, we are focused on Earth-based conservation and restoration efforts, environmental legislation and working alongside frontline Indigenous communities who are guardians of biodiversity.
Grounded developed a Climate Solutions Vetting Lens. Can you explain what that is and how it helps you do your work?
One of the team members at Grounded, Abby Volkmann who works on this project regularly defined the Grounded Solutions Vetting Lens as a methodology and tracking tool used to assess and vet climate change solutions for Grounded’s programs (the Climate Academy, grants, impact investments). The tool ensures compliance with a variety of relevant sustainability frameworks, certifications, accreditations, standards, initiatives, and guidelines. The tool also ensures alignment with Grounded’s core values and mission.
We are inundated with messages that it is “game over” for our civilization and it’s hard not to get stuck in the doom-and-gloom. However, it is imperative to remember there are hundreds of viable solutions that can mitigate the worst impacts of our climate emergency.
Tell us about the Climate Academy that was launched last year
Since departing from an in-person event due to COVID, Grounded has launched an ongoing Climate Academy – a digital content and event series that curates and amplifies nature-based, innovative climate solutions. Through the Climate Academy we’ve brought together solutionists, scientists, and activists for conversations about preserving permafrost, limiting methane emissions, and harnessing legal frameworks like criminalizing ecocide. Each month, we launch a video on a specific solutions topic, followed by a panel of experts and solutionists around that topic.
For our launch, we released a video featuring permafrost scientist Rachael Treharne from Woodwell Climate Research Center and permafrost solutionist Nikita Zimov from Pleistocene Park to discuss the threats of rapidly thawing permafrost and what that means for global temperature rise and foreign microbes from thawing animal carcasses if humanity doesn’t address it. We then had a lively conversation with Arctic and permafrost scientists and solutionists to galvanize around this major global threat.
Our last panel and video theme included harnessing law as a solution to the climate crisis. We congregated a variety of experts and environmental lawyers to discuss solutions such as criminalizing ecocide and Rights of Nature and explored law as a tool and guardrail for protection from extractive and destructive industries that are destroying carbon sinks at warp speed.
Our upcoming solution theme, starting in February, highlights why it is critical to restore and protect coral reef ecosystems globally. We will explore restoring coral reefs by grafting dead corals with alive and native coral species to regenerate ocean ecosystems as a potential solution. We’re really excited about the solution themes to come, and our intention is to build an engaged and active community around these climate solutions.
Our focus – at the academy and in in all our work – is on nature-based solutions, and the solutionists bringing them to scale. Solutions grounded in Earth’s innate wisdom are important. Grounded, for example, is supporting something developed by a partner of ours, One Earth, called the Global Safety Net: the first comprehensive global-scale mapping analysis of terrestrial areas essential for biodiversity and climate resilience, totaling 50.4% of the Earth’s land.
It is because of these solutionists, and people like them across the world, that we are filled with hope for our future.
You’re the co-chair of the US Allies of Stop Ecocide – what is ecocide and what’s the challenge it represents?
This is a movement led by Jojo Mehta, a dear friend and colleague who runs the U.K.-based Stop Ecocide International. Ecocide is a word to describe what is happening to our planet, the mass damage and destruction of the natural living world. It literally means “killing one’s home.”
And right now, in most of the world, no-one is held responsible. We need to preserve over half the Earth’s land to stay below 1.5 degrees in climate rise and make ecocide an international crime. Why isn’t the mining, logging, exploitation, and destruction of huge masses of land a crime, like genocide?
What we want is for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to create a law that would prosecute corporations and global leaders for ecocide, the large-scale decimation of ecosystems that sequester carbon, sustain Indigenous communities, and keep our air and water clean.
We cannot expect technology to reverse the climate crisis without stable ecosystems and a healthy biosphere. Criminalizing ecocide is a necessary precursor to climate solutions. The natural world is incredibly intelligent, and if we treat it with respect and minimal footprint, we can turn the climate crisis around. However outlawing ecocide is not enough on its own, in the same way that carbon capturing technology is not enough. We need a symphony of solutions and criminalizing ecocide can be one of the most impactful.
You recently attended the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26) and convened a gathering there. What’s your takeaway of COP and its value to climate change action?
To be honest it felt like a lot of people weren’t expecting a positive outcome from the COP26 conference to begin with. My expectations overall weren’t very high. I think we need to honestly evaluate the effectiveness of COP to begin with. We can’t keep having COP after COP and expect an outcome if the accountability of the negotiations isn’t meeting the methods of meeting the global targets and the methods are inherently flawed and there aren’t legal ramifications. My hope for COP27 is that the process for negotiations will be drastically revised to ensure we can in fact address the true severity of the climate crisis. I think the countries and corporations most responsible for the climate crisis should be monetarily responsible to the counties most impacted.
While the negotiations were a terrible disappointment, there was a powerful and beautiful community in the surrounding civil society. The voices of the masses which included environmental organizations, young people, Original Nations, and many others, were front and center. We co-hosted the House of Original Nations, an all-day sacred gathering space to amplify Indigenous leadership through ceremonies, a Letters to the Earth workshop and curated panels. And we took part in a global activation called #SacredFireCOP26, where throughout the world, allies who could not attend COP26 lit a fire honoring the leadership and guardianship of Indigenous communities.
Inside the conference walls, it was a very different story. There you saw negotiations at tables and boardrooms without representation from women’s groups, BIPOC voices, environmental groups, scientists, or impacted communities. These negotiations happened with the some of the biggest polluters themselves – the fossil fuel companies. COP26 hosted 503 fossil fuel delegates, the largest single delegation at COP and bigger than any nation. By including polluters in the process, COP sacrificed its ability to progress any real action and change.
Going in, I wasn’t optimistic that President Biden would put the U.S. back on track to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals overnight. Though he said the right things in his speech about the need to protect our climate, five days after COP the Biden Administration announced that they had already set in motion the single largest sale of oil and gas leases in the history of the United States. If this proceeds, 80 million acres – about the area of Arizona – of U.S. oceans will be open to fossil fuel production, which is the equivalent of 157 million cars or 182 coal-fired power plants operating for a year. Lease 257, as it is known, had been put up for auction in August and is an even larger offering than what former President Trump initially proposed.
To have this announced just days after the lackluster results from COP 26 negotiations was like salt to a wound.
What is your greatest concern as it relates to Indigenous communities and climate change? Why has so much of your attention been focused there?
Our Indigenous communities are quite literally our last line of defense for survival. Many people separate the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse, but the truth is that everything is deeply intertwined. If we don’t preserve the last pristine intact ecosystems and empower the communities that protect them, we are all set to face the existential consequences.
Indigenous Peoples make up less than 5 percent of the global population, yet they inhabit 80 percent of the most biodiverse regions. There is a reason for this – they live in reciprocity with the land and hold deep reverence for the Earth. As much as we are in a climate crisis, we are in a moral crisis by which we are treating the planet with widespread sociopathic and parasitic actions. Indigenous values are being lost in modern society and the detriment of exploiting natural resources has caught up with us. Indigenous nations have long practiced land management and conservation methods that scientists and the latest IPCC report now say are crucial solutions for the climate crisis and enriching biodiversity.
For this reason, I am incredibly committed to supporting Indigenous leadership and guardianship.
My greatest concern is that we are not treating this crisis with the urgency required. At COP26, over 100 nations committed to an end to deforestation by 2030, and to other goals further down the road. However, that’s too late. If we look at the destruction and ecocide that is currently happening in tropical forests such the Amazon now, 2030 is too late to avoid the tipping point for this crucial ecosystem.
Any increase in fossil fuel production at this point is a step backwards and a lurch closer to exceeding a 1.5C degree increase in global temperature. To avert total climate catastrophe, we must draw down rapidly, stopping the production of fossil fuels, criminalizing ecocide, and turning off the toxic hose of destructive and extractive industries.
Right now, I am working with youth activists including One Up Action, led by the climate leader Kevin Patel, to stop the Biden Administration from moving ahead with this catastrophic oil and gas lease sale 257. We need to stop drilling for new oil, and the decision documents for this sale acknowledge it will result in the production of up to 1.12 billion barrels and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of fossil fuels over the next 50 years. As I mentioned, it’s more than 80 million acres being leased to the oil and gas industry that is up for extraction.
After lease 257, there are 22 more oil and gas lease sales in the pipeline. Twenty-two. The Biden Administration is also required by law to create a new 5-year lease plan for offshore sales. Our strong recommendation and demand are they create a plan with no new leases. We have enough reserves to meet our current needs, and we must rapidly transition to renewable energy sources. We also need to ensure renewable energy sourcing, batteries for example, are also not inherently extractive like mining for nickel on Indigenous land in Bolivia or sourcing minerals through deep seabed mining.
The answer to any questions of new fossil fuel extraction needs to be a simple no. A just transition needs to start now – and I hope everyone reading will stand up for climate action now on these pending lease sales.
For more about Julia Jackson and Grounded, visit www.grounded.org.