Meet Zach Manta: University of Southern California, Class of 2017 Pursuing B.S. in Environmental Studies and minor in Psychology


What was your involvement with Know Tomorrow? 

  • I was co-director of Know Tomorrow USC along with Shawn Rhoads. My main roles were reaching out to and coordinating with our speakers, including NASA JPL researcher Dr. Veronica Nieves, Merchants of Doubt author Erik Conway, and Youtube science educator Derek Muller (Veritasium). I also developed and ran our Change The Course of Climate Change Obstacle Course and emcee'd on October 2nd.

Why does climate change matter to you? 

  • My passion for climate action comes from two main deeply held values: The importance of fact-based truths in public knowledge and an extreme excitement for the possible futures of the human race. In regards to the first value, it's astonishing to me that so many people can be unaware or convinced otherwise to the reality of a slowly-building consequence at the heart of the way we fuel the modern world. Even if the consequences of unchecked climate change weren't so severe, I think it's important for people to have an understanding of this incredible narrative they're taking part in simply in principle. It's frustrating to me that so many resources have been spent in a deliberate counter-effort by fossil fuel magnates to cloud the waters of public awareness, and we need to keep up the fight on our side. As far as my excitement for the future of the human race, I get stoked every time I see a new headline about scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs that were inconcievable fiction only a decade ago. When I take a second to really grasp that there are thousands of brilliant engineers in significant companies pursuing a real hope of colonizing Mars, it makes me want to do everything I can to set the playing field with the ideal conditions to make those dreams a reality. It sounds crazy, but climate change is an actual threat to the survival of the human race in its entirety, and wasting our shot would be the biggest shame imaginable.

What are you currently working on related to climate change? 

  • Currently the Interdisciplinary Sustainability Sciences research team I was a part of back at USC is carrying out a study I helped design looking at people's responses to persuasive communication about climate change. We're combining the Elaboration Likelihood Model with Moral Foundations Theory, with the overall idea being to test whether appealing to an individual's unique moral values can motivate them to think more critically about climate change communication and therefore change their behavior. Personally I'm also learning about complex systems thinking, theories in vulnerability, and Global Information Systems (GIS) in class at the University of Cape Town and reading up on resource economic theory and possible economic reforms to internalize environmental costs. I recently wrote an article for my school club the Environmental Core's website, check it out here!

Any words of advice to fellow college students in terms of becoming a climate change activist? 

  • With as big and intimidating of an issue as climate change, it can be daunting to think that little ol' you can actually make a meaningful contribution to the conversation. When there are international conferences of world leaders trying to address this problem and researchers with a lifetime of work understanding it, what does a college student have to say that hasn't been said before? I think it's important to have the confidence to look inside at the things YOU know and draw your own conclusions about them as a first step. From there, you can put your ideas out there, ask questions, and adapt them based on the feedback. I absolutely adore this video of Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple pointing out that "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you are." Once you start speaking your mind, you'll be amazed by how many like-minded people had been passing you on the street every day the whole time.