For Clare Gallagher, Princeton Class of 2014, the urgent cry of “all hands on deck” to combat climate change brings her to her feet. Literally. An ultramarathoner and trail runner, Gallagher discusses on the latest episode of "All for Earth" about how her career provides an intimate connection with fragile ecosystems that are under stress from climate change.
She also describes how her role as a Global Sports Activist for the outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, provides a platform for urging politicians and her fans to actively protect the environment from what she sees as willful attacks from corrupt and greedy interests.
“The level of corruption and attacks on our environment, our air — pretty much everything we need as humans and as Americans — they're so strategic and pointed,” said Gallgher, who graduated from Princeton in 2014 with her bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and a certificate in environmental studies.
“In order to combat such blatant attacks on our rights as humans and Americans to breathe clean air, to be in a natural space, we have to play the game, right? And that requires engaging in democracy,” Gallagher said. “A lot of my activism happens on social media because that's where people follow me. … I feel it's my duty to use my platform to actually tell them something useful, not just platitudes about beauty and mountains.”
Clare also lobbies Congress, the state legislature in Colorado, and participates in high-profile events such as “Running Up for Air” to raise awareness about air pollution. “Then in person, I give a lot of talks to explain why it matters to care about the environment if you like to run, or if you like to be outside,” she said.
Her activism began in 2016 almost as soon as she gained a national reputation by winning a 100-mile trail race in the Colorado mountains called the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile race across rugged terrain that drops and rises 15,000 feet. Sponsorships followed and Gallagher realized she could be a full-time runner. With that came a sense of responsibility.
“The fact that I'm seeing public lands constantly and seeing climate change firsthand and traveling around the world and talking to various people about their opinions on climate change and things, I thought, ‘I need to make this as much part of my job as running is,’” she said.
Educating herself on politics and environmental policy so that she could be an effective and credible advocate for the planet was no walk in the park for this ultramarathoner.
“I had to give myself a crash course,” Gallagher said. “Really, it was in 2016 when these assaults on our environment started, when Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. And I thought, ‘Wait, how is this possible? Why isn't my senator doing something about this? Why aren't my representatives?’
“Enough is enough,” Gallagher said. “If you claim to care about public lands and clean air, you need to actually vote for those things. Running-wise, I'll continue to race and do what inspires me.”
Hosted by Catherine Riihimaki, associate director for science education in Princeton’s Council on Science and Technology, “All for Earth” delves into the urgency of today’s environmental crises, as well as the effectiveness of the tools we already have to mitigate them. The podcast previews topics and speakers featured in the upcoming Princeton Environmental Forum through in-depth interviews with people leading the race against time to prevent environmental disaster. The conference and the podcast coincide with the 25th anniversary of PEI, the University’s interdisciplinary center for environmental research, education and outreach.
“All for Earth” is a co-production of the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Princeton Office of Communications in collaboration with the Council on Science and Technology. Episodes are available for free on the podcast’s homepage, or through iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and Google Play.