Alumni Community

Kamea Chayne, Author and Sustainability Champion

Kamea (Kathy) Chayne graduated from Washington University in 2015, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Environmental Studies and Marketing. With this wide array of interests and expertise, Chayne has led a fascinating career that shows the different facets and paths to activism in the digital age.

Chayne uses a variety of platforms to explore how sustainability encompasses a diversity of fields and disciplines—like mental and emotional health, Indigenous teachings, and social justice. Starting off as a blogger of conscious fashion and lifestyle, Chayne has pivoted into independent writing, speaking, and new media content creation. In 2016 she authored the book Thrive, a self-help resource that encourages people to expand their views of wellness to include the health of Earth. In 2018, she started Green Dreamer, for which she has interviewed over 200 thought leaders and change agents working towards planetary healing and reparative justice. Today, she also maintains UPROOTED, a 100% reader-supported newsletter which critically examines all things related to sustainability.

Natalie Snyder, a communication intern with the Office of Sustainability, spoke with Kamea Chayne to learn more about her professional career and gain further insight into how WashU has helped bring her to where she is today. 

How did your years at WashU prepare you for a career in sustainability and activism?

I had always been interested in understanding the world through multidisciplinary lenses, and my three fields of studies at WashU supported me to do just that. With an innate love of our planet, including their people, Psychology helped me to better understand human behavior at a personal and societal level; Environmental Studies equipped me with the foundational knowing that we must heal our troubled relationship with Earth for our wellbeing; and Marketing, frankly, helped me to see how companies are able to craft very effective messages and build certain brand images to sell—irregardless of and even distracting from the ethics and sustainability of their practices. Collectively, the education I received from WashU sharpened my critical thinking skills and gave me a solid and multifaceted basis of knowledge that I continue to build on today.

There is a lot of tension between individual action and systemic change– many hold the belief that their individual sustainable efforts won’t make a difference if governments do not effectively regulate corporations and center the needs of their citizens over business, so they should not even bother. How do you balance the need for individual engagement in the causes you participate in while looking at the bigger picture?

I think the dichotomy between individual and systemic change is a false one, because there are ways that we can each go beyond making consumerist, lifestyle shifts to engage with collective efforts—that ultimately can lead to greater societal, systemic transformations.

For example, many are aware that across all industries and sectors, the centralization of power in the hands of a few acts as barriers to creating a more just and sustainable world. To address this, there are two primary ways of decentralizing power: 1) to build mass people’s movements to confront those with and abusing power, and 2) to support grassroots initiatives and community empowerment from the ground up.

If we look to history for guidance, many pivotal changes that led to an expansion of human rights occurred because of people’s movements—such as the women’s suffrage movement or the civil rights movement. Whether it be participating in worker rights organizing, racial justice movements, or climate strikes, there are a multitude of ways that we, as individuals, can join forces with our communities to exert pressure on certain corporations or the existing political machine.

On the other hand, we can also empower communities and become less reliant on corporations by rebuilding place-based networks of support and economic systems—whether that be engaging with mutual aid efforts, localizing agriculture, growing shared community gardens, planting community fruit trees, turning unused lawns into food forests (especially in historically disenfranchised neighborhoods), reviving regional Fibersheds, etc.

Your podcast, e-book, social media presence, newsletter–they all rely on technology as a space to incubate and spread activism. How do you see technology and the digital world interacting with the future of the environmental justice revolution? What are some of the challenges you have faced in fighting for justice online?  

I want to first acknowledge that all the technology I use for my independent media work—a computer, smartphone, recording devices, camera—have been made possible through the mining of finite, rare Earth metals, which is a highly polluting process. (The same can be said for ‘clean’ energy technologies.) So it’s been important for me to opt for used devices whenever I can.

That said, I think the internet has made it a lot easier for people to connect and organize around aligning causes or visions. For example, we’ve seen historic global climate strikes in the past years, and they could not have happened without digital organizing. The democratization of media, such as social media, has also empowered many people historically left out of dominant narratives to build their own platforms and outlets. Especially when mainstream media often has an elitist slant in perspectives—shaped disproportionately by highly, institutionally credentialed individuals with degrees that are a product of privilege—it is important for everyday people, especially those with less privilege, to be able to share their own stories without being filtered. After all, we cannot achieve justice if those already in power have greater influence over media narratives.

One challenge I’ve faced—while building my various independent media platforms which are mostly reliant on direct listener and reader support today—is that people are not accustomed to paying for content. But people-backed, independent media is more important than ever to actually serve as a check on power—as corporate media continues to monopolize and build relationships with political establishments and the corporations that pay their ad dollars. Deeply committed to sustainability and reparative justice, I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who’s believed in the value of my work and supported me in some way.

You have been hosting the Green Dreamer podcast since 2018 and since then the world has gone through intense changes in regards to acknowledgement of climate change, more public conversation about colonialism and oppression, and a centering of environmental justice within various environmental movements. How have you seen engagement with your work change in light of the heightened visibility of the environmental justice movement? What kind of impact do you see your work having?

As a woman of color who centers reparative justice across the topics I talk about, I’m grateful that more and more larger platforms, recognizing the need to shift the dominant media narratives, are lending their publicity to spotlight my podcast and writing. Although I try not to use external validation to measure ‘success’, it’s always affirming for me to receive messages from my audience telling me that I’ve inspired them to start some project or to shift their perspectives on the world in some way. I don’t intentionally try to change people’s minds; I’m just a deeply curious and critical person who’s unlearned and learned a lot through interviewing over 200 thought leaders across different fields. As a byproduct, listeners also have been able to unlearn and learn alongside me as I’ve deepened and broadened my understanding of sustainability. This is the impact I think my work has had—creating inquisitive spaces and opportunities for people to engage with sustainability from all angles, no matter where they are in their own journeys.

In contemporary social justice movements, self-care has been heralded as an essential component to social change, but it often gets co-opted by corporations who market their luxury products as essential to mental wellbeing. What does real self and community care look like to you, and how does it contribute to creating a more just and sustainable world?

Rather than relying solely on external messages telling us what we need, which we’ve been conditioned to do, for me, self-care, community-care, and Earth-care all begin with becoming more attuned to and sensitive to our own needs, feelings, changes, and symptoms. After all, if we’re not self-, community-, and Earth-aware, how will we recognize when something feels off, how will we know what has worked to strengthen our vitality and resilience, and how will we know what we need to regain balance?

I’m particularly interested in the idea of ‘regenerative healing’ right now. The dominant wellness industry tends to center on individualistic notions of health—diet, fitness, rest, and by extension, what we should buy to optimize those areas of our lives. But how about the greater system that’s forcing so many to work longer hours for less pay, putting more and more people in a state of chronic stress? How about the increasing wealth disparity and food apartheid leaving so many food insecure and without access to nutritious foods? How about the injustices that place the burden of toxic waste sites, water and air pollution on communities of color and low-income neighborhoods?

Just as ‘regenerative agriculture’ seeks to create the conditions that allow life and biodiversity to thrive, ‘regenerative healing’ raises similar inquiries in the name of our personal and public health. Rather than telling individuals what we need to do or buy to optimize our wellbeing, regenerative healing recognizes that we exist in larger systems—that can either support our thriving or work against it.

What is your advice for WashU students interested in getting more involved with intersectional sustainability activism?

Sustainability is not one field of study, but rather a collective goal encompassing all sectors and parts of society. This means that you can support this greater goal through whatever intersecting interest or passion you have—whether it be design, business, engineering, public health, etc.

In addition, when you shift your worldviews from human supremacy to biocentrism—seeing humans as members of our greater Earth community rather than separate—it becomes clear that reparative justice within human communities is a part of ecological regeneration. We don’t just need an extinction rebellion that focuses on ecological breakdown and biodiversity loss; we need a biocultural extinction rebellion that recognizes that ecology and the cultures tied to specific landscapes cannot be separated. Healing our ecosystems must go hand in hand with healing historically harmed peoples, supporting Native rights and leadership, and revitalizing place-based languages, knowledge, stories, and cultures.

So no matter which field you end up specializing in, just make sure to regularly take a step back to contextualize what you’re working on using a more holistic lens.

The Green Dreamer podcast is also searching for a part-time Production Management intern this summer and/or fall! Check out their opportunities page to learn more and see if it would be a good fit. 

Interested in connecting personally with more WashU alumni involved with sustainability work? Join the WashU Sustainability Network LinkedIn Group – an online networking and resource group that brings together alumni, students, parents, staff, and faculty to network, explore, discuss trends, and share technology, business, and market information in all areas of sustainability.