Kaia Olson, Passing the Torch of Environmental Activism

Contributed by Kaia Olson, grandaughter of Friends’ Board member, San Olson.

As a young person, I can’t emphasize enough the significance of seeing older activists continue to advocate for environmental action.

Your work truly embodies the proverb: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” 

Growing up with both of my grandfathers being environmental activists has inspired much of my own involvement. My maternal grandpa, Paul, is a river conservation advocate in Utah, and my paternal grandfather, San, is a longtime resident of Lopez and a member of the board at Friends of the San Juans. Some of my most meaningful time with each of them has been spent hearing their stories from decades of activism and directly seeing the difference they’ve made in their respective communities—and as they pass the torch of change-making to me, I hope to continue their legacies. 

It is essential that older generations mentor younger ones, encouraging the next generation of activists to rise up and make change. A powerful representation of this activism mentorship is the lighting of a candle: one flame becomes many. For Friends specifically, inspiring the next generation of advocates is particularly important to ensure that the impact we have in the community today will continue to be made for decades in the future. 

In my experience, the key to bridging the generational gap that can exist between activists lies in shared conversation and action. But sometimes the conversation can be difficult to have, as the gravity of the crisis can be overwhelming. Stubborn optimism, introduced by Costa Rican diplomat and central architect of the Paris Agreement, Christiana Figueres, is a method of combating environmental despair. It refers to using optimism as the input of action, not as a blind hope for the outcome. Approach your conversations and actions from a point of stubborn optimism and refuse to imagine another future. Acknowledge that despite the fierce advocacy of the last few decades we still have a long way to go—but that when the generations of activists stand together, we are strong. 

By lighting the candles of the next generations of advocates, we ensure that change continues to be made. Just as I look up to the activism of my grandfathers, the legacies of today’s activists are carried on as tomorrow’s step into their roles as stewards of the planet. 
Kaia Olson with her grandfather, San Olson, of Lopez Island. San is Friends’ longest-running board member. San is passionate about maintaining both the quality of rural life in the San Juans and protecting our magnificent maritime environment. San has been a dairy farmer, a naval officer, and practiced small animal medicine in Boston and Seattle for 33 years. He was actively involved in the Friends of Barlow Bay’s efforts to oppose a large marina. He is the Chairperson of the South Lopez Public Water District and past president of the Catherine Washburn Memorial Association (owner of the Lopez Medical Clinic).

I look at the Friends of the San Juans as sort of like a guard dog. They are the first ones to bark if there is any danger to anything that needs protection. They are the ones that make the first sounds that say “Wake Up!”

Shaun Hubbard

member, San Juan Island and Seattle