As international climate talks convened last November, an unofficial cadre arrived in Bonn to affirm support from the United States. Cities, states, and businesses promised to honor the 2015 Paris Agreement under an effort dubbed America’s Pledge, despite President Donald Trump’s promise (subsequently affirmed) to withdraw.
Tyler Clevenger ’16 was with them. The recent Colby graduate—one of a half-dozen Colby alumni staffers at the World Resources Institute— is a research assistant at WRI, which provided analysis for an America’s Pledge report presented at the conference in Germany.
Entities representing more than half the country’s economy remain committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the report says, no matter what happens at the federal level.
“There was a lot of excitement,” Clevenger said, “about how energized the unofficial U.S. sub-national delegation was.”
Now he is back in Washington, D.C., where, as the son of a banker in Asia, he spent the latter part of an upbringing filled with travel and exposure to different natural landscapes. He also remembers being inspired as a kid by An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 climate change documentary starring Al Gore. It scared him but also conveyed a sense of what was at stake.
“I appreciated pretty early on that that would represent my generation’s defining challenge,” Clevenger said. “It would take the best that we as people have to offer.”
As college approached, the first thing he told his school counselor was that he didn’t want to go anywhere cold. But he was aware that Colby had a great environmental studies program—and he happened to visit Waterville on a sunny, 82° April day. “I knew it wasn’t always that nice,” he said. But the campus “just felt good.”
A semester in Copenhagen and a summer in Reykjavik followed. While it didn’t exactly offer a respite from the Maine winters, Denmark did serve as a model of climate-focused policy to study. Denmark was an early adopter of wind energy in the 1970s.
He saw in Denmark the value of “knowing what resources you have and jumping on them,” he said. “Being proactive and looking toward the future.”
Three courses at Colby—Environmental Ethics with Rick Elmore, then a faculty fellow in philosophy, Radical Ecologies with Associate Professor of Philosophy Keith Peterson, and International Environmental Policy with Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Travis Reynolds—were among those that led Clevenger to his current focus on policy. The classes, he said, “showed me the enormous scale of the challenges and the barriers that are in place.” He learned to think about not only solutions, but how to implement them.
For his environmental studies capstone project at Colby, he also spent a month in Tanzania researching more sustainable weed- and pest-control techniques at one of East Africa’s largest coffee plantations, an experience he calls “intensive and immensely rewarding.”
Back in the States, he wants to expand interest in renewable energy across states and cities. He joined WRI just months before Trump’s election, getting “swept into the maelstrom and playing more defense,” he said.
His interest now is in expanding the number of cities and states across the political spectrum that recognize that renewable energy sources can benefit people, no matter where they live: “It doesn’t have to be a partisan issue.”
To current environmental studies undergraduates, Clevenger would say first, “We need more of you.” But he also advises to look beyond Washington, adding that work on climate issues is being done all over the world and across the U.S., in places one might not imagine.
“Just don’t be discouraged,” he said. “Be energized.”
Portrait by Heather Perry ‘93