Alum Spotlight: Lindsey Walter, Clean Energy Policy Advisor

by |September 27, 2019

By Gregoire Mazars

Lindsey Walter is an alum of Columbia University’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development as well as the masters program in Environment Science and Policy. We caught up with Lindsey to discuss the impact sustainable development has had on her life and her career transition.

Lindsey Walter

Lindsey Walter is a Clean Energy Program senior policy advisor at Third Way, a think tank that champions modern center-left ideas. Photo: Third Way

Can you briefly explain your role at Third Way’s Clean Energy Program?

As senior policy advisor for Third Way’s Clean Energy Program, I manage our climate policy portfolio. I develop and advocate for federal climate and clean energy policies to get the U.S. to net-zero emissions.

How did you find your current position? What resources/methods did you find most useful?

I found out about the position from an email sent out by our Environment Science and Policy associate director. After doing some research about the organization and job opening, I decided it would be a great fit. I went about finding someone in my network that knew people at Third Way. A professor of mine at Columbia sent an email recommending me for the position, which I imagine flagged my application and strengthened my credentials.

What did you do immediately after graduating from the Sustainable
Development program?

After my undergrad, I earned a Fulbright Research Grant to study energy policy in Germany. I conducted research on the viability of Germany’s energy policy and possible applications for successfully integrating renewables to meet national goals at Heidelberg University’s Center for the Environment.

What do you enjoy the most and what do you find the most challenging in your current position/program?

One of the things I enjoy most in my current position is getting to advocate for policies I believe in to Congress. Right now, there is a big push to introduce climate legislation and I have the opportunity to advise congressional staff on policy designs. I also conduct briefings on important climate reports like the IPCC and National Climate Assessment to help inform policymakers. It is incredibly rewarding to use my experience to influence actual policy.

A big challenge for me is one that I’m sure many people working on climate experience. It can be challenging to work with the slow progress of government when you understand how pressing the climate crisis is. We need to get the right policies in place now in order to meet our climate goals.

How well did your undergraduate classes prepare you for your position?

My undergraduate classes were very interdisciplinary, giving me a solid base knowledge of a range of issues. In particular, all my courses on energy systems and climate science have come in use.

Are you able to utilize any skills or knowledge from the undergraduate
program in your day-to-day activities?

I am able to use many of the analytical skills I learned at Columbia. Whether it is doing a quick calculation on how many wind turbines it would take to replace a nuclear power plant or analyzing a broader policy proposal, I find myself using my quantitative and analytical skills frequently.

What drew you to the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy at SIPA? Did it seem like a natural progression from the undergraduate program?

I was living in Germany when Trump was elected, and at the time, I was considering European graduate programs. However, given the circumstances back home, I decided I wanted to return and focus on U.S. federal climate and energy policy. The MPA in Environmental Science and Policy was an appealing program because it could enable me to be a translator of scientific research to the policy world. I think there is an important role in the climate fight for people who are not necessarily conducting the science themselves, but are ensuring that it is used to construct the best possible policies.

How do you think U.S. energy policy will evolve in the next few years?

We need to push forward solutions that have bipartisan support and build upon them with more aggressive policy action down the line. An example of this is increasing federal investments in the research, development, and demonstration of clean energy technologies. I also think there is growing support for a national clean energy standard. We also need to be developing policies and building a strong coalition that is prepared to introduce more ambitious climate policies when the opportunity arises.

What are your next steps career-wise?

I plan to continue working on U.S. federal climate policy, whether that is with non-governmental organizations or within an administration. I do not see a world in which we reduce our emissions in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change without major action by the federal government, so that is where I plan to stay for at least the next few steps of my career.

What tips do you have for students who are intending to pursue the sustainable development major or special concentration?

Because sustainable development is so interdisciplinary, you can end up becoming more of a generalist. Think about your career goals, because it may be more beneficial to become a specialist in a certain area. If you’d like to be more of a specialist, then take advantage of the diversity of courses that count towards the major and focus in on a specific area.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems. It is offered through the Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website or contact Program Manager Cari Shimkus at cshimkus@ei.columbia.edu.

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