Ayana Elizabeth Johnson


Environmental Activist

Co-Founder, Urban Ocean Lab


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Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, writer, and left-of-center policy advocate. She is the co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank that advocates for climate policies to protect the future of coastal cities. She co-edited the climate anthology All We Can Save, co-founded the All We Can Save Project, and co-created the Spotify/Gimlet environmentalist podcast How to Save a Planet.


Johnson is the co-founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, a left-of-center think tank that promotes climate policies with the future of coastal cities in mind. It warns that coastal cities in the U.S. will experience an average of one foot rise in sea levels over the next 30 years and must be prepared to adapt to this change. It advocates for non-traditional energy sources and the overhaul of city infrastructure with environmentalist alternatives. 1

Johnson is the co-founder of the All We Can Save Project. 2 The project is a leadership and activist mobilization organization that aims to turn environmentally conscious people into participants in the political climate movement, either as supporters or as leaders. 3

Previously, as executive director of the Waitt Institute, Johnson co-founded the Blue Halo Initiative and led the Caribbean’s first successful island-wide ocean zoning effort. She also developed U.S. federal ocean policy at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 4 She also co-founded Ocean Collectiv with Sandra Whitehouse, the wife of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). 5


Johnson is the co-creator of the How to Save a Planet podcast. She co-authored the Blue New Deal, a blueprint for including the ocean in climate policy. 6 Regarding the Blue New Deal, Johnson said she likes framing ocean policy like the “Green New Deal” because it gives policy makers “an opportunity to think about all the jobs and all the equity issues and all of the opportunities for climate mitigation that come along with doing a better job of including the ocean as part of the climate conversation.” 7 As of 2023, the text for the Blue New Deal was being hosted on a campaign website for Elizabeth Warren. 8

She has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Scientific American. As of 2023, Johnson’s forthcoming book had the working title What If We Get It Right?: Visions of Climate Futurism. 9

Personal Life

Johnson has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in environmental science and public policy, and a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in marine biology. She wrote her dissertation on “the ecology, socio-economics, and policy of sustainably managing coral reefs.” She invented a fish trap to reduce bycatch and it won the first Rare/National Geographic Solution Search. 10


Johnson sits on the boards of Patagonia, WSL Pure, GreenWave, and Yellow Dot Studios. She sits on the board of advisors for Evergreen Action, Scientific American, and the Environmental Voter Project. She also serves on the steering committee of Ocean Justice Forum. 11

Under the Biden administration, Johnson was appointed to the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. 12


  1. “Urban Ocean Lab.” Urban Ocean Lab. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  2. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  3. “Project.” All We Can Save. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  4. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  5. “Ocean Collectiv.” Crunchbase. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  6. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  7. Westervelt, Amy. “Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on the Blue New Deal.” Medium, September 17, 2019. Accessed September 14, 2023.
  8. “Blue New Deal.” Elizabeth Warren. Accessed September 24, 2023. Archive:
  9. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  10. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  11. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
  12. “Bio.” Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. Accessed September 24, 2023.
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