Climate and Community

Jon Christensen’s passion is for people and how they understand and are affected by the environment.

Jon Christensen moved around the U.S. and Europe as a child and attended high school in Spain and Chicago. He graduated from San Francisco State University and spent years writing about the environment for public radio and such publications as The New York Times. He then pivoted to academia, but his passion remained the same. Now an adjunct professor and journalist-in-residence at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, he combines research and journalism to communicate about ways in which to address environmental justice and adapt to climate change.

Q: What prompted your interest in environmental topics?

A: Coming of age in Spain attuned me to cultural and language differences. I was fascinated by that. I kind of fell into environment journalism because it was growing at the time, and I was willing to travel far and spend the time to get good stories. I liked hanging out with people and trying to figure out what was going on in rural New Mexico, for instance, in the relationship between traditional Hispanic sheepherding and public lands and environmental demands.

If I had to pick one moment that sealed my interest in these issues, it would be when I was traveling in Brazil for Pacific News Service in 1989, covering a big gathering of environmentalists and indigenous people and rubber tappers in the Amazon, who were protesting deforestation and dam and road building. I asked one leader of a small community what he most wanted. He said an all-weather road to connect his community to the rest of the world so they wouldn’t be at the mercy of the traders on the river. That opened my eyes to the complexity of some of the issues that seem clear-cut in rhetoric. ...