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Energy Resilience: Equity & Inclusive Action in an Increasingly Turbulent World

Last week, the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) and Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs (SPPUA) hosted 22 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows for a workshop focused on climate change, renewable energy transitions, and environmental justice. The participating fellows came from 19 different countries. Humphrey Fellows are mid-career professionals from designated countries undergoing transitions or development, who are matched with universities in the United States for a year of non-degree study and enrichment. As a component of the fellowship, these professionals are supported to attend various academic conferences and workshops, and this year Northeastern provided one of these enhancement workshops. Professor Jennie Stephens, Director of Strategic Research Collaborations at GRI and Director of SPPUA, curated a high-caliber agenda, complete with guest lectures from NU faculty and regional experts, hands-on collaborative activities, and field trips spanning the Boston metropolitan area, from Dorchester to Nahant.

The workshop opened on Monday afternoon with a warm welcome from Stephen Flynn, Jennie Stephens, and Dean Uta Poiger (CSSH) and a networking reception open to GRI faculty affiliates. On Tuesday, March 26thwe kicked off the first full day of the workshop with a series of guest lectures. GRI Distinguished Senior Fellow Dr. Atyia Martin spoke to the group about racial and socioeconomic disparities in energy and climate resilience in Boston. Participants got an overview of a developing research initiative focused on disaster resilience of interlinked food-energy-water systems from University of Vermont PhD candidate Kristin Raub. This was followed by a brief history of the Seaport district’s resilient and not-so-resilient infrastructure investments, courtesy of GRI faculty affiliate Matthew Eckelman. Laurence Delina, a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University’s Pardee Center, rounded out the morning with a presentation on climate action and radical energy transformation through an international lens. Continuing a full day of engaging discussions about planning, development and climate change resilience, the group took the Orange Line T to Long Wharf Pier. Boston Harbor Now’s Director of Planning and Water Transportation, Alice Brown, braved the wind chill to host a panoramic tour of the Boston Harbor, sharing insights with Fellows about Harborwalk access, East Boston flood-resistant initiatives, and the 19thcentury filling projectthat transformed downtown Boston into its current state. 

Wednesday’s schedule allocated the first few hours of the day to an interactive activity which challenged the Fellows to develop a 2050 climate resilience plan for an urban coastal community, specifically addressing social, environmental, economic and major infrastructure interconnections. Building on a discussion about the social dynamics of and equity considerations of energy transitions led by Professor Stephens, five teams of Fellows presented their final resilience plan. The unique insights and solutions built into each team’s plan were truly impressive, and reflected participants’ diverse expertise and backgrounds. Next GRI faculty affiliate Joan Fitzgerald contrasted successful sea level rise planning in Germany’s HafenCity with unrealized opportunities to design for resilience in Boston. At lunch-time four GRI faculty affiliates led a panel on visualizing, communicating, and incentivizing resilience. The afternoon was spent offsite, traveling around Dorchester and Roxbury with Alex Papali of Clean Water Action as an expert local guide on energy justice. Our Humphrey cohort visited with the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Resonant Energy, and Roxbury Community College, gaining perspective on the breadth of green infrastructure enterprises emerging in the area.

As the workshop drew to a close on Thursday, Shalanda Baker, GRI faculty affiliate, gave a fascinating presentation on Mexico’s energy transition, indigenous rights, and energy justice, contributing another valuable example of international climate activism. This lecture was immediately followed by a picturesque trip to NU’s Marine Science Center in Nahant, where Mark Patterson, GRI Chief Technology Officer, oriented the Fellows to life in the MSC bunker and described the Center’s research on microplastics and coastal sustainability. Deer Island’s Sewage Treatment Plant was the final stop of the day, complete with a tour of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s pump station and sludge digesters. Participants returned to the GRI office for a quick debrief, certificate ceremony, and group photo. The GRI team is thankful for the experience of hosting the talented Humphrey Fellows, and look forward to fruitful future collaborations.