The summer after graduating in 2020, Lucy Hochschartner was driving home from her part-time job at Chipotle when she first got the idea for On the Level, a website and nonprofit organization using technology to help people join the climate movement—empowering them to take actions that align with their interests, skills, and location.
“On the level is a phrase that means honest and straight-shooting,” says Hochschartner. As a professional biathlete, as well as a nonprofit and political communications specialist, she knows a thing or two about true aim.
“If you understand what’s happening and are ready to do something about it, then you’re on the level when it comes to climate change. Those are the only prerequisites to being an activist.”
At the time, millions across the country were protesting police brutality following the murder of George Floyd. It was then that Hochschartner fully understood the power of collective action.
“I saw how social movements can be really successful when everyone feels like they’re a part of one cause, even in the face of overwhelming problems,” she says. “I wanted to find out how we could capture that spirit for the climate movement.”
By November 2020, Hochschartner, alongside four of her close friends and former Nordic ski teammates, Kate Andy '20, Jordan Tanguay '20, Jackie Garso '20, and Erin Waters ’19 (and two non-Laurentians), founded On the Level. Hochschartner, a government and environmental studies double major, believes their strengths lie in the different perspectives they all bring to the team: Andy a conservation biology major, Garso a statistics major, and Tanguay and Waters both environmental studies majors.
“All of our different experiences at St. Lawrence have definitely given us the ability to make On the Level what it is—a one-stop-shop for climate action that helps people to get involved no matter their interests or abilities,” says Hochschartner. “As a team, we possess an expansive background in issues of justice, hard science, and policy that all intersect within the climate movement. It’s a diverse movement, and our educational background helps us better understand it.”
Despite the variations in their disciplines of choice, climate change was a common thread in their St. Lawrence experiences.
“In my environmental studies classes, I was always learning about climate change. For my government major, I completed a project on Canada's ability to be a leader in the Paris agreement. When I got to my American politics research seminar, I investigated the American climate movement. My majors were government and environmental studies, but the flexibility of the liberal arts at St. Lawrence made it possible for my major to be climate change,” says Hochschartner.
As Nordic skiers, Hochschartner and her teammates were uniquely attuned to shifts in winter weather—tracking snowfall, frosts, and periods of melt. Tanguay, who is currently a stewardship coordinator at Southeast Alaska Land Trust and one of On the Level’s board members, also saw the direct impact of climate change while studying off campus. Her experience changed the course of her academic trajectory at St. Lawrence.
“I was able to do the Adirondack semester as a junior, and that was the tipping point for me,” she says. “I can remember standing on the dock looking over Massawepie Lake with my professors. It was quite clear that everything that we were reading and talking about in our classes was happening in our backyard. To see it on the ground gave me the chance to understand the content.”
On the Level’s main feature is a Climate Action Explorer. Today, it offers over 700 different ways to get involved with local, national, and international advocacy organizations and campaigns. Its software is constantly crawling the internet and seeking out new opportunities for users to consider.
“When Lucy presented the idea for On the Level to us, I think a light bulb went off in all of our heads. After graduating, we felt it was our jobs to help others understand what we’d learned” says Tanguay. “We knew that we could share our knowledge with a really broad base using technology.”
Using the online Climate Action Explorer quiz, individuals indicate their location, preferences, identity groups, and interests through a series of prompts. The quiz also asks individuals if they’d like to work on racial justice issues, women’s issues, and indigenous justice issues, among others—reflecting the intersectional nature of climate advocacy. Results include a list of actions that can be completed remotely and in person, and range from petitions to sign and social media accounts to share to activist training programs, protests, and opportunities to contact government officials.
“We believe you’re going to be more successful if you're doing something that you are excited about,” says Hochschartner. “Not everyone was a government major and wants to cold-call their representatives. Our goal is to help people find their place in the climate movement.”
The platform officially launched in September 2021, with a virtual kickoff event that featured a tutorial of the action explorer, a talk from Indigenous climate activist Tony Soto of Earth Guardians, and a musical performance by Mipso. Now, the founders are setting their sights on fundraising and growth. As they continue to spread the word about their platform through their expanding professional networks and social media, they’re guided by their belief that every individual effort matters when it comes to taking collective action.
“In 2020, we watched a movement achieve a level of saliency that it hadn’t before. Everyone was talking about it, posting about it, and sharing resources,” she says. “We know a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change—we’re helping people achieve the agency they need to do something.”