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Climate change and energy

Job title of the future: Climate equity specialist

These roles shape what climate justice looks like in an unequal world.

February 28, 2024
Nancy Brown
Coourtesy of Nancy Brown

Our world reflects a carbon divide, with the richest 10% of the population contributing half of net carbon emissions and the poorest 50% bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.

So extreme is this climate inequality that marginalized communities are around five times more likely to be displaced by extreme disasters. This growing realization led Nancy M. Brown to pursue a career as a climate equity specialist. 

“All we are offering [people] is data, science, and jargon right now. This has to change.”

A growing and multifaceted role: At Energy Solutions, which specializes in implementing carbon-reduction and clean-energy strategies, Brown works with utilities and other clients in government and the private sector to help low-income families adopt technologies ranging from solar panels to fuel-efficient tires. She creates rebate programs to remove cost barriers and works with technical experts to guide households through installation and basic maintenance. 

Brown has also teamed up with local and state governments to develop climate-responsive building codes and energy-efficiency standards for commercial equipment such as compressed-air systems, freezers, and transformers. New codes, standards, and ratings usually face bureaucratic hurdles and struggle to secure buy-in from building materials manufacturers, developers, and homeowners. To remedy this, Brown helps organize regular webinars, in-person workforce training, and compliance tracking. Through these efforts, Energy Solutions aims to eliminate 64 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in North America by 2025.  

Career trajectory: “I grew up with a green thumb and was always looking to work at the intersection of science and policymaking,” says Brown. A master’s in environmental science from Johns Hopkins University and, later, work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the climate conservation unit of Broward County, Florida, helped her become a true “social environmental scientist.” 

Engaging frontline communities: A lot of the communities Brown works with are wary about the implications of climate change. “We are trying to work with people that have been historically exploited and neglected,” she says. “A successful program means creating opportunities for them so they have a say in decision-­making. Just throwing a few workshops isn’t enough.”

She adds, “People need real-life, grassroots solutions to get them out of their current situation. All we are offering them is data, science, and jargon right now. This has to change.”

But that change requires an equitable and inclusive approach informed by data. To identify groups that are good candidates for specific programs, Brown supplements official poverty figures with information on socioeconomic factors like historical disenfranchisement, cost of living, ethnicity, disease burden, and physical disability. This is part of the strategy, she says, for delivering “a cleaner future to everyone.”

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