It’s A Small World After All

No, I’m not talking about the slow, and somewhat creepy, boat ride at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. I use this phrase as a way of describing several of my experiences in the first month of my internship at Environment Northeast (ENE). ENE is a non-profit organization that is actively involved in research and advocacy for policies that address our biggest environmental challenges while promoting a sustainable economy across four core programs – climate change solutions, energy, forest and land use, and sustainable transportation.


As the name suggests, ENE works on state and regional objectives in the Northeast with offices located in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the Eastern Canadian provinces. This covers a fairly large area, so you might be asking how this is a “small” world? Well, let me begin…

I came across ENE during my internship search when I was looking for opportunities close to home. As it turns out, ENE has a Rhode Island office based in Providence, RI just a short ride north from my home in North Kingstown, RI (many Rhode Islander’s would have you believe that the 30 minutes between North Kingstown and Providence is a loooong drive). I contacted the director of the office, now my supervisor, Abigail Anthony, to ask about an internship opportunity at the organization. Her name and face seemed familiar to me. As it turns out, she coached the girl’s cross-country team at my high school for a short period during the same time I ran for the boy’s team. It’s a small world indeed. But that is just the start of the theme for this post.

Recall how I said that ENE has several offices spread through the region, and how that didn’t really seem to fit the theme. As it turns out, these offices are quite small and there are but 14 people on staff, including the President and CEO, Dan Sosland. Myself aside, the Rhode Island office is made up of my supervisor and one other person, Mike Henry. Working in the small world of this office is great because I have unlimited access to Abigail and Mike’s wealth of knowledge and resources whenever I need it!

My second day on the job and the world gets smaller. I accompanied Mike to the 7th Steering Committee Meeting for the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MA DPU) Grid Modernization Working Group at the Federal Reserve in Boston, MA. We got off the train at South Station and walked across the street to the Federal Reserve, and who is sitting there but one of my fellow Bard CEP colleagues, Serafina Zeringo, who was there with her internship supervisor at the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP). This was my first exposure to policy making in action, and let me tell you, it was the small things that highlighted the process. The working group, which consisted of the utility companies, state policymakers, and a variety of stakeholder groups with a vested interest, had the task of writing a report that advises the MA DPU on how they should proceed with modernizing the grid. This was the second to last meeting before the final report was to be filed and there was still much to do. With a variety of stakeholders, each with their own interest in the issue, there was much debate over what seemed like the finest of details. At one point, the group deliberated over the wording of one sentence for nearly half an hour…it surely is the small things. As it turns out, one of the gentlemen who was tasked with facilitation of the working group described above, Tim Woolf of Synapse Energy Economics, is a popular man. Continuing with the theme of it being a small world, this man appeared to be everywhere and he was at many of the events listed below.

Over the first couple weeks I had the privilege of attending (Hurray for Networking!) several events:

Rhode Island Governor, Lincoln Chafee, tests out the new electric vehicle charging station at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI (Source: Roger Williams University)

A day in the life of my internship, of course, isn’t just attending events, meetings, and conferences. This is where I have to abandon the “small world/small things” theme. Although I am just an intern, I am already contributing to ENE’s transportation team in a big way. In the first month of my internship I have been working rigorously on a project to advise ENE on whether or not they should pursue natural gas conversion in the freight sector as a GHG reduction strategy. I am in the process of putting the final touches on this report, which at present, is intended for internal purposes, but may later be revised as a deliverable to an external audience. I am also in the process of writing a piece which will hopefully be published on Harvard’s PolicyLab. In short, my findings indicate that the idea of switching freight fuel from diesel to natural gas for climate benefits might not be as straightforward as some would say. This is mainly a result of fugitive methane emissions due to fracking. Future work with this project might including looking deeper into the fracking debate and whether or not pipeline capacity is a constraint to fuel conversion.

I am beyond pleased with my choice to intern with ENE. In the first month I have made numerous professional connections, many more than I thought I would have gained in the entirety of my time here. I am also tremendously pleased that the work I have been doing is actually useful to my organization, and that my time, as well as theirs, is not being wasted. I am incredibly excited to see what the following months will bring in terms of projects and networking opportunities.

On the lighter side, I’d like to end with a few concluding notes regarding my time in the first month:

  •  Working group meetings involving many stakeholders can be painful
  • One of my first tasks as an intern was to assemble my desk chair
  • I’m doing my part for the environment by taking the bus to work everyday
  • Check out my organization’s awesome ClimateVision2020 Project
  • The Tesla Model S electric vehicle is fast, very fast…and I want one

Attendees of the Take Charge Two! Electric Vehicle Conference at the University of Rhode Island get out of a Tesla Model S after a private owner showed up to offer free 5 minute rides. (Source: Ocean State Clean Cities Coalition)

About Craig Johnson