Courage to Change Required: Kay Kelly Arnold on Bravery and Environmentalism

kay-kelly-arnoldThere’s always a bit of speculation about the most important movement of a generation, though it’s only in retrospect that the defining moral battle of a time distinguishes itself. In a time of heady and emotional fights for women, workers worldwide and marriage equality it’s easy to relegate the long-standing environmental movement to a less urgent status.


Kay Kelly Arnold would disagree. In her packed resume is a common thread of environmental activism: for starters, she’s the Vice President of civil and service enterprises at Entergy Corporation, was the Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage under Governor Bill Clinton, serves on the Inter-American foundation, is on the board of the National Conservation Fund and has won a Rachel Carson award for her work.


For Arnold, the defining movement of our century and generation “needs to be climate change as well as general environmental concerns. If we will admit the problems and take action to remedy them in thoughtful ways, positive environmental and economic outcomes, both short and long term, will follow.  The benefit far outweighs the risk of not addressing environmental issues.  Investing in technology and having the courage to change are required.”


If you had to pick a second theme, or perhaps a catch phrase, for Arnold’s life’s work, it would be that–courage to change required. In her career Arnold created a framework of policies and regulations to provide consistent funding for the protection of endangered wildlife, habitat conservation and historical and cultural preservation in Arkansas. In recent years she’s shifted her focus to the intersection of poverty and responsible energy use–a subject she’ll be speaking on during her TEDxUNPlaza talk on September 16th.


“In the United States, the lowest income families spend about 12% of their total income on energy, the highest income families spend about 1.6% on theirs.    Although more than 28 million families are eligible for energy assistance, less than a quarter of them get it because funding for these programs is inadequate. How can we change this?”


Her theme is one that has been examined through many lenses–gender, race, religion, geography–but not nearly often enough through that of energy use. It seems a thorny topic to attack head on, with the relative difficulty of putting a face and voice to the issue and the incredibly powerful lobbies and corporations fighting to keep our energy usage up and oil-dependent. But Arnold’s tactic of drawing a line between the poverty cycle and our dependence on expensive energy is a brilliantly creative one, and one that has not been heard enough. She continues:


“The future of energy use lies in using all possible sources wisely.  I believe there will be significant technology improvements to renewable power sources which will lower the costs and make their use more affordable and reliable…to make the transition we have to have scalable, deep efficiency programs and powerful incentives to use them.  Energy efficiency needs to be taught from pre-K through college. It has to be part of our culture to get the change we need.”

It’s easy enough to read about and identify with movements for positive change, and it’s also easy to be inspired by people like Kay. The theme of September 16th’s talk is bravery, though, and that includes the bravery to affect larger change. To that end, Kelly has some sage advice: “People are more important than things.  Spend time listening to them.  Its amazing what you will learn and the relationships you can develop.  I know you are busy and that time is your most valuable commodity but honestly, go old-school for while and step away from the computer, get outside and ask people questions that matter.”

Rachel Honor Vincent is a writer and Digital Strategist who works and lives in New York City.

About Eiso Vaandrager

Comments are closed.