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Greenpeace in Charlotte: An Interview with Monica Embrey

by Rhiannon Fionn

Greenpeace in Charlotte: An Interview with Monica Embrey

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Picture by Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman

July 18, 2011

Monica Embrey may have only lived here for a couple of months, but she's already making a name for herself within Charlotte's environmentally-minded circles. She's Greenpeace's new North Carolina field organizer, and the international environmental activism organization's only paid employee in the state.

Founded in 1971 in Vancouver, Canada, Greenpeace grew from the belief that "a few individuals could make a difference," according to its founders. Since then, the organization has become known for adventurous environmental advocacy, and now it's attempting to re-focus its efforts on communities. Embrey was hired to lead Greenpeace’s efforts to help North Carolina communities identify environmental concerns and focus their efforts on local solutions.

A Chicago native, Embrey, 24, earned a degree in Environmental Justice from California's Pomona College in 2009. Now she's ready to help connect area environmentalists with each other as well as help Charlotte-area citizens figure out ways to “green” the city that aims to be the “green energy hub” of the United States.

We sat down with her at her office in Plaza-Midwood recently, where she rents space from Grassroots Leadership, to find out why Greenpeace decided to open an office in Charlotte and what it plans to do now that it’s here.

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We've been hearing about 'kick-off' meetings for Greenpeace, but hasn't the organization had a Charlotte presence in the past?

Yes, there has been a volunteer presence for a couple of years, but the statewide leader was in Raleigh. Now, Greenpeace's North Carolina offices are based here; this is it. I'm the new statewide person and the only employee.

Why Charlotte?

We're going against the policies some Charlotte-based energy companies are pushing, policies that continue to allow coal to be North Carolina's future. We have a big challenge ahead of us regarding our energy policies, and with these challenges come opportunities for real leadership and growth. The question is will we rise to the challenge? Are we going to do something, or are we going to wait for our kids to ask why we didn't do anything? Are we going to say, 'Sorry, it was just too politically difficult?’

What were you told about Charlotte before you moved here? 

I was told there wasn't much of an environmental community and that people were pretty apathetic, but I've found just the opposite. I love this city. People here are incredibly friendly, open, and ready to engage.

What are Charlotte's challenges, as you see them, in its race to become a green energy hub?

This city needs a lot more hope. What I'm noticing is that there are many people here who care and who get it - they're just not connected to each other. I'm hoping to help them reconnect, find out what their stories are, what they're interested in, and then help them figure out how to work together. It's when people come together that we go from hopeless to hope.

Are you planning to stay in Charlotte?

I'm here now; this is my home. I've signed a five-year contract with Greenpeace.

Do you have any help?

We have several interns, all from different backgrounds – I believe we're stronger when we're not all the same. We also have some great volunteers who have helped me adjust to life in Charlotte. I ride my bike to work from my home in NoDa, but that can be a challenge. I'm looking for a car, since Charlotte's mass transit is a little tricky, and I've been very lucky to have volunteers who are willing to drive me around to meetings and even back and forth from the office some days. I even met one local family who invited me in during a rainstorm after I stopped to take shelter under their tree.

What types of environmental issues to you plan to focus on? 

We're going to focus on the biggest, baddest thing – and right now the biggest, baddest thing is coal. But, this isn't the Monica Show; it's not about me. It's about whom we can train to do the work. It's about everyone here figuring out what they want to work on, and then I'll help connect them to larger environmental campaigns that can, in turn, help them.

What are you looking for in volunteers?

We are open to everyone and anyone who is open to talking (including Duke Energy). Anyone who wants to figure out how to actually make a difference, who is tired of ozone action days, who has asthma, whose sons or daughters have autism ... anyone who actually wants to make a difference.

What kind of budget do you have?

We only have $2,000 per year budgeted for volunteer activities right now.

What do you think your prospects for success are?

Right now, I don't have any enemies. I want to work together with anyone who wants to work.

How can people find out more about your organization?

There has been a lot of word-of-mouth promotion so far, which is amazing. People can also visit Greenpeace.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @NCGreenpeace, or me personally at @MonicaEmbrey. We'll be announcing events through both on Facebook and Twitter.

And, what about you – this is a big challenge you've got in front of you – what's your plan of action? 

To just jump in and go for it.

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Tags: greenpeace, charlotte, environment, coal, green, Monica Embrey

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