Throughout my childhood, my parents taught me two key values: perseverance and the importance of serving others. My mother, in particular, was an incredible role model. Her attitude in life has been a steadfast resolve to overcome the challenges set before her. She arrived here from Israel as a young child but was abandoned by her father and grew up in a series of foster homes. At age 32, she was the victim of an arson attack at the hands of one of her social work clients. Her husband died in the fire, and she was separated from her infant daughter for ten months while recovering from burns on eighty percent of her body. Despite this terrible tragedy, she found the strength and courage to rebuild her life and her family, ultimately returning to her passion of serving her community through social work.
During my first summer break in college, I began to understand that climate change could severely impact the lives of millions of people by affecting access to water and food around the world. I realized that there was no more significant way to serve others than to mitigate the impacts of climate change and deploy clean energy solutions. And, believing that politics was the best path to building a clean energy future, I set out to lead the youth climate movement. As the fundraising chair of Power Shift 2007, the first national youth climate conference, I helped bring six thousand young people to the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lobby Congress on climate change. And, around a conference table at my first job, I convinced President Obama's former Iowa Campaign Director and an executive at the AFL-CIO that investing more resources in youth organizations, as part of their $30-million-dollar climate bill campaign, would be dollar-for-dollar more effective than advertising (and the hundreds of thousands of dollars I secured were more effective than ads).
Despite years of hard work, the national climate bill died in the Senate in 2010. Our grassroots effort was outspent by special interests in Washington, and we failed to overcome opposition to the bill. It was a devastating setback. I thought the youth climate movement may have simply failed to meet our generation’s greatest challenge.
I followed my mother’s example, however, and tackled the challenge head-on by addressing a missing and essential component within the climate advocacy community: managing the opponents of clean energy and climate solutions. I founded the Energy & Policy Institute to help foundations, businesses, and organizations defeat anti-clean energy campaigns. Energy & Policy Institute counters opponents’ flawed economic research and provides crucial intelligence and strategic capacity to our funders and allies, allowing them to effectively focus resources, set priorities, and strengthen operations against the opponents of clean energy.
Notwithstanding our success, I realized that the most salient political arguments for forward-looking energy policies were coming from companies deploying economically competitive clean technology. In North Carolina, a Republican state legislator remarked that she could not vote against a renewable energy law, because it was creating businesses in her district.
The legislator’s position epitomizes why I want to attend business school. Advocacy organizations like the Energy & Policy Institute will continue to be important allies, but innovative cleantech companies will be the driving force of both the political and economic progress we need to mitigate climate change. I know I can have the biggest impact as a business leader facilitating the material deployment of clean energy solutions.