Miranda Baksh (BES '17, MES '19) is an environmental educator, public speaker, and climate action catalyst. She is chief executive officer of the Community Climate Council, which she co-founded. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental studies where she researched the intersections between biodiversity conservation and digital science communication.
Miranda Baksh (BES '17, MES '19) remembers standing at the edge of the Monkey River estuary in Belize, looking out to sea. From where she stood, she felt as though the sea was higher than the land.
“It’s hard to describe the angle,” she recalls. “But you had this feeling the land could disappear at any moment.”
Through her own creativity and initiative, along with support from professors and mentors in the environmental studies program at York, she had embarked on a Master’s research internship via the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center in Belize.
While researching ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction, Miranda witnessed what many coastal communities around the world experience: erosion. She saw how people suffering daily from the results of climate change were also the ones least responsible for it. And her heart went out to entire communities losing their homes with nowhere else to go.
Miranda realized that many people in the Peel Region, where she grew up, do not give climate change much thought because they don’t experience it to the same degree.
“In Guyana, where my parents are from, 90% of the population lives below sea level,” she says. “While we as first-generation Canadians might not think about climate change, we’re not that far removed from it through our family roots.”
Miranda credits her bachelor and master’s degrees in environmental studies setting the course for her strong belief that she can be a solution to the problem.
“There were so many professors who inspired me, it’s really hard to list them all. I remember leaving classes feeling pumped – feeling like it’s possible to solve the climate crisis.
I also learned a lot from my courses. A disaster management class in particular helped me understand how we, as humans, respond to disasters. Climate change isn’t something we can run away from; it’s a creeping threat. I remind myself of this whenever I’m feeling frustrated by slow progress in my current work.”
Since graduating, Miranda has embarked on many exciting initiatives. She, along with four other university students, co-founded the Community Climate Council – a volunteer-led, nonpartisan not-for-profit that focuses on improving climate literacy and political advocacy in Peel Region (Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon).
The idea came from a call from Youth Challenge International – a non-profit based in Toronto that helps youth to succeed and prosper through innovation. They were looking for youth who wanted to be climate activists.
For Miranda, a light bulb went off. While she had witnessed how climate change affected communities in Belize as well as Costa Rica, thanks to another research project, she realized there was a great need to raise environmental awareness back home – at the local level.
As the chief executive officer of the organization, she leads many important initiatives in Peel Region such as attending local council meetings; speaking at schools; attending events to inspire youth; and speaking to politicians about local environmental and social issues. Her first delegation was in support of the Climate Change Master Plan – the City of Ottawa’s framework aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses. Recently, her team advocated against the creation a new 400-series highway through Peel region, which would cut through conservation areas and sensitive waterways. After pushback, the Region of Peel pulled out of the planned expansion, which was a small win for youth advocacy.
She notes that the climate movement in Canada has been, to date, dominated by white voices, and there hasn’t been enough inclusion of BIPOC communities around pressing climate issues. Which is something she’s setting out to change.
“Because I do a lot of speaking events with high school and university students, I have BIPOC students come up to me all the time and tell me I’ve inspired them to take action – like getting their communities on board with Meatless Mondays, for example.
They always tell them I inspire them because I look like them. But I tell them they inspire me. They’re so much more aware of the climate crisis than I was at their age.”
Along with her busy schedule, she co-hosted a podcast called Changing Climates, now led by her team who are also compiling a database of climate information for the Peel region – something that doesn’t currently exist.
When asked about what advice she’d give today’s students, Miranda says: “We’re all feeling less-than-ideal these days due to the current pandemic. But I’d advise: find your people. Join any organization or community that sees the world the way you do. You’ll feel supported and like you’re part of something bigger.”
“Oh,” she adds smiling. “We’re always looking for new volunteers.”