By Claire Dougherty, Research Analyst, and Nicolette Santos, Communications Associate
This past August, we attended the Clean Energy Leadership Institute’s (CELI) emPOWER conference, designed to bring together industry experts and young professionals across the country to share their expertise and perspectives to “foster a new kind of energy leadership.” The conference, which consisted of keynote discussions, panels, and breakout sessions, focused on a wide range of topics and themes in the clean energy space. One theme that was consistent throughout the conference was the intersection of decarbonization and adaptation with equity in clean energy: ensuring that everyone benefits from the efforts to decarbonize our economy and adapt to the inevitable changes in our climate. These topics will be front of mind as we continue to brace for the immediate impacts of climate change. By engaging with “emerging energy leaders who refuse to tolerate ‘normal,’” CELI hopes to inspire leaders to build an equitable, decarbonized, and resilient energy ecosystem.
This intersection of decarbonization, adaptation, and equity is one that we are both extremely passionate about and are excited to join and to continue the conversation this topic. One speaker who we found particularly poignant and touched on this intersection was Rose McKinney-James, Energy Foundation Chair and Managing Partner at McKinney-James & Associates. McKinney-James discussed the importance of equity on every scale—from the workplace to bigger picture energy access. She spoke honestly about her career as a Black woman in energy, reflecting that she was often the only woman of color in the room, and noting that being a minority amongst peers happens at all levels of work and to many types of people. To navigate this, she offered to those who share her experience, “when you exist in spaces that were not built for you, sometimes just being you can be a revolution.” McKinney-James highlighted that this perspective can make you qualified for and critical to the discussion. To those on the other side of the table, who want to increase diversity in their workplaces but are having trouble finding people with sufficient technical experience, she asks, “what if we also considered life experience?”
Taking into account a range of perspectives is crucial if the clean energy industry is serious about creating an equitable, resilient, and decarbonized future. Diversity in perspective can come from race, gender, background, and age, among many other factors. In a final note for those who share her experience, McKinney-James emphasized that hard work and preparation are vital to breaking into the clean energy industry.
As the newest and now youngest members of the DGA team, we are continuously searching for ways to improve our understanding of the clean energy field. CELI’s breakout sessions did just that, focusing on the technical aspects of clean energy to equip passionate young professionals like us with the skills, language, and knowledge needed to enter and contribute to the clean energy space. These breakout sessions ranged from an introduction to finance to electrifying the building sector to hosting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations in the workplace. We are excited to apply what we learned to our own work at DGA.
Our generation, more than any before, has the best opportunity to deliver equitable, decarbonized energy systems. We do not remember a time when severe impacts from anthropogenic climate change were not directly affecting our communities. We do not think things will just “go back to normal.” Instead, we grew up watching the severity of climate change’s effects accelerate around us and understand that this changing world is reality. As a generation, we have numerous first-hand accounts of how climate change is shaping our life. We were born at a time when the effects of climate change , from rising temperatures in our hometowns to the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Nicolette grew up in southern California, watching droughts and wildfires become a dangerous commonplace, but seeing the potential that renewable energy can bring to a changing landscape. Claire grew up in Pennsylvania and was attune to the increasing frequency of floods and warmer winters, but also the inequitable health and quality of life faced by coal miners powering our outdated energy systems. This changing, unjust, and now dangerous world has given us perspective that our world needs new ideas and higher ambitions to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
As the newest and youngest members of DGA, our age allows us to bring a unique perspective to our highly expert and well-equipped team. Just as Rose McKinney-James said, we must serve as the bridge, taking advantage of the moment and embracing our perspectives when we have a seat at the table. We are excited to see where the combinations of our strengths and those of the rest of the DGA team can align to bring tangible climate action.