My Externship @ The Aspen Institute

As tumult and crises unravel the world around us, I often wonder what can be done to resolve these challenges and who—if anyone—would surrender themselves to such a task. The members of the Aspen Institute are those such people. Confronting issues like education reform in the US, the health of the nation, and the future of clean energy, this research powerhouse challenges the status quo and, in the process, improves the quality of life around the globe.

People like Greg and Catherine showed me that one doesn’t travel the road to solving the climate crisis alone.

This past week, I had the opportunity, as an extern for the UVa Environmental Resilience Institute, to observe the inner workings of Aspen’s Energy and Environment Program (EEP) and hear what leaders around the nation had to say about resolving the climate crisis. Rotating through the office, Ginny, another UVa Extern, and I sat in on staff meetings that revolved around planning meetings and events for the think tank. During one convening, the EEP members discussed how to get the word out about their work at the Earth Day Festival for the spring. Armed with an outsider’s perspective, I suggested that they convene a panel of experts who share with their audience what the average person can do to help solve climate change. I noted that many, like myself, have the desire to make a positive
contribution but can feel a bit powerless in the face of the climate crisis.

Ginny and I also had the opportunity to help put together issue briefs to inform some talking points and decisions of the EEP staff. One project concentrated on the transportation, production, and flaring off of natural gas. We demonstrated how this practice often cuts costs for oil and gas companies while emitting large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Later during the week, I took some time to chat with the EEP executive director, Greg Gershuny, about how to make reducing negative externalities, like carbon-emissions, the cost-efficient option for energy companies. Additionally, Ginny and I performed some research on the long-term environmental impact of the Belt and Road project around the globe. Having spent some time living in rural China, I shared with Aspen an acute knowledge of the cultural significance and controversy surrounding “One Belt One Road” both in East Asia and around the globe.

During our final day in the DC office, we had the chance to sit in on the Aspen Institute Water Forum alongside members of congressional committees, energy executives, climate activists, and chairs of government departments. Each visiting member spoke to how they best thought to address the issue of access to clean water in the US, with some suggestions conflicting with others. Attendees, like Catherine Flowers, founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE), trail blazed a path towards promoting environmental justice for low-income communities around the country—a theme that would become the central goal of the Water Forum. People like Greg and Catherine showed me that one doesn’t travel the road to solving the climate crisis alone. Communities from around the globe have begun to come together to create solutions to climate-related challenges, like access to water. Organizations like the Aspen Institute give me hope that proceeding generations will live in a habitable and thriving Earth, and provide the world with a fighting chance for a sustainable future.