‘We’re suddenly realising the impact we can make’: a chat with Ella Woodborne
Sunshine Coast student Ella Woodborne is a student leader, environmentalist and self-proclaimed ‘bookworm.’ And as a youth ambassador for EarthTech, she’s also a big believer in the power of technology to change the world.
She dialled in to a chat with our founder Ant Moorhouse about optimism, advocacy, and why the environmental movement needs all kinds of brains.
Listen to our full chat, or read some highlights below.
Q: So you’re 16. What’s your genesis story of why you’ve decided to dedicate your time and focus to the environment?
I’m passionate about preserving our planet. It’s my upbringing. I’m South African, I grew up with a lot of nature around me. My mum worked with animals, my dad was a vet, we lived out in the bush, my mum’s best friend ran an elephant reserve. I was always outside, and that made me appreciate it.
As I got older, as I began to understand the science and the issues facing our environment, it made me want to protect and look after it
Q: And tell me about how you’ve led environmental action at your school?
A: I run an environmental team at school called Green Team – we started it last year. We looked at the issue of plastic waste at school and the need to cut down on single use plastic.
So we asked everyone at our school assembly to stand up and cross their arms if they wanted to say no to single use plastic, and the entire school stood up, including the teachers. I was nearly in tears, it was so emotional. You could feel the connection between everyone.
I thought it was a really thought provoking moment about what my generation can actually do.
Q: Let’s talk about that – what CAN your generation do? What is the secret of this Greta Thunberg army? Why is this moment so important?
A: My generation is suddenly realising their potential and the impact that we can make.
At present I think everyone of every age has an equal impact and responsibility to make change. But my generation specifically is the future. That sounds a little bit egotistical, but within the next few years there will be a fresh wave of politicians entering politics, and my age group be able to vote.
We’re seeing inadequate change being made, so we’re banding together. We acknowledge that the older generations have done what they can with the knowledge they had, but today we have so much information about climate change and my generation is harnessing that.
Very soon we’ll be able to get into politics and we’ll be able to use this information.
Q: Tell me about technology, and your generation’s role from a tech point of view. My generation has had to learn tech as a second language. What’s it like being a native speaker? And how can it add to the solution?
A: I think technology is potential.
It’s about education. I can access thousands of scientific papers so easily, and develop an opinion for myself. I don’t need to wait for a librarian to pick what information I can access.
And connection. At a time like this, with the planet at a tipping point, humanity needs to be united and technology is a great way to connect people. It makes the future look a lot brighter.
Q: You sound like an optimist. Are you? Can we solve this?
A: I’m a realistic optimist.
It’s a dangerous time at the moment. We’re nearing the point of no return. But I believe we’ll be able to stop this before it reaches a point where we can’t fix it. It doesn’t look like that right now, and that’s of great concern. But when we begin to reunite, make changes to policies, listen to what the youth has to say, harness technology, things will start happening.
I read a lot of books, futuristic books. They’re always set after an apocalypse. We’ve always seemed all seem to like the idea that the world is going to end. But we need to be a little more optimistic. We need to have a common goal.
Q: One of the cool things about having you as an EarthTech ambassador is that you’re not a techhead! But you are a student leader. What should other people like you, the non-robotics-club-type kids, do to get involved?
A: I think environmentalism is a responsibility for all of us. We need to encourage everyone and help them understand that everyone can make an impact.
Doesn’t matter if you’re a bookworm or techhead, arty or science person. We all have ideas. I’m a writer and a poet. Through my writing, I can help create change too.
Because tech isn’t just tech. You need to be able to pitch your ideas, convince people. You need the communicators involved there too. You need a whole variety of skills. We all have that potential.
Q: Yes, and when we designed the EarthTech Challenge, we imagined it’d work that way. Often the deep scientists are deep inside their world, and they need others to team up with. Leaders and entrepreneurs.
A: Yes, people are diverse. We all have different skillsets. If we were all the same, the world would be a boring place.
Some people are good at technology and coding. Some are good at presenting. Some are good at design. Some are really creative.
That’s why a team challenge format is so appealing – one person couldn’t do all of it, it requires working together toward a common goal. I really appreciate that about the Earth Tech Challenge.
And there’s a bigger lesson, beyond the EarthTech Challenge. When we’re adults, when we’re the ones in power and making changes, we’ll need to work together too.
Q: So what’s the heart of your message?
A: I encourage everyone to get involved in the Earth Tech Challenge.
More broadly the planet is all of our responsibility. It belongs to nobody but it’s all of our job to look after and care for it.
We’re at a crucial time in our planet’s history: the future of us and our children and our children’s children will be impacted by what we do now.
If you’re questioning if you should get involved with environmentalism, the question is, can you entertain that idea that if we don’t do anything, your kids may never see a glacier, or they’ll only ever see a tiger in a picture book? I can’t.
I often feel overwhelmed, like I’m not doing enough. But it’s up to every single one of us: what we buy, what companies we support, what politicians we support, to make change.
We all have the potential to make change.