About Jeff

by Michael Johnson

  • Posted on April 14, 2015


jeff-avatar2My Backstory

I grew up in a small town in a very cold and snowy section of rural Maine, the son of a cross-country truck driver and small-business-owner-turned-teacher. I literally had days where I couldn’t go to school because there were too many moose in my driveway and we couldn’t get the car around them. Perhaps unsurprisingly given my rural roots, my dream in life for most of my early years was to be Indiana Jones – travelling the world and exploring lost ruins. During the summer months in-between school years, I often travelled in my father’s truck all across America, and as a result I’m fortunate enough to have seen the majority of the continental United States. At the time I was certainly excited to have the opportunity, but as I’ve gotten older it’s something that I’ve truly become extremely grateful for.

Of course slowly but surely I grew up, as kids tend to do, and at age 18, in the fall of 2007, I headed off to college at the University of New Hampshire, in the state neighbouring mine. Unfortunately, UNH and I never truly jived together, and after three rough semesters I dropped out of University. I spend most of the next year lost, without passion for much, working but unsure what direction my life would take going forward. Fortunately, at the urging of my parents and other relatives, I decided to enrol at the University of Maine at Farmington, a small state school not far from my hometown, and give University another go in the fall of 2009. That decision truly changed my life.

I’ll always consider it a beautiful irony that in order to regain my passion for travelling and exploring the world, I had to return to rural western Maine. The University of Maine at Farmington became my doorway to the wider world around me, and exposed me to people, places, and ideas that continue to influence me today – and for that I will always be grateful. I’ll also always be forever grateful that a paperwork mix-up during the enrolment process accidentally declared my major as political science without my knowledge. A fortunate mistake out of which a new passion was born.

I can’t identity the exact moment that climate change first made a strong impression on my consciousness. To be totally honest, when you grow up in a cold and snowy rural area where it’s a common practice to ride a snowmobile to high school, climate change doesn’t seem like such a pressing issue. Nonetheless, at some point the seriousness of what climate change means to all of us began to hit home. This process was accelerated when I studied abroad at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. There I took a Pacific island politics course which introduced me to the idea that some small island states, like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and Tokelau, may be totally submerged under the Pacific due to climate change induced rising sea levels by the end of the Century.

When I returned home from New Zealand to complete my degree, I found myself increasingly struggling with how to reconcile my high carbon lifestyle with the plight of people around the world grappling daily with the impacts of climate change. I also became increasingly frustrated with the dominant climate change discourse in the United States, where generally the question being asked is not how to combat climate change, but whether it even exists.

My Current Story

I graduated Summa Cum Laude from The University of Maine at Farmington in the spring of 2013, and I knew that I couldn’t simply throw up my hands, carry on with my life, and leave others to deal with climate change. I needed to do something, to contribute in some small way, to give back what I could. I decided to return to the University of Canterbury to pursue a Master’s Degree in political science, with a topic focused on climate change issues in the Pacific island states.

This is where I am today, spending my days researching and writing about small island states that may simply cease to exist in the next 50-100 years due to the impacts of climate change. Many in the United States and around the world will no doubt never have heard of tiny states like Kiribati and Tuvalu, but these states are bellwethers for all of us. They truly are on the front lines of the fight against climate change, facing daily impacts unimaginable to most of us. However, beyond the abstract battle against such an unfathomably complex foe, these are countries full of people; people that are losing their security, their livelihoods, and their homes, at an increasingly rapid rate. I study their state narratives – how they talk about climate change, and how their discourse impacts external perceptions at the international level.

Of course, regardless of what narratives are constructed about climate change by small or large states, if the world continues on its present path we will all experience its impacts. However, the greatest of challenges often present the greatest of opportunities. Together we can change our path, we can shift directions, we can combat climate change. It’s up to us now. Up to us to make our will known, to let our leaders, our neighbours, our colleagues – to let everyone know that the time to act is now. Paris is that opportunity. The world will be watching. The world will be listening. Together we can literally change the course of history.