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Columbia Energy Exchange

The Next Generation of Energy Leaders


Meha Jain and Kathryn Obisesan

Charif Souki Global Energy Fellows


Meha Jain [00:00:03] The energy transition requires transitions being made in low income and vulnerable communities and in those countries that have been disproportionately affected by the activities and industrial development in the West. And I think many of these conversations kind of get lost in that. They are so disconnected from the reality on the field. I personally believe that having any sort of field experience can add so much more depth and character to these issues that often we talk about in very close spaces.


Bill Loveless [00:00:36] As the world changes over the next few decades. Many young people in school today are just starting their careers will be working in the major industries impacted by climate change. Here at Columbia University, the Sharif Suzuki Global Energy Fellows are studying the current challenges of the climate crisis and how to build the future they want to live in. This episode will feature two conversations I had with fellows in the program as people raised in a time of elevated climate consciousness. They bring a fresh perspective to the energy transition. So how are the next generation of energy professionals thinking about the climate crisis, and what do they see as solutions for a sustainable, prosperous and equitable future? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. Today on the show, Mahajan and Catherine OBE say Son Maha is pursuing a master’s in public administration at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. She aspires to help protect low income and vulnerable communities through energy and climate transitions. This summer, she worked with Walk Ghana, a social enterprise that provides agricultural services and consulting operations to Ghana and Sierra Leone. Kathryn is working on a master of international affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs with a focus on energy and environment. Before attending Columbia, she worked as a junior policy analyst at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. This summer, she worked for the United States Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. First is my conversation with Meha. We discuss her experience working directly with African farmers and how she thinks policy can adopt climate conscious practices. She also told me about her personal experiences and how they motivate her to work on energy justice issues. Here’s Meha. Meha Jain, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange.


Meha Jain [00:02:55] Hi, Bob. It’s so nice to be here with you today. How are you doing?


Bill Loveless [00:02:59] I am fine and all the better because I have the opportunity to talk to you today and and hear about your exciting experience as an intern here in the Sharif Suki Global energy Fellow. But, you know, first, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and what brought you to where you are today.


Meha Jain [00:03:18] Yeah, and thank you, first of all, for having me on the podcast today. Evident. I’m very excited to be here. And sure, I’m happy to share a little bit about my background and kind of what brought me to that Global Energy Fellowship and my masters, which I’m currently doing at Columbia. So I am originally from Mumbai, India. I grew up there for 16 years before I moved to the US to start my undergraduate at McAllister College in St Paul, Minnesota, which is where I studied economics, International Studies and Global Hope, after which I spent a few years in D.C. working in international economic law. And in between each of these engagements, I spent some time back and forth in India doing some public health work and some international development field work. And I’m currently studying international development in the Master of Public Administration program at Columbia. So super briefly, that’s kind of my journey in between the US and India. And obviously growing up in Mumbai, which is the city of similar to New York actually in a lot of ways, high inequality and rampant poverty. That definitely shaped a lot of what my I decided to study and kind of my engagements thereafter. And I’m happy to go in a little bit of detail into each of those. And hopefully that gives you a bit of sense of my journey so far.


Bill Loveless [00:04:47] You know, I know a little bit about McAllister from friends I have in the Minneapolis St. Paul area. It’s a small liberal arts school, but it’s known for its emphasis on multiculturalism and internationalism. And and among its notable alumni is Kofi Annan, the Ghanian diplomat, secretary of the general, the U.N. back some years ago.


Meha Jain [00:05:10] Yep. And he is Canadian, which is funny because I spent this past summer in Ghana. So I feel like everything has tied nicely together in the past couple of years.


Bill Loveless [00:05:22] Yeah. And, of course, we’re going to talk about that experience that you’ve had there. You mentioned it briefly, the similarities between where you grew up in New York and what made you want to to work and study energy and climate.


Meha Jain [00:05:38] So in my undergraduate, I did a bit of exploring, which is kind of the beauty of the liberal arts, I guess. I took courses in economics, as I mentioned, international relations, but also psychology and community health, which led me a little bit to spending time, like I said, in the field, working in films, interviewing people, living in the slums, and kind of I think that that forced me to ask a lot of questions about how different I was finding the realities of the people in the field from what I was studying in a very academic setting. And so kind of to like flesh out that curiosity about this disparity between research and community experiences, I decided to start my masters here, people. And at the beginning of my first semester, I began doing research at the Center for Global Energy Policy, which was focused heavily on energy subsidy reforms. And that was initially it was very new for. But the deeper I dived into this field, I learned a lot about one of the biggest challenges to implementing energy subsidy reform, which ends up being that the most vulnerable and poor communities and countries where these reforms are trying to be implemented are the most resistant to them because those communities are the most dependent on fossil fuels like gas and oil and coal. And that for me has been a really important insight because I think a lot of the times, again, in academic and in policy spaces, when we talk about these issues, we come at it from kind of the moral argument of fossil fuels are bad for the environment and therefore we need to shift away from them. But the reality is that that process involves affecting people who are extremely restricted in the number and kind of resources that they have and in their ability to make this transition a way. And for them, it’s not really a question of what is moral morally and ethically right. It’s more like what is feasible, what they need to do to keep bringing food to the table and taking care of their families and having their basic needs met. And so through that process, I’ve been kind of more interested both in the field of energy and climate. Again, from the perspective of these individual actors and these poor and vulnerable communities who are often sidelined and sometimes sincerely from these discussions, what is the biggest barrier to them being able to adopt some of these changes which are necessary? We know from a technical standpoint, but realistically, how how is it possible for us to make these changes while protecting these people who really have a seat on the table of these discussions and these changes?


Bill Loveless [00:08:28] You could have gone, based on your experience working with impoverished people, your own observations. You could have gone into any number of fields, but you chose energy, You chose climate change. Why those fields and why not something else?


Meha Jain [00:08:40] Truthfully, partially shaped by what I’ve been studying. It’s simple, but it is also true that it’s impossible to kind of ignore the interlinkages with everything else that I mentioned that I’ve studied before. International Development. Public health today is undeniably being affected by the climate changing and by the fact that we are moving away from fossil fuels to more, more sustainable energy sources. So I guess the combination of my recent interest as well as kind of the imperative that I’m being faced with, the more I, I felt like I raised in my in my professional career, it’s kind of kept me on that path. And we’ll talk a little bit about the work I did this past summer, But it ended up also, again, kind of reinforcing this idea about things like food security and environmental sustainability and how they’re pretty much like at the basis of ensuring a sustainable future, not just for the poorest, but also for everybody else. If we don’t have sustainable environmental systems and food security, we don’t have a population that is feeding themselves and able to sustain themselves and therefore benefit from any other like economic, political or social benefits that the policies we create are trying to facilitate. So it feels like a very basic level at which we start to address this broader issue of international development, which is also complex in and of itself as a problem to solve.


Bill Loveless [00:10:10] Well, let’s talk about your work that you’ve been doing most recently as part of your fellowship. It’s your been working with Walk Ghana. Let’s Walk WRC Ghana on climate and vulnerable agricultural walk. Ghana, I’ve learned, is a social enterprise that operates in West Africa and calls Ghana its home and provides agricultural services and consulting in Ghana and Sierra Leone for for some 8000 farmers. Tell us about what did you do there? What was your experience?


Meha Jain [00:10:44] The first summer I was placed in Accra doing work for a work, but I was also traveling between Accra, which is where some of the organizations team sits, and to more in the Upper West region of Ghana, which is where the operations and the farmers mostly are. So my primary project was to design a behavior change program to facilitate farmers transitioning from existing tillage practices to regenerative agriculture methods. And when I say regenerative agriculture in kind of in in the vernacular, it could refer to a lot of different things. But for the purposes of this project, we defined it as the adoption of three main methods no till farming crop rotation and the reduction of field burning by using alternative methods like crop covers and soil borders. And so as part of this. Project. I helped design some education interventions to increase awareness about climate change through the regenerative agriculture methods I mentioned and also general agricultural practices that are that we would like to have been implemented along with regenerative agriculture to assure their effectiveness. By this I mean like weed control and pest control and kind of more regular best practices for farming. And I also help to design surveys to kind of assess the effectiveness of this behavior change program and to identify the existing attitudes of farmers towards issues like climate change and soil erosion, but also one whether they knew about regenerative agriculture and if they did know kind of what some of the barriers to them adopting them might have been.


Bill Loveless [00:12:31] So so they, you know, they learned something from the work that you and your peers with the organization were doing, I take it. What did you learn?


Meha Jain [00:12:40] I would say one of the main things I learned is to I think that the trainings that I helped create and were implemented by some of the amazing, amazing staff at work are very useful because they covered a lot of different topics that I think are complementary. And so they kind of sent this like singular message of why regenerative agriculture is important and why its alternatives may not be as good for the long term food security of these farmers. But one of the biggest things I learned, which I had read a little bit of research about this earlier, is that, first of all, most of the farmers already understand that the climate is changing to a degree and skill that, ironically, I feel is missing kind of in the West and from what I’ve witnessed in conversations and political discussions. So I think that’s a really important thing to be emphasizes. Sure. We did to have trainings on these topics, but also the farmers are are witnessing in real time that the rain is falling less, falling less frequently. The soil quality is reducing and the weather is just changing, is erratic and they are feeling like they know that something needs to be done about it. That’s one thing. The second thing is it’s also true that some of the regenerative agricultural techniques that we were trying to promote, for example, crop rotation were already being done. It’s just that the farmers didn’t didn’t know that they were doing it.


Bill Loveless [00:14:08] There must be some personal experience, too, that you for you there people, farmers, you met stories. They told you about what they were observing, right?


Meha Jain [00:14:19] Definitely. And from a less formal data collection standpoint, this was what I was hearing. But also based on the results of the data that we collected initially, this is what I found in overwhelming majority that the farmers had these opinions about climate change and they felt that it is changing. So both from like a a more like a less formal standpoint. Yes. But also like in a formal sense. I think that was something that was a friend, something that I did that I did here a lot. And that I also think is really important to emphasize is that one of the even though this project is currently happening and so this process of identifying what the attitudes of a farmers to do with these practices and the barriers to the adoption are the process of like collecting data on that is still ongoing and it will continue through early November. But kind of based on my conversations with the staff at work and the people in the field, they are they generally feel very positively that this process of transitioning farmers away from tile farming to regenerative agriculture is going to happen. They understand that it has to happen in light of the fact that the climate is changing and it’s not sustainable for the farmers to be operating one plot of land until it’s completely like sapped of its quality and then moving to another one. They understand that it’s not a sustainable model and they understand also to a degree that the farmers knew about it. But they almost always emphasized that if there is no monetary incentive for the farmer to take on this new practice, which would mean then also giving up their do farming methods have been doing for a very long time that transition would be extremely difficult. And this is something that I heard and found consistently through my conversations. And I think it’s really important again, because when you think about it from the academic and the policymakers standpoint, we kind of frame our argument for for people adopting it in terms of like, of course they should do no farming, for example. It’s better for the environment. But how can you make that argument to a subsistence farming? Whose income and ability to feed himself and his family rests solely on the outcome of his harvests and his ability to sell that and a certain quantity of fat regularly and make a profit from it. That got me thinking a lot about beer. We should be directing our efforts, and I personally believe that it should not be the burden of this subsistence farmer to to be taking on the risk of adopting a new technique without being that being buttressed by additional financial support from an external source. And that could be in terms of a premium being provided for a crop that is harvested through regenerative agriculture, a government subsidy for the inputs needed for regenerative agriculture or something that doesn’t require the farmer themselves having to take on that entire risk in order to do this, thinking that this is ultimately beneficial for him. But also he is not in the financial position to make that sacrifice. And I don’t think it is even more ethical to put that on on that farm.


Bill Loveless [00:17:51] I was thinking before we sat down to talk about asking you, you know what what you think about changes. How do you think about change when it comes to decarbonizing the economy or just the economy of a developing nation? You know what incentivizes large groups of people to change their habits? I think you’re you’ve already you’ve been getting at this, right, in terms of, you know, this is their livelihood for their families, their crops. And yet they they’re experiencing the change in the climate that’s affecting their livelihood. So so it sounds like they don’t need to be persuaded. But what incentivizes them? Is it more resources, more financing? You discuss the need for that, that sort of what what will it take?


Meha Jain [00:18:37] I think primarily the incentive is financial, but definitely there is an appeal to kind of the social and environmental aspect of this, that the farmers care about the soil. They want it to be better. They want to be perceived well in a social setting. So if we send the message that these are adopting these kinds of practices, it is the socially desirable journey for you to venture on those things in combination, I think, and facilitate this kind of change. It’s just I think just to take a step back and look at this a bit more realistically, I think we spend a lot of time asking this question really what needs to happen for us to make this change? And to be honest, I don’t think it’s that deep. I do just think that we should live in a society where the collective interest is geared towards providing this kind of financial support at a scale to individuals like this, such that when you view them as an aggregate, they are able to implement and facilitate the change. I think it’s just the reality that that is not the case. But I, I am hopeful that that is is possible. I just I’m amused sometimes by how overcomplicated we we make this because to me, it is not a matter of defining the problem anymore. Like I said, we know from science and I am constantly hearing this be affirmed. The climate is changing, the soil quality is deteriorating and something needs to be done about it. If you can define a problem, you can most certainly define the solution. And I think we know what the solution is. I think there’s just a reticence for a large majority of people to combine their resources in support of this goal because of a lot of differing opinions and a lot of noise around what the best way to do this is, in my opinion. And it definitely requires certain organizations and systems and processes to facilitate this finance and make sure it’s being used effectively. I think it’s definitely a necessary thing that doesn’t probably already exist, but I think it just takes collective will and an acknowledgment of maybe some some level of sacrifice that comes from institutions, individuals and private companies with the resources to make those types of decisions. And I think that what is the barrier to this happening is the fact that we put the onus on these individuals who don’t have that kind of risk taking ability or resources. And I think that that is wrong. But I don’t even think the solution is is not.


Bill Loveless [00:21:17] So what advice would you have for other young woman like yourself looking to build a career in energy?


Meha Jain [00:21:26] Yeah, Thank you for that question. I hope and the right person to be giving this advice.


Bill Loveless [00:21:31] I think you are.


Meha Jain [00:21:33] I appreciate it. I appreciate the confidence. I would say obviously I’m totally biased, but. I think that it’s funny because the the energy transition requires transitions being made in low income and vulnerable communities and in those countries that have been disproportionately affected by the activities of countries and the industrial development in the West. And I think many of these conversations kind of getting lost in that they are so disconnected. And I found this from myself as well, from the reality on the field in the in such communities as the one that I was in this summer. And so my advice to someone, if it may not be true that everyone in energy and climate has the very specific interests of international development. So I would like to make that kind of part of that. But I personally believe that having some any sort of field experience can add so much more depth and character to these issues that often we talk about and ponder about in very close spaces that are a little bit sometimes self-reinforcing, but kind of like putting yourself out there, going to the field. And by field, I mean being in one of these countries, being in one of these communities, I think kind of like change both the way you view the problem and then the solution to the problem. And you don’t have to do that for the rest of your life. But like I said, even just a 3 or 4 month engagement can completely shift how you look at the same issue. And you can come back to kind of this academic policy space and I think maybe view it a bit differently and with a lot more humility and and practicality than if you are simply just looking at words on a paper and behind a screen or something like that.


Bill Loveless [00:23:20] Well, Maha, thank you for sharing your experience with us today. And and congratulations to to you and to your others who are part of this Sharif Suki Global Energy Fellowship program. You know, it’s certainly paying off in terms of your experience. And I know from having spoken with you now that it’s going to pay off for others as well. Thank you.


Meha Jain [00:23:44] Yes, Thank you so much. It was my pleasure.


Bill Loveless [00:23:48] We’ll be right back. Now my conversation with Kathryn with her experience working in government. Catherine, describe to me how she thinks collaboration across political interests is critical for the energy transition. She told me about the important lessons she learned this summer working for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and what she wants to do next with her career. Here’s my conversation with Catherine. Catherine, Abby, Suzanne, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange.


Kathryn Obisesan [00:24:30] Thanks, Bill.


Bill Loveless [00:24:32] You know, let’s begin by hearing a little bit about yourself. Your background is an interesting one. Talk about that a little bit about that and your and your schooling.


Kathryn Obisesan [00:24:41] I am a graduate of University of Maryland College Park. I was there from 2016 to 2020 studying government and politics, concentrate on international relations and also economics. The way I kind of gone to energy is a little bit serendipitous. I studied abroad my sophomore year a little bit early on as a part of a capstone for a special program I was in at the time, and I decided to go to Geneva, Switzerland, and I stumbled across a conference on U.N. humanitarian issues. And there someone spoke about climate change, refugees. That topic was so interesting to me. I decided to to focus my practicum project at the time for that program in that area. And from there was kind of just a snowball effect. I got back to University of Maryland and very serendipitously ended up partnered or ended up matched with U.S. Department of Energy and the Nuclear Energy Office on Advanced Technology. And it was extremely technical focus. But they for some reason, one of the policy minded in their works for that semester and I ended up learning everything about the nuclear fuel cycle, about nuclear reactors. They taught me from the base up. And at the time I was super interested in going to the U.S. State Department, as most our majors are at the time. But ultimately, that experience was so invigorating and they were so welcoming and they’re teaching and nuclear encompass so many of the intersections. I was interested in that. It became a thread that I wanted to follow. So while I was there, actually, I would hear quite often mentioning of another U.S. agency within the U.S. Department of Energy called the NSA, which is the National Nuclear Security Administration. And at times it would seem that there was a little bit of almost like beef between the two agencies. In terms of they would be at odds of kind of the priorities and perspectives on progressing nuclear energy and how that intersects with nuclear security issues. And so kind of hearing that dichotomy, I was really interested in understanding what was happening on that NSA side. And so the following summer, I ended up going to the National Security Administration, working on international programs and within that, working on defense programs. Yeah. And that gave me insight into the nuclear apparatus, kind of staying away from the energy side into international affairs.


Bill Loveless [00:26:57] You know, it’s interesting. You probably have a better understanding of the Department of Energy than many people do, because despite its name, Department of Energy, as you’ve learned, you know, a good third of it has to do with nuclear weapons and that today is the National Nuclear Security Administration. And I and having covered the U.S. for a number of years, I know there is that tension between the civilian energy side of the department and the nuclear weapons side of the department. You know, your experience do went beyond that this summer as part of the fellowship you’re in now, the chief Suki Global Energy Fellows, you did an internship with the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. You got a close, close up look at the way Congress acts on energy policy. What did you make of that?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:27:44] So actually, as an undergraduate, I shied away from the Hill and a lot of my peers are going there. But it was just I was perceived as being quite competitive. But I going into a graduate program, I realized that that was the quintessential experience I wanted to have in terms of understanding what were the main stakeholders discussing at the higher level, at the policy level, where the decisions are made. So I pursued that and ended up in the office. It was quite the antithesis of the experience I thought I was going to have up there. It really is focused on what is the backbone of international relations and government politics, which is building relationships. A lot of the actual push and pull of what happens outside of, you know, the policy entering the floor and the discussions that we see on the news is really about personal relationships. 1 to 1 of staff directors, staff director or even executive assistant, which is kind of like the lowest rung of an office when you’re coming into Congress. And a lot of that back and forth is really the underpinning of what accelerates or pushes forward projects. And interestingly enough, I’m from Maryland. I was born and raised in Maryland, obviously went to University of Maryland.


Bill Loveless [00:28:52] Not far from Capitol.


Kathryn Obisesan [00:28:53] Hill, not far from Capitol Hill, and very much grew up idolizing, you know, that D.C. experience. Maryland is a very blue state, so to speak. You could almost say like apolitical in some senses, like there’s just not a lot of those key quintessential issues that come up in the day to day in terms of the discussions that people have And these like back and forth. There’s a wider, of course, policy and political discussions that are had, but they’re not per se like these like very specific issues that you might find in like. More suburban and rural areas. And so working in the Energy Resources Committee this past summer, I was also exposed to the personal office of the senator who chairs that committee, who happens to be from the state of West Virginia, Joe.


Bill Loveless [00:29:40] Manchin.


Kathryn Obisesan [00:29:40] And Joe Manchin. Yes, that’s the one. And it was quite an interesting experience working with interns from that state. Also, just understanding what are the perspectives that come out of West Virginia. And I guess that could also be a blueprint for other more rural states, especially in regards to issues like climate change and more specifically or more relevant to them, energy issues. And I think it was quite the perspective for me too. I’ve always wondered about the dichotomies or some of the sentiments concerning issues like globalization or politics from these more rural areas. And growing up in Maryland, I didn’t necessarily get that exposure to understanding some of the pain points or the perspectives that then play into the wider conversations around energy and all of those things. And kind of watching Joe Manchin do his thing in terms of how he navigates the Hill, serving as a senator who has obligations to a wider national level, but also still servicing some of the pain points and the interests of West Virginians was really that insight that I had been looking for, which was not my intention going into the Energy Natural Resources Committee, but it helped me better understand some of the perspectives that might be coming out of more rural areas on climate change, on energy, on the IRA, on desires to localize a lot of this development in more rural areas that kind of need, that push forward instead of, you know, kind of the other avenues that we could take to be addressing energy issues. So I really enjoy that experience.


Bill Loveless [00:31:20] Based on these observations you had from from the time there. Do you get a sense of what what might be working or what might not be working as well when it comes to the communications and cooperation among various parties when it comes to energy policy and programs that address climate change?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:31:43] Yeah, this is this is an interesting thing and maybe an unpopular opinion, but I think once you are kind of you break into the opaqueness of the hill, you kind of get past those those doors and the barrier of entry or whatever. You can really see the kind of the backroom of what we see in terms of what’s what’s portrayed in the media, what’s discussed in popular conversation, what makes mainstream news. And a lot of what I realized I was there is that some policymaking and some key developments and being able to kind of progress forward on things that, you know, might be, in fact, impactful policy wise, are rarely the things that are going to be like the most polarized in terms of discussion that’s happening at the forefront that’s going to make kind of mainstream news. It’s more so those like backroom discussions being able to kind of reach into areas that might differ from your own perspectives. And that’s just going to be the reality of being up in a space with a multitude of people who have different backgrounds, different experiences, different perspectives on how things should be done. And I think looking from an individual up until a hill up until Congress, you kind of almost like idolize these individuals, as you know, policymakers who are like untouchable, who are kind of, in a sense, separate from us. But in reality, a lot of it is relating person to person and having kind of a natural empathy to understand where someone else might be coming from in terms of how their experiences inform their perspectives and being able to appeal to those things through rationale, through stating like the facts, so to speak. And really underpinning of those things was where you derived your facts from. And that’s something I kind of grew to admire. And some of the policymakers who are up there, like Joe Manchin, who has a strong leaning towards empathy, but also tries to incorporate things like rationale and like the facts. And of course, there’s a lot of things that are maybe not we’re not in agreement on, but I think in terms of the human level of person to person and that individual relation that happens in our day to day, but also on the Hill, I find it quite interesting that a lot of what policymaking actually is, is what’s not necessarily covered in the wider discussion or it’s not like super sexy or super interesting, at least in regards to creating like very polarized discussion, but more so it’s really like people to people, person to person, empathy, compassion, those type of things.


Bill Loveless [00:34:23] So many people look. At Washington these days in Congress and gets so frustrated. You know, they don’t they don’t they don’t do anything. They just fight, you know? Yeah. And but it sounds as though you’ve come off the hill. Not so discouraging. In fact, a little bit impressed or encouraged by the way the system works despite all its difficulties and and all.


Kathryn Obisesan [00:34:48] I think and this relates back to the thing I mentioned of of shying away from the Hill in the beginning. I initially saw that as something that was not for me. And as a woman of color, as an individual who’s has a lot of different interests and things, I didn’t see myself reflected up there. But what I find quite interesting is that although it can be frustrating to watch from outside his point of view, which rightfully so, there is a lot of diversity of perspective and experience. And I think because there is so much diversity, that’s almost encouraging in the sense that as someone who’s had a very particular experience growing up in the state of Maryland, going to college and University of Maryland being able to go international and then coming back to the East Coast and now, you know, attending Columbia and and focusing on issues that are really key and important to me. I could see myself reflected up there as someone who could contribute. And I think because there is a lot of diversity of experience and perspective and ultimately a day at the Hill is a day trying to harmonize those things. There is, I think, a lot of opportunity for young people to aspirationally desire to be there one day.


Bill Loveless [00:35:56] You mentioned the perspective of young people. You know, for many of our listeners years like 2050 and 2060 sound very far off when we are talking about climate targets and energy sector growth. But you will be in the middle of your career when we start reaching these target years. How does that inform your view of climate action?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:36:19] I think a good way to look at this is at the start of my academic career, really what it celebrated or pushed me forward was that conference that I attended in Geneva, and that was such a wide angle lens of what could happen in the future of the potential impacts of climate change and those who will be primarily impacted or those who maybe are not the ones who have contributed the most. And there can be serious repercussions for those individuals and those people. And that is a wide angle lens of of the future. And although I didn’t end up in climate change migration by any means, I think that then created a little bit of a spark or like a flame that I guess I’ve been carrying forward through my career, which is a desire to serve and essentially a desire to kind of harmonize my unique skills and development and experiences, to then give that back in an impactful way. What I’ve quantified that to be is really what the energy sector needs is, is intersections and human capacity and those intersections.


Bill Loveless [00:37:25] What do you mean by that?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:37:26] Kathryn In my experiences thus far at U.S. Department of Energy, I was international for at International Organization or OECD and then also at Columbia. I’ve learned a ton from Cegep and just a number of academic bodies on campus where I’ve come to realize and it’s been reasserted in numerous occasions after, is that really this change that we’re looking for in the energy transition that we’re looking for in regards to climate change is not happening in a silo of sectors. It’s not just on the front of innovation technology. It’s not just on the front of industry and businesses correcting their behaviors and trying to incorporate things like environmental, social governance into, you know, their balance sheets. And it’s not just on the front of policymakers and implementing new policies to address these issues. It’s the intersection of all of those things. And I think we’ve kind of realized that in terms of, you know, there are conferences that are happening like Davos and World Economic Forum, which aims to bring together stakeholders from business and, you know, other sectors of energy. There are other conferences like Apple’s hosted in itself that bring those individuals together. But what I think is an underpinning or what I have yet to see, to be honest, is individuals kind of up taking that torch or baton as well and trying to harmonize those intersections within themselves and making that an intention from the start of their career as opposed to something that kind of happens naturally over the course. And so what really invigorated me and what I find interesting as an individual is just intersections, because I have a very overactive brain. So I like a lot of things happening in there. But I think individuals who, you know, are really committed to this space can commit themselves further by making sure that they have the tools to be able to fluidly flow across those sectors, but also, you know, serve as interconnectors and communicators between them.


Bill Loveless [00:39:25] Your generation stands out for the urgency that it affords the climate crisis. What would it look like to harness that enthusiasm on a much wider basis? What’s missing?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:39:38] I tend to view things in kind of almost a state of entropy. And I view individuals, as, you know, we are the stabilizing force. And so in a sense, I don’t I’m not sure anything is is quite missing at the point. I think we are in a progress and we’re in a progression to push ourselves forward towards like what we need. And that is going to be a trial and error. I will say I think a level of healthy optimism could be helpful. Kind of mixed in with some pragmatism as well.


Bill Loveless [00:40:15] Do you feel do you do you feel optimistic when you look forward? The you look to the future?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:40:19] I do, because I look at the individuals surrounding me and in my experiences, I’m very much a people person and everything that I do and all my perspectives and a lot of my goal setting and all of that is is informed by individuals and people who I’ve met who inspire me or who I think have insightful points or have had experiences that are unique enough to really speak to something that maybe we might be missing. And in my experience in the energy sector and thus far, there are a lot of really committed individuals who are devoting their lives to this. And when you have that much effort focused on one issue, I kind of feel like there’s there’s nothing that can happen but an eventual conclusion that will result in some form of whether it be, you know, we address things in time, which I’m not sure, you know, is possible for us at this point, but we will address things.


Bill Loveless [00:41:21] That’s encouraging to hear. Do you have advice for other young woman looking to build a career in energy?


Kathryn Obisesan [00:41:27] You belong here. That’s kind of the underpinning of my advice. I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t think my freshman year self at Maryland could have seen or even predicted the magnitude of where I would be at now. It just wasn’t within the scope of where I was dreaming. And I think the only thing that I truly felt at that time was a feeling like, this feels right to me. This is where I’m supposed to be. I think I can be impactful here. I’m interested in this. I could commit myself to this and follow up with the effort and the discipline to push forward in that area. But in terms of where I was going to go, I wasn’t sure. But I think that feeling of this is where I need to be. This is where I want to be, this is where I can be most impactful was something I held on to and is what allowed me to get to this point, even though it wasn’t within the the capacity of my dreaming at the time. And I would just say to, you know, other young woman, minorities or just any individual who might feel or look at something and say like, I don’t necessarily see a place for me in that. Listen to your, you know, your intuition, listen to your likes and your dislikes and really like if you feel a strong sense of this is something that you could contribute to. Follow that sense. Because if there’s not a space, you’ll make one.


Bill Loveless [00:42:49] I love it. Yeah. You have certainly done that. And and I think you and as well as your colleagues in the the Suki Global Energy Fellows program are doing that as well. Catharine, congratulations on the work that you’ve done there and thanks for joining us on the Columbia Energy Exchange to discuss it.


Kathryn Obisesan [00:43:11] Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.


Bill Loveless [00:43:17] That’s it for this week’s episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. Thank you again, Meha Jain and Catherine OB Saxon. And thank you for listening. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and me, Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Aaron Hartig and Steven Lacy from Postscript Media. Additional support from Danielle, Prop Natalie Volk, Lily Lee and Keith Lee. Roy Campanella is the sound engineer. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energy Policy. Dot Colombia, Dot edu or follow us on social media at Columbia. You energy and you can rate the show on Apple or Spotify. You can also let us know what you think by leaving us a review. And if you really like this episode, share it with a friend or a colleague. It helps us reach more listeners like yourself. We’ll see you next week.

 As the world changes over the next few decades, many young people in school or just starting their careers, will be working in the major industries impacted by climate change. Here at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the Charif Souki Global Energy Fellows are studying the current challenges of the climate crisis and how to build the future they want to live in. 

This episode features two conversations with the fellows. As people raised in a time of elevated climate consciousness, they bring a fresh perspective to the energy transition. 

So, what do the next generation of energy professionals think about the climate crisis? And what do they see as solutions for a sustainable, prosperous, and equitable future? 

This week host Bill Loveless talks with Meha Jain and Kathryn Obisesan. 

Meha is pursuing a Master in Public Administration at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. She aspires to help protect low-income and vulnerable communities through energy and climate transitions. This summer, she worked with Warc Ghana, a social enterprise that provides agricultural services and consulting operations to Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Kathryn is working on a Master of International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs with a focus on energy and environment. Before attending Columbia, she worked as a junior policy analyst at the OECD-Nuclear Energy Agency. This summer she worked for the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 

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