While still in high school, Katy Swiere ’21 took a summer college class on climate change that ignited her passion to address the pressing global issue.

She arrived at Pomona College in the fall of 2017, just as Hurricane Harvey was about to hit the small eastern Texas town of Orange she grew up in. She hasn’t forgotten about her hometown, and she is interested in bringing policy changes that can help combat climate change around the globe, whether in rural Texas or urban Los Angeles.

As a member of the local Citizens Climate Lobby chapter in Claremont, she was able to attend the organization’s international conference in Washington, D.C., this past summer. As part of the conference, Swiere participated in a “lobby day” where she went to Capitol Hill to meet with her Texas representatives to lobby for bipartisan climate change solutions.

“I feel like people are pretty pessimistic when it comes to polarization of politics, especially in environmental circles,” says Swiere, who adds that her hometown is politically conservative, but she had a positive experience lobbying her Texas representatives on Capitol Hill about climate change. “If more people are willing to be optimistic and work across the political aisle, we could get a lot more done.”

The experience led Swiere to conduct research and draft a policy proposal for climate-friendly school meals that won her third place in the national Youth Step Up competition. 

Swiere’s award-winning solution drew on an already established U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiative that tackles obesity in public schools and added climate-friendly steps such eating less red meat, more local fruits and vegetables, “things that are going to be better to help reduce greenhouse emissions.”

The proposal aims to reduce emissions created from carbon-intensive foods, which are produced from rearing animals, farming, processing and transporting and storing. It would also help shift children’s diets by giving them access to sustainable and healthier foods.

After D.C., Swiere returned home to Orange, Texas, with a renewed passion to start something local to get other people in her community engaged around the issue of climate change. Working with the regional directors of Citizens Climate Lobby, Swiere organized an event and helped train 10 people to become climate advocates. Attendees learned skills like how to write a letter to the editor, set up a meeting with their member of congress, and engage organizations to endorse climate policy.

“In my hometown and in D.C., I had to reach across the aisle and talk to people who thought very differently from me. If you don’t, you won’t find anyone who wants to work with you,” says Swiere, who left behind a new local chapter in Orange when she returned to Pomona.

“In our chapter, we talk about policy not politics. For some people, it was new, the nonpartisanship, but people were nice and civil.”

Just a few weeks into her second year at Pomona, Swiere attended the Global Action Summit in San Francisco in September, where she presented her Youth Step Up policy proposal on climate-friendly school meals to business and nonprofit leaders and urged them to cut back on their emissions and work for climate change.

Swiere is already thinking about study-abroad opportunities next year and is considering a program in Freiburg, Germany, that introduces students to the European Union where she hopes to learn more about public policy at the international level. 

Swiere plans to have a career in international policy dealing with climate change. She is interested in exploring any of the paths this direction may lead her toward.

 “We should be more optimistic. People shouldn’t be so down on themselves – the first step is the most important. As long as you’re doing something, that’s what counts.”