Brandeis students and faculty gathered for a Year of Climate Action event titled “Lunch with an Environmental Lobbyist.” Katharine Lange, the lobbyist in question, took her seat at the head of the table and began by prompting the attendees to share their names and a recent outdoor moment as she prepared to discuss the work she does, her professional path and how she maintains work-life balance.
Lange initially stumbled upon Brandeis while trying to recruit college students for Lobby for the Rivers Day this March, which will take place at the Massachusetts State House. She works as a policy specialist for the Massachusetts River Alliance, a statewide non profit with five members but over 80 partner organizations. Some of these partners are also statewide, while others are local and place-based, such as the Charles River Watershed Association. She keeps a close eye on the state budget and regulations, and communicates any changes to these environmental organizations. She also takes information about important issues from these organizations and directs it to the attention of lawmakers.
Although Lange’s area of focus is not on energy and fossil fuels, she adamantly views her work as climate work. “I think there’s also a prevailing thought and a notion that land and water isn’t climate work and that’s not true,” she remarked. “Most people will experience climate change through water—either through flooding in their communities, or through droughts.”
Lange commented on how one of the challenges of transitioning to the Healey administration was the narrow focus on energy within the environmental sector. While transitioning to renewable energy is crucial for lowering carbon emissions, she emphasized the importance of investing in adaptations for water-related challenges that are exacerbated by climate change.
During her talk, Lange discussed her academic background and her path towards the world of environmental policy. She attended the University of Connecticut, majoring in human rights and political science as an undergraduate. After graduating, she knew she wanted to do something related to the environment. “‘I don’t know, but I think people are doing this for a living and I could be one of those people,’” she recalled of her thoughts at the time, “‘but what does that mean… I don’t know… Al Gore?’”
Through a series of fortunate connections, and “telling everyone I knew I was looking,” Lange landed a job with a land conservation non-profit, where she worked while completing a Masters of Public Administration.
Though she sometimes feels self conscious that she has never taken an ecology course, her job largely entails communication to legislators who are working on many issues at once and likely don’t have a strong environmental science background either; they just need a basic level explanation. Furthermore, Lange works with many individuals in Massachusetts River Alliance’s partner organizations who have specific expertise. “I fill the deficit from smart friends,” she laughed.
Surrounded by college students, many inching towards graduation and thinking about the future, Lange also discussed her attitude toward work in general, and the pivotal transition into the “real world.” She talked about the panic she felt about no longer being a student, an integral part of her identity for nearly her entire life.
Going from being a student to working a full time job was a strange transition for Lange, for reasons that may have been surprising; she wasn’t used to having her evenings free and not having homework.
She tries to make a habit of not doing work or even work related emails at night. “When you work for something like climate, it’s easy to take that stuff home with you,” she says. “I have a boss—she’s in her mid-fifties—who says that towards the beginning of her career, people were coming into the field out of love. Now, a lot of them are coming in out of fear.”
Since working as a lobbyist, Lange says that both her love and fear have grown. Although she’s entered what some might consider a “depressing career,” she’s now able to articulate her visions and ideas more clearly, and able to see all the people who are working on every facet of climate.
Lange expressed that it was a priority for her to find work where she felt like she was doing something important, and she feels like she has achieved that feeling. Still, outside of work, she doesn’t watch nature or climate documentaries, or read environmental books. “I think it’s important to have that switch.”
More information about the Massachusetts River Alliance and their upcoming events can be found on their website.