Renewable energy is a relatively new and dynamic sector, and hence biases aren’t as prominent as in some of the traditional sectors
You are an environmental policy expert with an engineering background. How did you leverage this background to your role?
I did not plan to work in the environment field. I’m an engineer at heart and began my career as a software/hardware engineer in the oilfield services and telecommunications sectors. When my kids were young, I saw an opportunity and founded Chirpynest, an online resource for family-friendly activities. While working on this, I realized that not many people know much about their local environment.
And that’s when I realized my passion for environmental conservation, and it reconnected me with my childhood experiences- rapid urbanization that worsened my father’s asthma, transforming my favorite park into a dump yard, and turning the local river red due to effluents discharged from nearby industries. This had a profound impact on me as I questioned the price citizens were paying for economic prosperity.
So, I went back to school, to study Environment Economics and Policy, and figure out how I could make a difference. Currently, I am a Research Scientist at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection working on climate change and clean energy policies. My engineering background is definitely an asset, whether it’s understanding a new technology or evaluating a climate policy.
How does a career in the field of environment look for women?
The gender biases aren’t as pronounced in the environmental field. I have come across many women leaders in energy and environment in both the public and private sectors. Dynamic women like Lynn Jurich, the CEO, and co-founder of Sunrun, Erica Mackie the CEO and co-founder of Grid Alternatives, Inger Anderson, the head of UNEP, and many other women are leaders in this industry. Especially clean energy/renewable energy is a relatively new and dynamic sector, and hence biases aren’t as prominent as in some of the traditional sectors.
How have environmental policies changed due to COVID?
One positive impact: According to IEA’s Global energy review, the global energy demand is down by 4%, and the CO2 emissions in the US have reduced by 9% in the first half of 2020. People are experiencing a better environment, and there have been behavioral changes to conserve the environment too.
On the negative side, due to the pandemic, the GDP of many countries has been declining, unemployment and hunger are on the rise. This in turn diverts government funding from environmental projects to areas related to economic recovery
Getting back to the basics, there are innovations happening constantly. So, what are some sites or resources to stay UpToDate of what’s happening in this field and sustain in this industry?
Environment and energy have a broad spectrum of roles and opportunities, especially if you can acquire complementary skills, you can carve a niche for yourself. For example, a science degree with a specialization in AI/ML helps to work on climate modeling, ocean data handling. The private sector is more suitable for hi-tech jobs, while the public sector gives you the satisfaction of creating a social impact.
To keep track of the innovations happening in this industry, I would recommend the following podcasts: The Energy Gang, Energy Transition Show, NPR’s environment podcast, Women in Sustainability, Planet Innovation, GreenBiz350, MIT Climate’s Climate Conversation.
For news, there’s: InsideClimate News and Environment New Jersey
And, it is always better to experience it hands-on. It helps you discover new opportunities, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. How does one take up an internship, or a side project as a college student, or someone interested in transitioning into this domain?
Currently, there is a good demand for entry-level positions in this sector. There are mentorship groups like the Society of Women Environmental Professionals, and groups like Women for Climate that organize tech challenges in environment and technology and MIT’s Climate co-lab that organizes international contests for the environment, energy, and sustainability.
Also, volunteering at the grass-roots level in local environmental organizations such as the Audubon Society, participating in city-level green teams are great networking opportunities besides getting to know the field better.
The complete interview with Rupa Deshmukh is here
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