UTA alumna fights for just, equitable climate policies

Science policy researcher says UTA opened her eyes to human impact on the environment

Monday, Nov 14, 2022 • Linsey Retcofsky : Contact

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Charise Johnson (’09 BS, Psychology) is a modern-day renaissance woman—a science communicator, advocate, community organizer and multi-talented force for equitable policymaking who focuses on the intersection of climate decline and social justice.

In her early and accomplished career, she has informed public knowledge on urgent policy matters from Washington, D.C., to London and on topics as varied as racism in environmental policy, the threat of biodiversity loss and equity in disaster relief efforts.

During her time as a research associate and analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Johnson contributed scientific arguments to political discussions surrounding the Endangered Species Act, gun violence, PFAS contamination and chemical safety. As a policy adviser for the British Academy, she lent her voice to national discussions, such as last year’s conversation at the Natural History Museum about declining amphibian populations and their connection to public health.

But before Johnson became a key adviser to governments on different continents, she was a biology student at UTA.

“That’s when I started learning about things like climate change, ocean acidification and nutrient pollution,” Johnson said. “It opened my eyes to the harmful impacts humans can and do have on the environment.”

In her most recent role with Julie’s Bicycle in London, Johnson heads policy research for the company’s programs, which mobilize the arts and culture sector to respond to the climate crisis.

“Art has an incredible power to speak bravely about critical issues,” Johnson said. “It evokes emotions and provides an opportunity to view something from a fresh perspective.”

Through their leadership, Johnson and colleagues are empowering artists, writers, libraries, museums and more to become champions of environmental justice and inspire public action that improves the environment and society.

And her work doesn’t stop when she leaves the office. In her neighborhood just north of central London, Johnson collaborates with neighbors to bring the message about climate action home. Partnering with a local artist, Johnson interviewed residents about what the environment meant to them. During her research, she recorded individuals’ responses and captured soundbites of life outdoors.

“We asked people what the environment means to them, and we got a lot of different responses,” Johnson said. “Your environment is all around you; it’s not just nature. It can be the sound of babies crying or cars driving by.”

Using the audio recordings, Johnson and her collaborator installed a public soundscape near the community trash bins of her council estate. By amplifying neighbors’ responses and community noises, Johnson hopes residents will draw a connection from their waste to the world around them.

“Our goal is to make people think and ask questions as they throw trash away,” Johnson said. “Raising awareness about how our actions affect the environment is the first and most important step. That knowledge could propel people to create real change.”

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