Vanessa Sporne, 2020 Adam Majcher Fellow

The Adam Majcher Legacy Program seeks to build the capabilities of a future climate leader with placements across Climateworks, the Climate Reality Project and Common Cause. This award honours the work of Adam Majcher who was an invaluable member of the Climateworks team from 2015 until he suddenly passed away in August 2017. Adam was a unique contributor, renowned for bringing people together to tackle and solve the climate challenge. The 2020 award was this year given to Vanessa Sporne. Here she shares her experience of the program.

A couple of years ago I realised how crucial strategic communication is for the climate movement. I was talking to a scientist about his book on ocean acidification. As a humanities student, I told him that I didn’t feel qualified to talk about the issue. He told me he felt the same. Even though there weren’t many others who knew more than him about the impacts of carbon on our ocean, he struggled to use his knowledge to influence behaviour. 

Positive communication is one of the most critical tools we have in sparking action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

This is one of the reasons I applied for the Adam Majcher Fellowship program – I wanted to see how three different groups like Climateworks Australia, Common Cause and the Climate Reality Project approached climate solutions, and particularly how they communicated these solutions to their respective stakeholders. I also wanted to know how they stayed optimistic and kept their messaging positive. 

I was beginning to feel hopeless in my climate fight. I’d been studying environmental science and volunteering in various climate organisations for years, but the recent bushfires had seen my motivation wane. I was finding myself creeping closer and closer to a career that wasn’t focused on doing what was right for the climate, because I felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the problem.

The Adam Majcher Fellowship introduced me to people who were passionate about achieving similar goals, and had found reasons to stay hopeful and motivated.  

The Fellowship involved a five-week internship with Climateworks, where I worked on the Net Zero Momentum Tracker, helping the team scope upcoming reports and develop corporate engagement strategies. It was a special experience to work with a climate organisation that plays such a unique role in the climate solutions ecosystems – connecting with and influencing large corporate stakeholders.

During the internship I completed the ‘Values and Frames’ training with Common Cause. While this organisation enacts a vastly different theory of change to Climateworks, the lessons they taught me about communication were relevant to almost everything I did. I was able to better pinpoint exactly what kind of message I wanted to send, and ensure that message was positive. Towards the end of my time at Common Cause and Climateworks, I also participated in the first global Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, which connected me with climate activists all over the world. This training gave true meaning to what it means to have collective impact. Through digital meetings, I was able to see all the people who were fighting for the same thing as me, doing everything they could to achieve environmental and social justice. It’s hard to feel lonely or hopeless when you experience that. 

I had never been involved with groups like Common Cause or the Climate Reality Project. Common Cause has challenged how I view others, especially how I view some of the most powerful players in the climate movement.  I believe the lessons I have learned from them will guide how I approach change-making for the rest of my career. And by connecting me with like-minded people from all around the world, the Climate Reality Project has made me feel hopeful for the future. 

Working with all three groups helped me synthesise a lot of the knowledge I’ve gained from my environmental activism and environmental studies. I can see how my understanding of the problem has developed, validating all of the hours I’ve put into the climate movement already. 

When I started in the program, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do after university. And I still don’t know. But there’s a very important difference to how I felt then and how I feel now. 

I used to be anxious about my uncertainty. I was on the brink of rushing into a job that didn’t really suit me or my skill set. Now, I don’t feel worried. This internship has enabled me to get to know myself, helped me identify my strengths and what I enjoy. I don’t know exactly what role I’m going to play in the climate solutions space, but now I know the kinds of things I want to look for. Sometimes, I used to feel like I had to solve the problem all by myself. Now I’ve realised that I’m just one player, and finding a role that plays to my strengths is the best thing I can do for the climate.  

The people who I have met across all three organisations have done this successfully. I want to thank them all for helping me realise this about myself. I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend hours in Zoom rooms with Climateworks, the Climate Reality Project and Common Cause staff, talking about careers, corporations, climate change, and what it means to be a climate advocate. They reminded me that I am part of something bigger. 

The Adam Majcher Legacy Fellowship has influenced how I think about climate change, and how I see myself contributing to solutions in future. I know that one day when people ask how I got to where I am, this program is going to be a defining factor. It makes me so happy to think that Melissa Yoon, the 2019 fellow, and I, are the first people to have had the opportunity to participate. I can’t wait to see how we, and the program, continue to support others to make their own impact and create the equitable, sustainable world we all know is possible.