The world is big and we are small. That reality is enough to make the idea of protecting the natural world feel very, very daunting. The ensuing thought process, once we start to digest that idea, makes it easy to understand why many of us don’t champion the task. Chad Nelsen and Elena Hight are taking it all on from different places, both in the physical spaces they fight to protect and in the experiences that led them there. But if you think about it, their individual stories cover almost the entire spectrum for all of us.
Dr. Chad Nelsen is the CEO of the Surfrider Foundation and a born and raised Californian. He grew up on the beaches of Orange County, fishing, diving, and watching wide open spaces that used to be devoted to agriculture transform into a concrete-covered suburbia. And in 2014, Elena Hight, an Olympic athlete and ambassador for Protect Our Winters, noticed a night-and-day difference in the Tahoe winters she’d come to know. One has devoted himself to protecting our ocean and everything that touches it and the other dedicated to doing the same in the mountains. He works with the nuts and bolts of an organization while she uses her platform to be the voice for another. Together, they represent how the key to protecting the places we love is in each individual and focusing on that which is closest to us–not in having to save the entire world individually. Think locally. Act globally.
“Every single place, I’m convinced, is loved by somebody,” Nelsen says. “And so if we all can find it within ourselves to get active and protect those places, then we just multiply that…I think this grassroots wave is the approach to get things done.”
We all know there’s no magic trick to saving the Earth. No one person will solve our problems with plastic waste. No one person will reverse climate change. No one person will clean every beach, wipe out water shortages, or replenish every marine sanctuary. But to Elena Hight’s point, “You have a specific place that you love and that’s what really brings you back to wanting to protect that. These sports are what get us to that point.”