Mentee Stories: Sophia Yang

We are not sure how Sophia Yang does it all. As the Urban Forestry Engagement Coordinator with the UBC Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP), the Alumni Project Coordinator at Elements Society, and the BC ActiveDays Coordinator for Parkbus, much of Sophia’s energy is dedicated towards community engagement in climate action. Especially when youth are involved.

“We are the driving force behind new innovation, forward ways of thinking, and social change,” Sophia says, speaking about young people. “It’s important for youth to be engaged in climate action.”

 Sophia Yang (right) with mentor Rosie Pidcock. Photo: Ivan Belko. 

Sophia Yang (right) with mentor Rosie Pidcock. Photo: Ivan Belko. 

As a Climate Guides mentee, Sophia is acting on her passion for youth and community engagement with "Generation Mindfuel". Her goal is to create a user-friendly, crowd-sourcing platform where youth from around the world can submit stories about energy and sustainability in multiple formats, including as videos, photos, and blog posts. Ultimately, Sophia hopes to emphasize the importance of values-based storytelling in climate change discourse. She also hopes to improve the dissemination of knowledge amongst youth from across the globe. Youth often have unique and valuable perspectives, and as the generation that will face the strongest impacts from climate change yet, it is crucial to capture that knowledge and share it. Sophia is the perfect person for the job.

Her mentor, Rosie Pidcock of Student Energy, has helped Sophia raise the voices of young people. “When you’re a young person, it can be hard sometimes to feel heard or important, it can also feel alone and isolating at times,” Sophia says. “Having a mentor as a young climate leader is immensely helpful because you get the chance to share your ideas and insight with someone who’s gone through these experiences before and are able to compartmentalize the problems you’re faced with and offer sound advice.”

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Sophia is a true cheerleader for the power of youth. Ever since reading an article by David Suzuki about what youth can do to raise awareness about climate change at the age of 11, Sophia has been an active member of the climate movement. Before entering her multiple current positions, she worked and volunteered for Natural Resources Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, Parks Canada, and UBC Sustainability. Her work in climate action has been well recognized, earning her a place on the Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 not once, but twice (2017 and 2018). “I see youth my age, and people of even younger generations capable of filling the environmental, technological, and policy gaps that currently lack in our political systems to effectively take action on climate change,” Sophia explains. “We need to be more empathetic about the situation, to help each other, and I want to work closely with affected communities to share their narratives.”

However, Sophia was not always so certain of her place in the climate movement. The oil and gas industry has played a large role in her family history. Born in Daqing, China (a name which literally translated to ‘big oil’ in Mandarin), oil and gas have helped Sophia and her family to get where she is today. “People’s opinions and their views on the climate movement isn’t 50/50, it’s not black or white, it’s not this or that,” Sophia says. “For me it’s a way to better understand my identity … being raised in a household that has such ties to oil, I’ve spent some time being ashamed of it, but now--I rather have it elevate me.”

 Sophia Yang presenting Generation Mindfuel. Photo: Ivan Belko.

Sophia Yang presenting Generation Mindfuel. Photo: Ivan Belko.

With the end of the Climate Guides 2018 program, Sophia will be continuing to work on developing a platform to project youth’s climate stories. She will be graduating from the Faculty of Forestry at UBC this fall, and this December she will be attending the United Nations climate change conference, COP 24, in Katowice, Poland. While in Poland Sophia will have the chance to participate in the annual Conference of Youth (COY) where she can meet other young climate leaders from around the world and hear their stories.

“Most people usually get into the climate action movement because they found a connection, a vice that empowers them,” Sophia notes. Thankfully, we have people like Sophia working tirelessly to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to find that connection.

Caroline Merner