Sally Lin helps people realize bigger dreams.

I chatted with the 24-year-old Vancouverite at her apartment in Paris after her long day helping fossil fuel workers prepare to use their skills in the net-zero economy and young people to participate in transforming cities.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Tell us about your projects.

Together with my co-director Rohan Nuttall, I lead the development, launch and improvement of Iron & Earth’s Climate Career Portal to provide Canadian fossil fuel workers with an increasingly comprehensive pathway to a career in the net-zero economy.

Workers told us they want to transition but they need more information to make the match between which skills are transferable to which industries and with what training. The portal fills those gaps and tells them where the training is available and who is hiring. We are constantly adding new information and hope to soon offer mentoring, updates on emerging trends and policies.

Our goal is to eventually allow each user to reimagine their future and map out a pathway tailor-made to their own needs — and receive support and encouragement along the way.

Lunchtime with a view at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Photo courtesy Sally Lin

Tell us about your other project.

The 24-year-old Vancouverite works for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Futures Literacy program and is developing a climate career portal. #YouthClimateAction

I work for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Futures Literacy program, supporting everyone from youth to large multilateral organizations to reimagine their futures and empower them to make the transformational changes to fulfil their dreams.

For example, I was recently part of a team running a Futures Literacy lab intended to let students at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand have some fun while they experiment and play. We asked them what they saw as their likely and preferred climate action and justice futures in 2050. After they had shared those visions, we invited them to think differently, immersing them in a future where rocks are repositories of vital information and they took the roles of both children and future ancestors.

The students imagined a climate negotiation with babies, bees, rivers, and Fijian elders, and with this expansive approach, rethought climate action in a different light.

Virtual meeting with the Climate Career Portal team, who all work remotely on the Iron & Earth project. Photo courtesy Sally Lin

What is Futures Literacy?

We all have the ability to imagine the future, and how we do affects our actions in the present. This project is about making sure people gain the skill to use diverse ideas about the future to design their present. It is an invitation to resume dreaming.

How did you come to these projects?

My mother brought me and my brother to Canada from China when we were toddlers. With my dad back in Shanghai, she needed to find the best job she could to support us well. The one she found was in mining. I have always loved nature, and as I grew up and learned about our destruction of the environment, we had many painful conflicts. I am so motivated to help people of all ages find great jobs in the net-zero economy without feeling they are letting down the people they love.

Tell us about your career path to Paris.

I was raised in Vancouver but we returned frequently to Shanghai to visit family and friends. I was in Shanghai on a University of British Columbia exchange late in 2019 when the second semester was cancelled and I was at loose ends. Many in my friends’ group were headed for Paris so I decided to go, too, and I fell in love with the city. I returned to Vancouver in the early days of the pandemic and completed my degree but as soon as we could travel again, found a job based here at UNESCO.

Sally Lin trekking in Sichuan province of China. Photo courtesy Sally Lin

What makes your work hard and what gives you hope?

I once told a young parent I was interested in working on climate change and he replied: “Oh, that is a big complicated problem and your life will suck. Good luck with that!”

I have reflected a lot on this. The truth is it is not a future catastrophe for the millions of people whose lives are being rendered unlivable right now. He also seemed to be handing over the problem to me and my team and the other truth is we cannot do it alone. We must all transition and we must all act.

The team at Iron & Earth are mostly young people but we are showing people of all ages there is a path that we can walk with respect for our past and the new future we all need so desperately. My work at UNESCO reassures me humans have not lost the capacity to imagine.

What advice might you have for other young people?

Ageism is real but, put your hand up anyway. Get comfortable with failing and don’t opt for the easy way out. Lean into complexity. Many little steps taken for the common good add up to a lot.

What would you like to say to older readers?

You have lots of experience and you know how to fail and how to succeed. Tell us your stories. We do not have the time to figure it all out on our own.

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