This summer I interned at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. My formal title was Climate and Energy Research Intern, and that title is pretty reflective since I spent nearly 100 percent of my time researching and writing. I worked on Worldwatch’s low-carbon development in Caribbean nations initiative specializing in Jamaica. I wrote five “research briefs” to be published soon on energy, electricity and renewables in the nation, which provided important background information for senior staff members during initial in-person meetings and presentations with key actors down in Jamaica. I also wrote blog entries, which you can find here, drafted a chapter on low-carbon policies for State of the World 2012 and much more.
The draft chapter for State of the World 2012 was about low-carbon policies with economic and social benefits. This topic is a strong interest of mine and is central to my slowly-narrowing thesis. My co-intern and I drafted this chapter for the organization’s director needing to adhere to a word limit. Describing and developing the concepts of emissions trading, eco-taxation, feed in tariffs, abolition of fossil fuel subsidies, and my partner’s slew of local-level policies in only a few thousand words was quite a difficult task. There are many books and thousands of peer-reviewed articles on each of these policies alone. Yet, the objective of the piece is to draw attention to these policies and point out their economic and social benefits, to hopefully push the reader to look into them further. When describing how cost-effectively emissions trading reduced greenhouse gas emissions, I struggled with how to include statistical significance levels, exact numbers and magnitudes without overuse of jargon and numbers that may turn off a reader while also keeping it brief. This was a challenge, but it also allowed me to hone in on talking points in support of these policies that will prove useful in future conversations. Aside from thesis work, this blog post is one of the first pieces I have written in the past few months that has not been read by at least a few other people before publication. I really enjoyed the process of collaboration. There is a lower stress level in producing written work when you know that others are going to comment on style and content. It does slow down the process a bit, but it makes it easier to take risks in writing when someone is there to tone down your tone.
In general, much of my CEP coursework applied directly to my internship experience. Climate science knowledge came in incredibly handy in justifying why we are working on climate and energy policy in the first place, and I was surprisingly able to teach a few things to my co-workers. Economics and econometrics was critical in reviewing the economic policy literature for many projects. On the whole the work I performed at Worldwatch and what is expected of me as a graduate student are quite different. The internship experience prepared me to make that bridge between academia and the less academic policy field. Although there are research organizations in the environmental field that are rigorously academic, for the most part I found that most organizations do not perform as much in-depth statistical analysis as in academia. I believe that there are pros and cons to both sides of this equation, but on the whole if our aim is to translate the scientific and economic literature for the public and policymakers, significant effort must be given to how this information is communicated. Sometimes changes can be as simple as using “human-caused” instead of “anthropogenic,” but often we have to struggle to determine how much data we need to present in terms of econometric results from policy modeling studies. This to me is a critical lesson learned from my internship experience, and that is not to say I have fully solved this problem, but it has put me in the right direction. Of course my skills as an analyst have a long ways to go, and I hope my academic thesis work will improve them, but I also want to pay specific focus to how we translate information about environmental problems and policy to the public in a way that is interesting, correct and informative. My goal for the next year is to write a rigorous analytical thesis, while keeping in mind how in the future I can translate this work into something for a general audience to use to inspire political action on the U.S. paralysis with regards to climate policy. As a whole the internship was a great experience, I loved D.C. and am a bit bummed to have to leave so soon, but it will be nice to be back in the lovely Hudson Valley and not in a windowless cubicle for 9 hours a day.