Eco-Warrior Profile: Tabbi Knudson Talks Sustainability in Oahu


By: Lauren Pezzullo

Tabbi Knudson knows firsthand why being environmentally mindful matters. As a lifelong surfer, this Hawaiian native has had an up-close view of the ways plastic pollution and coastal erosion have affected the island she calls home. Climate change in the Aloha state is an especially pressing concern since Hawaii relies on clean water for tourism, agriculture, and fishing—the three biggest industries driving their economy.

Whether it’s carving waves in the Pacific, volunteering for beach cleanups, or majoring in Sustainability Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Tabbi has dedicated all areas of her life to fighting for the health of our environment.

We had the chance to speak with Tabbi about why indigenous voices matter so much in the environmental conversation, and how moving toward a global community is one of the best ways we can combat climate change. Here’s what she had to say:

Tell us about yourself and what you do outside the sphere of climate change.

My name is Tabbi Knudson, and I am 19 years old from Honolulu, Hawaii. I am majoring in Sustainability Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa! I grew up surfing from a very young age and participated in amateur surf competitions for about nine years. A majority of my childhood and teenage years were spent in the water, free surfing or at competitions, immersed in the surfing community. I love surfing wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to surf as often due to school and work, but it’s still at my core! It also introduced me to a variety of environmental issues over the years. I also currently work at a local Ocean Friendly Restaurant (which is a certification program by the Surfrider Foundation that recognizes restaurants in the community that meet certain environmental/sustainable requirements) as a server. I enjoy reading, painting, and spending quality time with friends and family. I also love to travel! I would say that most of the things that I do are related to climate change in some way, so I apologize if I answered this question weird!

As a global village, what’s our biggest opportunity to reverse climate change?

At my core, I truly believe that one of the biggest opportunities that the climate change movement has provided us is to come together as a community. Studies have shown that tighter-knit communities are more resilient to the effects of climate change. The movement is all about sustainability, which is not only environmental but also physical, mental, spiritual, and more. We need to prioritize our relationships with each other and come together to support each other during this climate crisis. Our society has become increasingly individualistic, and one of the best ways to combat climate change is to shift to a world that is truly a global community!

If you had a million dollars to donate to a cause, which would it be?

I’m honestly not sure! The climate change crisis is incredibly diverse, meaning that the organizations involved with it are also incredibly diverse. I would probably donate to an organization that aids climate refugees.

What aspect of climate change do you think isn’t talked about enough?

While almost all aspects of climate change are talked about, I do think that issues surrounding indigenous communities are not talked about enough. Indigenous communities without the resources to protect themselves from the detrimental effects of climate change are some of the first communities to feel those effects. Not only is this an environmental justice issue, but these communities have been living sustainably for centuries. Their conversations and knowledge need to be at the frontlines of the movement and respected.

How is climate change approached in your country? The good, the bad, and the ugly…

Being an environmental activist in Hawaii is very unique. Politically, we often consider ourselves to be separate from the U.S. The popular political issues are extremely local, and there aren’t many protests or conversations talking about broad concepts such as the Green New Deal. Currently, I think that our country is not doing nearly enough to combat climate change. Some states are being relatively progressive independent from the rest of the country, such as California, Seattle, and Hawaii. However, many other states aren’t witnessing the immediate effects of climate change quite yet and, therefore, do not treat the climate issue as a crisis. The Trump administration has reversed significant amounts of environmental policies, has dropped out of the Paris agreement, and so much more. As one of the top contributors to the environmental crisis, we need to be doing drastically more to reverse climate change and to prepare for its detrimental effects.

Who would be on your list of the top eco-warriors on Instagram?

Our local environmental youth activist, Dyson Chee (@dice_on_cheese), is one of my favorite youth activists ever. He’s a senior in high school but has been on the front lines of the movement (especially in Hawaii) for years. He created Project Ocean (@project_ocean_hawaii), to help spread awareness about plastic pollution and to get involved with advocacy. He’s already making waves and will continue to be one of the strongest leaders I know.

Another one of my favorite eco-warriors is Doorae Shin (@hiphipdoorae), who is the Chapter Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter, and co-founder of the Good Food Movement. The Good Food Movement is a community organization to encourage people in Hawaii to be conscious of their food choice, spread awareness, and empower people! I look up to her as a mentor, a role model, and as one of the best eco-warriors and leaders I know.

Was there an event or cause that compelled you to fight climate change?

The start of my involvement in the climate change movement was a very gradual one. Growing up as a surfer in Hawaii, I saw the direct effects of coastal erosion and plastic pollution in our waters. It was always in the back of my head as an issue that needed to be solved, and I was always stoked to do beach cleanups or other forms of volunteering. However, it wasn’t until my Leadership and English teacher in high school empowered me to become more involved with community service and environmental activism. Our school had a club, Wipeout Crew, that served as a segue into my involvement and passion for environmental activism. Once I got into college, I completely immersed myself in it. Without him, I don’t know if I would have been as involved with the fight for climate change!

Tabbi is just one of many who are raising awareness about how our actions affect the future of the planet. Thankfully, she’s not alone in her mission. If you’re curious to learn about the many other young activists who are inspiring generations to fight for sustainable change, you can read about them all here.

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