Guest blogger: Isabella Marill (MESM 2016)
It was week one of my summer internship and as I got up from a meeting, I asked my boss if he had a chance to look over my first assignment: a memo detailing why Saudi Arabia should invest in energy efficiency.
“Oh ya,” he said casually, “I had the team look over it, made a few changes, and then I sent it to the White House and the Department of Energy.”
What?! I hope I didn’t miss any commas! Was President Obama frantically poring over my policy memo in the Oval Office at that very moment? Was he implementing my energy efficiency suggestions to curb greenhouse gas emissions thereby saving the future of coral reefs from ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures? Ok, probably not but hey, a girl can dream.
Two years ago I would never have imagined myself here in DC, let alone writing a policy brief that got sent to the White House. As a California native, I spent years working in ocean education, taking students snorkeling and teaching kids why the octopus is so cool. I came to the Bren School to pursue my passion for ocean conservation but, surprisingly, have found myself pulled into other parts of the environmental world I had never considered, like climate policy (who knew?!)
So here I am in Washington DC this summer helping to save the ocean by way of international climate negotiations, or as my LinkedIn profile more aptly states: “to gain experience working on environmental policy at the international level.” Successful negotiations at this level create incentives to get the whole global community on board with cutting greenhouse gas emissions, an increasingly important task with an ever-warming climate and ocean. Researching and writing policy papers with the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), an international environmental think tank, has dropped me into the deep end of climate change policy and there has been quite a learning curve. I have been focused on international energy efficiency policies as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately slow ocean acidification. Understanding climate science and its effects on the ocean is one thing but figuring out a country’s development or funding needs to get them on board with energy regulations is another.
Taking classes at Bren helped me understand how ocean conservation extends far beyond the marine biologist into the land of policy-making. Particularly in the wake of the recent Paris climate agreement, I learned the importance of high-level climate negotiations to slowing global greenhouse gas emissions and addressing some of the ocean issues I am so familiar with. International climate negotiations have a direct effect on slowing the rise in ocean temperatures and acidity, two problems that have lasting detrimental effects on ocean ecosystems. I realized that in addition to the scientists and ocean educators I was comfortable working with, politicians, diplomats, and lawyers also play an important role when it comes to the fate of our oceans.
Trading in my wetsuit for the fast-paced life of DC has been quite a change of pace but I’ve learned the value of these complex international policies and just how large of an impact they can have in protecting the ocean from increased acidity and rising temperatures. Sometimes working on ocean conservation requires working away from the ocean, and no matter where I work next, gaining experience in international policy has made me a better ocean advocate. Plus, all the museums in DC are free and I finally learned how to iron a blouse!
Isabella Marill is a 2017 MESM student specializing in Coastal Marine Resource Management with a focus in Strategic Environmental Communication and Media. This summer she is interning with the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development in Washington DC.