Name: Talen Rimmer
Chapter I: The Charles Darwin of the Playground
My name is Talen, and I am a 24-year-old raised on the Lekwungen and W̱ SÁNEĆ territories of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. My city rests on the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island, a part of the Pacific Northwest that sits just above my country’s border with the United States.
I am passionate about connecting people, particularly other youth, to conservation and climate change through nature and place-based education.
My story is heavily tied to who I was when I was five years old – full of curiosity, and a virtually insatiable thirst for exploring the ocean shoreline. I loved searching around tidepools and shorelines on the beach, and finding marine critters. At one point, I’m fairly certain I seriously considered a career path as a merman.
In many ways, I still think I’m not dissimilar from that 5-year-old today. I learned many of life’s lessons on the rocky shoreline around my city – important things like keeping two steady feet on the ground to avoid slipping on the sharp rocks, and respecting other animals. My parents were there to guide me along the way, and made sure that I learned these lessons with a steady amount of hand-holding.
Fast-forward a decade and a half, and suddenly I’m graduating high school at 18, and supposed to figure out what to do with my life.
Who knows what they want to do, be, or even eat for dinner at 18? Not me.
Partly from cluelessness and curiosity, but mostly a natural familiarity, I chose to study marine biology at my hometown University. Now, my learning about those tidepool creatures was done in classrooms, trading in professors for parents, and textbooks for beaches.
As my degree progressed and the climate crisis became more apparent, more and more of my time was also spent discussing or working on climate-change related issues; I spoke about it with my parents and family, and it became a regular part of biology student life. What became frustrating was a lack of ways to convey the emotions myself and my friends were experiencing from climate change, particularly to people who hadn’t been as exposed to the issue.
That was when I discovered spoken-word poetry.
Chapter II: Poetry for Fish Nerds
Spoken-word or ‘slam’ poetry is exactly how it sounds: poetry, but written with the intention of being read aloud and performed, usually by the author.
I found the spoken-word poetry community in Victoria, and immediately started attending bi- weekly open mic events. My love for the art form was twofold:
I was able to get up on stage, in front of complete strangers to vent and express my stress, worry and otherwise important concerns in my life. The community is incredibly supportive of sharing and expressing difficult emotions. But mostly;
I was captivated by the chance to see people share short snippets of the most important parts of their lives. For a few brief minutes, I was able to get a glimpse into the challenges, successes, and overall lives of other people through poetry.
Over time, I felt myself becoming more and more like my 5-year-old self once again – except this time, instead of telling my thoughts about nature to my parents, it was on stage to larger audiences. I began writing mainly nature and climate-changed-based poetry, including titles such as ‘An Ode to a Geoduck’, ‘On Bullets and Bears’, and ‘If I were a Fish’ – a poem in which I depict in detail what my life would be like if I traded places with a fish.
Needless to say, my topics of nature-based poetry were not those usually performed by poetry- goers, but I felt that I had finally found my niche: I was a poetic fish nerd.
While this poetry was going on, I also found my way into a marine research lab on campus. I even got to conduct some of my own research on the shoreline around my home, analyzing how humans impact our shoreline, particularly through boat traffic. My learning had taken me back to the tidepools, except this time my research was done with the label of ‘biologist’ on me.
Chapter III: A Kid Like Me
All of this was done in the peripheral of the escalating climate crisis. Discussions with my friends and acquaintances increasingly contained mentions of the uncertainty for our planet and society, and many of us started to develop recurring symptoms of anxiety and worry about our future. However, a few friends told me that they appreciated that my emotions of angst, worry, etc are similar to theirs: it’s more helpful when we talk about this together.
A difficult conversation that I found has affected many of my friends and other Millennials recently is one about climate change and children. Many of us, myself included, feel at odds now with a desire to someday raise a family, but not wanting to bring a child into a world with a potentially uncertain future.
This, inevitably, became the topic of a spoken word poem:
This was an especially difficult poem to write because I’ve always wanted to be a father from the time when I was little - I always loved the idea of someday raising a child. Due to my miniscule cooking ability and a general laissez-fair attitude towards vacuuming, I’ve always figured that time will not come for a while, but have only recently questioned parenthood altogether.
I presented this poem to the spoken word community and people on my University campus. I found that, as grim as the topic is, it became an important conversation for many of us to discuss. Several people have since told me that hearing how I was also feeling this uncertainty in turn helped them cope with their climate grief and anxiety. As the climate crisis progresses, I think these kinds of discussions are positive tools to help youth cope with the mental health effects of climate change.
Chapter IV: A Surplus of Hope
Fast-forward again, and I’m walking across the stage to receive my University degree, certifying me as having (at least some) knowledge about our oceans and marine life.
At this point, I’ve acknowledged an interesting thing about my research and hobbies: I felt like I was addressing the climate crisis more through my poetry and social life than I was through scientific research. I felt like I was making the biggest impact not necessarily as a researcher, but by sharing stories at the intersection between science and communication.
I started looking for jobs that could help me find that intersection, which led me to where I am now: I am a coastal educator, travelling between my island and the mainland. Now, I get to speak to people about the coastline where I grew up, communicating science and the environment to the public.
I think this is also where a climate solution lies. Being able to teach people about the lands and waters I grew up on, and connect them with the environment and what they can do to help preserve it, is a joy and privilege.
This is also where I see many people inspired to take action to live more sustainable lives. Upon seeing a Southern Resident Orca whale, for example, I find families are more inclined to switch to more sustainable seafood choices, or learn more about what acts they can take to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
I also get to speak to many young children during my job. Funnily enough, I am now the teacher of tidepool life, and I have the opportunity to instill lessons and values about nature that I got as a little explorer. This is also where I see a surplus of hope – every day I get to speak to so many young children and connect them to the lands and waters where I grew up, and their excitement for these places is palpable and infectious.
My Nature Based Solution, and I think an important step youth need to take, is to communicate how this is affecting us individually, to those around us. Somebody once told me I’m in the business of “climate compassion”, and I quite like that term. If I can connect one other person with the place I live and love by what I’m doing, then I think all of this is worth it.
So here I am; the fish kid, turned into the fish man, speaking to other kids about our world. The one wonderful thing about this crisis, I think, is that I’ve never had a shortage of inspiration. I see so many kids every day – new explorers, ready to begin in a changing world – who stare in awe as I point to the beautiful lands and waters that surround us, and they ask me about the wonderful coastlines of my island.
One of the first things I usually recommend? Go visit a tidepool.