Laurel Myers Spotlights Allison Wolff
by Laurel Myers, Speaker Ambassador at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting
At a glance, Allison Wolff is not the first person you would expect to hear from at the Planetary Health Annual Meeting. A Colorado native, Allison’s background is in business administration and management, and she specializes in building brands and strategies. She spent four years at Facebook as a social impact and sustainability narrative and strategy specialist, and she helped to build the Netflix brand. Other previous clients include Google, eBay, Patagonia, Nike, and HP. Allison is also founder and CEO of Vibrant Planet, a company that leverages the power of strategy & narrative development, brand, and product experiences to inform & mobilize society toward a more just & vibrant future.
Yet somewhere amidst her high-profile business career, Allison found time to become involved in forest and watershed conservation. If you spare just a few minutes to talk with her, it will become rapidly apparent that planetary health is not a new concept for Allison. She is co-founder of Frack Free Colorado, a collaborative that works to raise awareness about the dangers of fracking and to increase renewable energy education. After moving to California, Allison spent a great deal of time learning about the complex ecosystems that comprise the state’s dwindling water supply, which gave birth to both her passion and her expertise in forest and water management.
As someone with a background in both science and the liberal arts, I have a strong interest in science communication and storytelling, and I was personally very excited to see Allison’s name on the list of Annual Meeting speakers. The field of planetary health needs all hands on deck, and it is refreshing to see advocates from professions outside the traditional hard sciences. Allison’s work at Vibrant Planet is centered around the power of the narrative, which feels increasingly pertinent — as I have been told many times, “numbers numb, stories stick.” Leaders like Allison have the power to influence many.
Unsurprisingly, Allison herself is a great storyteller. Her session on forest fires came at an all too fitting time, as enormous fires still raged in the Amazon rainforest. As she informed the audience, deforestation is the primary driver of massive Amazon burns, but only 14% of deforested land is productive and 23% of it is actually abandoned — cut down and then left unused. Here in the US, beetle-killed forests are becoming more frequent, and brown treetops in a pine forest are almost commonplace. These dead trees act as fodder for fires, which continue to roar larger and brighter. In California, burned acreage doubles every year, and 2/3 of the remaining forests could disappear in the next 20 years. Increasing smoke levels make it hazardous to run, bike, walk, or even stand outside, and fires like the recent burn in Paradise are becoming more common. In addition, 1/2 of California’s water comes from forest-stored snow melt, which is filtered by the trees.
As a scientist, the numbers are compelling — I think in statistics, they make sense to me. Yet I seldom feel them. As a human, Allison’s story hits much closer to home. I am an avid rock climber, hiker, mountain biker, and skier, and clean air and intact forests mean the world to me. When smoke-filled air threatens the places that I care about, I feel the impact of our changing world, and I am moved to action. Narratives are powerful, and the more people who share their own, the more change we are likely to see. Thanks, Allison, for sharing your story!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.