Julia Philpott

Senior Manager, Environmental Sustainability Solutions, Hitachi Consulting

When I was a young girl growing up in California in the early 1970s, my family often ate supper while the evening news delivered the day’s events. Walter Cronkite’s voice introduced me to the big issues of that era: the Vietnam War, Watergate, Roe v. Wade, the civil rights movement, and the Wounded Knee occupation, to name a few. Many times I was perplexed by what I heard, or even frightened, but always intrigued. One evening, I heard about endangered wildlife in the United States, and how human behavior was taking its toll on these animals and their habitats. This was the first I’d heard of it, and I was appalled. How could such a terrible thing be happening? We must not have known about it ahead of time—we just got caught off guard, my child’s mind rationalized.

The Endangered Species Act inspired my imagination as a child, taught me to ask a lot of questions, and influenced the choices I made as an adult in shaping my life’s work.

The year was 1973; I was eleven years old. I was relieved to learn, soon afterward, that President Nixon and Congress were aiming to protect these animals and their habitats through something called the Endangered Species Act. I admired my country’s leaders and felt proud of them for taking such noble, inspiring action. I vowed, at that moment, to follow in their footsteps and work for environmental good. There was only one problem: My childlike take on the matter was that Endangered Species Act would solve all of our environmental problems, and there would be nothing more for someone like me to do. As it turned out, the Arab oil embargo later that year gave me an opportunity to expand my thinking.

One Saturday afternoon, I waited for five hours at the gas station with my father for the chance to buy two gallons of gasoline—the limit that day. While we waited, my father and I talked about many things. I recall two conversations in particular. One was about the smog hanging over the Santa Clara Valley—where it came from, and how human behaviors helped create it. The other was about the animals that lived in the mountain ranges surrounding the Valley, and how the ability of all species to adapt when conditions change is fundamental to survival. My father explained that the key to survival is whether and how quickly a species can adapt within its habitat to changing conditions, or find new habitat. I’ll never forget what he said next: he linked the two conversations by joking that with such air pollution in the Valley, we might one day need an Endangered Species Act for humans. I felt perplexed, a little frightened, and definitely intrigued. I sensed there would be plenty that I could do to help the environment.

Forty years later, I’m a “climate mitigation, adaptation, and community resilience” professional. The Endangered Species Act inspired my imagination as a child, taught me to ask a lot of questions, and influenced the choices I made as an adult in shaping my life’s work. I believe that the Act is not just about loving and protecting wildlife and habitat. It also teaches us the imperative to love and protect our own species’ most precious habitat—the Earth, itself.