Q&A: Climate Action Now California's Markos Major On A Greener Tomorrow

Markos Major speaks about his environmental organization's accomplishments on its tenth anniversary.

Man holding plants beside a truck in a parking lot.
Markos Major founded Climate Action Now ten years ago. | Anne Marie Kristoff/Ingleside Light

Climate Action Now California is focused on turning the city’s concrete landscapes into flourishing patches of greenery.

The nonprofit, founded in Ingleside by resident Markos Major, set out to create green spaces in 2014. Since then, over 200 volunteers have removed roughly 45,000 square feet of concrete from across the city and have planted around 2,500 trees. Now, they are among the many San Francisco groups fighting for environmental improvements across the city.

“We were seeing the holes in services and items that needed attention from the city,” Major said. “Shared green spaces needed to be created and from that our organization was born.”

Some of the group’s projects include creating sidewalk gardens in the Richmond and the Bayview and their ongoing reforestation of Sunset Boulevard. Recently, they also partnered with the Ocean Avenue Association to plant three sets of trees and sidewalk gardens throughout the neighborhood.

CAN also hosts weekly volunteer opportunities on Wednesdays with their next one taking place on Kirkham Street at 36th Avenue.

“We can partner with people to execute your home improvements to increase your property's sustainability,” Major said. “We also really want people to join us in the field whether it’s on Sunset Boulevard, on Junipero Serra Boulevard or any of our other upcoming projects. We want people to become engaged with the community work that we’re doing that takes a lot of bodies.” 

The Ingleside Light caught up with Major to discuss his organization's environmental initiatives.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did Climate Action Now California get started?

It's been a privilege to have founded the organization, now, 14 years ago. Back in 2010, we were just a small field trip program out of the Botanical Garden and Cal Academy eventually and we took teenagers around the garden and CalAcademy talking about all of the global changes that are going to be coming and already coming with catastrophic human-induced climate change. However, we wanted to ensure that people didn't feel overwhelmed or depressed or frustrated or unempowered. We wanted to have the opposite effect and have an energizing and empowering experience. That is the main goal that we have around our education programs. Not a gloom and doom but a “you can make a difference and together we can make a difference for urban and rural habitats.”

In your opinion, why is it important to get involved in climate-based projects and organizations? 

Like it or not climate balance is an integral piece of every single social and environmental justice project moving forward because it touches all of our lives. The climate will touch literally every single coastline. It will touch every mountain top and it will touch all of our lives if it hasn't already. Our job 14 years ago was harder but we've had a lot more fires in California for this generation of people and that's been really important to us to really understand that actually, yeah, this is a huge issue. It's affecting me. It's affecting my family. It's affecting my community and like it or not, unfortunately, that has made our job easier. That day when the sky was orange and the skies were red or the days that the water pushes up on the Embarcadero, it's more and more common and it touches more and more lives. For us, climate is the nexus for activism through both all of the environmental work that we do and especially the social work that we do as well. 

What impacts on the community have you seen since starting CAN?

On the personal design level, our designs have become more sustainable and intelligent and we do community-led design. I think we've done a lot of these kinds of collaborative projects and our skill set, now, is more honed into really ensuring that everybody's voice is included. It's not easy and not everybody's happy all the time but we really do strive to make people feel included in the design process.

One of our bigger projects is James Lick Middle School where we've done 32 hundred- square foot removal [of concrete] and have a huge dinosaur garden. It’s super fun and it’s fun to see the school community running with it and doing their community volunteer days. You know, it's hard to raise money for education programming but we hope to strive to find funds for that, for our school partners. Obviously, a huge impact has been Sunset Boulevard where it’s been over 1,400 trees [planted] in the last five years.

There’s so much opportunity and I would be remiss not to mention our deep partnerships with the community in the Bayview. We've had a significant investment in our time and energy and grant writing and bringing resources from the state and the city to Bayview, which is the most polluted neighborhood in San Francisco. It’s a prevailing wind theory. The southeastern parts of American cities are segregated and are where industrial pollution is usually located and that is by design so it's important that to us, as a non-profit, to address systemic environmental justice issues. We have a segregated pollution and Bayview shares more of the brunt of it so this year, over the last two years with funding from CAL FIRE, from the state, we planted over 180 trees in Bayview and removed about 1,200 square feet of concrete just in this last program alone so it's been a real privilege to continue to work there.

We wouldn’t have had success there without our partnerships which include the school district, the Quesada Gardens Initiative, the North Ridge Cooperative Community Garden and a younger non-profit called Dragonspunk.

What is one piece of advice you have for someone just getting started in being climate-conscious?

Educate yourself. Don't judge yourself because I think part of the challenges and problems with environmentalism is the thought that one individual and your choices are going to make or break the climate and to a certain degree, that's true. However, on another hand, the systems are set up so poorly for the fossil fuel industry, for the chemical industries, for the 1%, for the power brokers and people making money off of money. While reducing your waste and eating lower on the food chain and planting trees and all these things do make a difference, we believe that they do and we know that they do, we also believe and from our experience that plugging in with local groups like ours or volunteering at the Botanical Garden or with Garden for the Environment or with CommunityGrows or plugging yourself into another organization that’s doing the work is an important way as well and finally working to hire people and get people into office who are going to systematically dismantle the broken systems… Just get out there and get in a group that’s doing the work. Find those synergies with other people. We’re here to help with that.

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