Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission, because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host Lynda Woolard. On this episode, I have a conversation with Madison Smither, a young advocate and Democrat from Louisiana, who's currently attending the Harvard Kennedy School with a focus on climate and the new energy economy. Last month, she attended the inaugural Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where all the talk was of the Inflation Reduction Act, the impact it will have on climate change, and the benefits it will offer to states like Louisiana.
Here I'd like to point out, though it should be obvious by now, that a recurring theme this season is the investments made in Louisiana by our federal government through the Biden administration while the US Senate and House are in Democratic control. There are two reasons for this focus. The first is to underscore that while who represents us here, in every state office and every local office is important, who controls Washington, D.C. is a critical part of the equation for the success of Louisiana. This means our organizing efforts can never be so myopic and insular that we aren't keeping an eye on the bigger national picture. But second, in much more practical terms, we have millions upon millions of dollars heading to our state in the next few months and years. And while that is happening, it represents big opportunities for our organizations, small businesses and individuals -- and even just for bragging rights for our Democratic candidates. I hope you'll make sure to check out options that make sense for you and the groups you're associated with to take advantage of these investments while we have this chance that will likely prove to be once in a blue moon.
Madison Smither! Thank you so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty.
Thanks so much for having me, Lynda. It's super exciting to be here.
Well, I always start with how I met my guest. And we had a really great meeting. How we met was in 2016, you applied to be a fellow for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and I was the State Director for Louisiana for that campaign. And so I got the pleasure of working with you as a fellow on that campaign.
Yes, absolutely. That was my great political introduction.
You had to submit something like a resume to be a part of that. And I was so impressed by the things that I saw. And you were by the way, my youngest fellow. You were still in high school at Ben Franklin High, as I recall.
But you had a couple of things on there that I was just like, "What is this high school student doing?" And I'd really like before we go a little further because they so interest me, first, tell me about the blue light?
Oh my gosh. So you're right, Lynda. I was 17 years old. I could not yet vote which posed a problem working on the Hillary Clinton campaign. I was begging others to vote, even though I couldn't yet vote myself. But yes, I was a senior in high school the year of the election. I started doing research at the Tulane Cancer Center when I was 15 years old with the wonderful Victoria Belancio and Prescott Deininger. I basically emailed the Tulane Cancer Center when I was about 15, just when I was starting to understand how negatively impacted the state is by Cancer Alley. A lot of my friends, their parents had just been diagnosed with cancer. And I was starting to have this kind of, you know, evolution in my thinking about the state and about trying to attack some of the problems that we're facing. And so they took a chance on me as a 15 year old. I was able to start working in the lab and yes, I I started a an organization called Safe Light at Night.
Basically, the cancer research we were doing was about the carcinogenic effects of light exposure at night. So looking at your phone or a computer screen and having that blue light exposure can mess up your circadian rhythm and can actually mess up the circadian regulating genes and cause mutations. That really introduced me not only to the absolute wonder that is genetics and cancer research more broadly, but really with that we worked with Ochsner Health System; we worked with a lot of people really learning about light exposure at night. And I think that crossover between cancer research and public health and really kind of looking at how science gets translated to the public really inspired me to go into policy, because I think having the science background is fantastic. I absolutely love it. I will forever be a science nerd. But I think that bringing it to the public sector is where I see that being applied.
Do you still have the website?
I do. Go to SafeLightAtNight.org and you can see 17 year old Madison with with this cancer research kind of advocacy project.
Look, reading about this changed how I interact with light at night. Yeah, really made me rethink the kind of light and the color of light that I have around me in the evening.
We were lucky to kind of ride the wave. This research really helped to generate public awareness about this. Apple has night shift now; there's a lot of technology you can download; a lot of people are being more cognizant of this. And beyond cancer research, we're seeing, especially in the COVID pandemic, it's just unhealthy to look at your screen for so many hours a day. So helping reduce that exposure is helpful. You never know when cancer research is going to help you down the line.
Well, tell me your political origin story, what got you first interested in politics, before you applied to be a Hillary fellow?
That's a really great question. Again, you know, I think being a child of the Obama era, was a really unique thing. I was really lucky that my introduction to presidential elections, and really, you know, federal policy was Barack Obama, who is a once in a generation political figure. I grew up, you know, seeing all of these really groundbreaking aspects of his presidency. I come from a science background; I also come from kind of a health policy advocacy background; I have a pre existing condition; I've been kind of vocal about having a heart condition and how the Affordable Care Act just absolutely changed my perspective on how we can support individuals, and how we can provide better care. And so I think that, you know, just growing up with all of that going on around me really inspired me.
And of course, having the chance of the first woman president really inspired me to get involved. I remember volunteering the very first time with my dad going to Hillary Clinton's campaign office and volunteering. It was not the office we worked out.
It was probably during the primary, then. There was a different office for the primary.
Right, it was for the primary. And then I was just so inspired by it. I'm like, "Oh, I'm so young." But my dad's like, "You know what you should apply. You should just go for it." And so I applied to be a fall fellow, and I will never forget that amazing experience I had and walking into that office on Tchoupitoulas and Louisiana for the first time. Lynda, you asked us you know why we were there, and just the whole process was so inspiring.
And Lynda Woolard is the best person to work for everyone. I learned so much in that campaign. I'll never forget the trial by fire the day that Lynda called me on a Thursday, and asked me to organize 25 student volunteers for a political fundraiser that weekend. And I showed up with 25 Ben Franklin students. I just brought the entire Young Democrats club. It was just a great experience through and through. We got to, you know, make calls with LaToya Cantrell and Felicia Khan and so many great people. Verna Landrieu came into the office and was ranting about the Sewerage and Water Board one day. We just had lots of fun times, and it was really great.
Well, you came through every time I asked you for something. You were a great fellow. So since the Hillary Clinton campaign, what have you done?
I graduated from Ben Franklin High School. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2021. I was really lucky to be a Jefferson Scholar. I studied public health and economics. Everybody wondered how those two are related, and then the COVID 19 pandemic hit. So I don't typically have to explain anymore how those two are incredibly related. But it was fascinating to be studying both of those topics when we were obviously going through an economic crisis and a public health crisis. But I studied antitrust economics, looking at the pharmaceutical industry and looking at health care, did work on the opioid crisis, ultimately came back full circle and worked on Cancer Alley. I did a thesis in French looking at the French public health system as compared to the American public health system, and then I did my public health capstone on Cancer Alley, looking at this big Environmental Justice crisis that we're facing in Louisiana.
And that has really led into my work since. I worked as a local government consultant for about a year after graduating, mostly working locally in New Orleans, but also with localities all over the country, working on sustainable infrastructure in California, and looking at the Criminal Justice system in Harris County, Texas, and got a lot of really great experience with local governments. That has now brought me to my current place where I'm a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School, working on my Master's in Public Policy, and really focusing on Louisiana from afar. But I am currently up here in Cambridge.
Were you not connected with Ride New Orleans?
When I was a local government consultant in New Orleans the year after graduating, yes. I was involved with several community organizations, getting back involved like as Advocacy Committee Co-Chair of the Independent Women's Organization (IWO) in New Orleans. I remember Lynda introduced that amazing group to me when I was 17 years old, and not yet eligible to be a full member. So I joined IWO right when I moved back. And I have been working with Ride New Orleans on infrastructure advocacy, and kind of looking at how we make our transit systems more equitable. I've been working with them on leading their big youth program. And I've been continuing to work with them from afar, too. I joke with my fellow students here that, you know, I think more than half of my zoom and phone calls are with organizations in New Orleans. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Awesome. Well, let's pivot. As part of your studies at Harvard Kennedy School, you just attended the inaugural Global Clean Energy Action Forum. And I'd like to talk about that a little bit. That was hosted by...
Jennifer Granholm, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, and several other big organizations are really advocating for the clean energy transition and action now. They're calling 2022 the year of implementation for green energy. And this was the first of its kind in terms of a big kind of global ministerial connecting leaders in the private sector, in the public sector, in the kind of nonprofit sector, really working to catalyze this transition into clean energy. Obviously, this is coming on the heels of the historic passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, and the investment that that promises in clean energy in the United States, and how it's really going to impact the global sphere, really with clean energy.
But it was an amazing experience. It was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh has really emerged as a poster child for clean energy transition within the United States in terms of really transitioning those former steel jobs into clean energy jobs. Their airport is powered by a micro grid. It was really interesting to have that be the setting for this Global Clean Energy Action Forum in terms of looking at how cities can take advantage of the transition, which was super exciting to see as a New Orleans resident.
Who are the folks that showed up for this thing?
The forum brought together leaders really from all over the world. It was so inspiring to see ministers of energy from India to lots of European countries and even small island nations. It was incredible to see really the breadth of this event and the stakeholders that were there. I was able to go both as a research assistant at at Harvard and also as a member of the media. And so I was able to attend some of these smaller plenary sessions with these ministers. And it was so inspiring.
I attended this call to action, one of the smaller events, where, you know, John Kerry spoke and Dr. Fatih Birol who's the executive director of the International Energy Agency, and it was really inspiring to see these leaders talking about how this is the time for action, and saying the Inflation Reduction Act is bigger than Paris. Bill Gates was there with his new organization, Breakthrough Energy. So it was an incredible event. And there were, I think, 6000 participants, so there were some youth delegates and just people who were interested in attending some of these bigger events with people like Bill Gates and Secretary Granholm. And so in addition to these global leaders in the private sector and the public sector, it really attracted a lot of people who were just interested in bringing is these topics back to their own local communities.
Excellent. Can you tell me some of the key takeaways you picked up there?
It was really inspiring to see these leaders talk about the impacts that the global clean energy transition is going to have. And, you know, inspired by the Inflation Reduction Act, and kind of the investments that that will bring, it was really interesting to see the focus on youth leadership and the importance of investing in youth, especially from climate vulnerable communities. This was particularly of interest to me, being a young person from Louisiana.
There was definitely a lot of interest in emerging markets, places like India and Sub Saharan Africa, but also climate vulnerable communities where we really need to be focusing on you know, the impact that youth advocates can have, as the generation that has a stake in the game that is really going to be leading the charge. One of my friends at Harvard Kennedy School, Karan Takhar, who is one of the big advocates for youth engagement in this process from a business perspective and how we can be making more targeted investments in social entrepreneurship ventures from youth clean energy advocates, led a panel looking at how to engage youth in this financing process with both big time investors and youth who are starting businesses. So that was one huge takeaway that I got from this is the recognition of, you know, elevating young voices.
Another thing was the importance of the private and nonprofit sector in this. It's about governments, but it's really about capitalizing on things like the Inflation Reduction Act, and really having community organizations and small businesses really take advantage of opportunities to take part in the clean energy transition, as well, and kind of compounding that investment.
Further, I think you know, Lynda, we've talked a lot about Democratic investment in the south and civic engagement, and really bringing a lot of people into the conversation about clean energy, and that was a huge focus at this ministerial. We're at the brink of something really exciting. We need to focus on being, you know, pragmatic here and just really communicating to people the impacts that this energy transition will have, from the individual level to the national level and the global level. There was just such a narrative of working together. And again, everybody kept referencing the Paris Agreement and how the Inflation Reduction Act has a potential for being, I think it was Fatih Birol who said this is 10 times bigger than Paris. And I think excitement really resonated with a lot of people at this conference. And I'm really excited to see where it goes from here.
Did you have a sense that there was one big concern, like the largest concern that was a theme that kept recurring?
I really think that the biggest concern with climate advocacy and clean energy work is always going to be speed. We've all seen the climate clock. I have friends here at the Kennedy School who walk around with climate clocks on their backpacks with those big numbers that light up and tell us we have seven years left before the effects of climate change will be irreversible. And I think that that estimate changes all the time. I think that there's different ways to look at this: we have 50 years before certain effects will be irreversible, we have 100 years for others. But it's it's such a long term issue, I think that time is really of the essence here.
Also making this an issue that is urgent to the public is of the essence. We have issues that impact people from poverty, to access to education, to access to health care, that seem so important in the moment, and they are. And so how do you really elevate this to the level of urgency that it needs to be elevated to? How do you get individuals to recognize that we all need to take action now, that climate advocacy and climate work is integral to everything, that addressing poverty, addressing sustainable development...
It's all so connected to how we respond right now. How effectively and how efficiently we can move forward with the clean energy transition? And how can we help really everyone in the world to do so? I think Net Zero is this big kind of conversation. How is the U.S. gonna get to net zero for carbon emissions? How are other countries going to get to net zero? It's not about the U.S. getting to net zero. It's about everybody getting to net zero. It's about how we're going to make this transition together.
What's eminently in the works for clean energy as solutions that they were talking about?
There's this big transition happening right now where solar is getting cheaper. We've got Breakthrough Energy by Bill Gates, you know, funding a lot of really innovative new firms out there. We've just got this huge wave of entrepreneurship in the clean energy sphere, where prices really are being driven down, and the Inflation Reduction Act will continue to do so. But solar is just booming right now. Wind energy is booming. We've got electric vehicles which are taking over and you know, the hope is that electric cars will be a lot cheaper than gasoline-powered cars.
And so, you know, really, I think the the message that a lot of people were trying to convey at the forum is that we've got the power sector where we need to transition to renewable fuels. But we've also got, you know, every sector that really needs to be "greened." We've got so many industries that really need this investment and need to be rethinking how things are done, from transportation to just production of all sorts of materials, and really just powering every aspect of our lives.
Is there anything that they were talking about that will be specific to Louisiana and near term?
Yes. So that was that was exciting to see, you know, there's been some articles out lately about how, you know, Louisiana can capitalize on this clean energy transition. We are a state that has relied on oil and petrochemicals for a very long time. And so I think this is this is a concept that is really important to our residents and the people working in these sectors. This is the chance for us to really, you know, capitalize on this transition that the sector is experiencing, and really use our experience in energy in general to move to clean energy. So I think in terms of Louisiana, those who have worked in these sectors for a long time can transition to solar and to wind and capitalize on this.
A lot of what they were discussing at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum are things that are funded by the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, and there is a through line through Louisiana Lefty this season, in that we've talked about the bipartisan infrastructure law and the money that's coming to Louisiana from that. We've talked about the broadband work that the Biden administration is doing and the money coming to Louisiana through the various entities for that. Now, there's the IRA, I just want to make the point before we talk about what's in the IRA and what's coming here, because you've studied that recently. We've outlined a lot of these funds over the course of the season.
This is the case I always make, that federal dollars, federal protections, federal investment is so important to this state. Having that Biden administration there is so important. Having Democratic leadership in control of the House and the Senate is so important. That's how these dollars are coming here. They haven't gotten here enough for us to feel it yet, but it's gonna make a huge impact. So while we want to focus on our local elections, and there's a big push to make sure people understand the importance of the state legislature, the city councils and all of that, PSC races, school boards, all of that, our state elections, Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General are all very important, and we never want to take the eyes off the prize on those.
But we also need to remember to check the numbers. While we may not be switching our partisan makeup of our Senate seats this year, or our congressional districts that have been so gerrymandered that we may not be flipping any of those in the near term, we need to keep an eye on the math of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. Because those folks - and the presidency, of course - those folks have a lot of say on what comes to Louisiana, and that's huge for us. So we've got a lot of investment coming here. And we need to protect that. We need to make sure we're helping other states help us. I just wanted to go on my soapbox about that for a minute.
Oh, absolutely. I wouldn't change a thing. I completely agree.
But you have studied the IRA. So I do want to dig deeper into that and have you tell us a little bit about what the IRA can do for Louisiana.
I think that just the focus that the IRA does have that I'll talk about on really specific provisions that we in particular can capitalize on in Louisiana, it's always really nice to see, you know, coastal communities included in things like this and really looking at Environmental Justice funding. But I think that the focus on vulnerable communities and climate impacted communities in the Inflation Reduction Act really prompted this conversation at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum. These are the communities that we need to start hearing from. And so there really is this shift going on to see how can we prioritize climate vulnerable communities.
And so getting to, you know, specific provisions for Gulf Coast states and Louisiana, you know, things that we can take advantage of, there are provisions for coastal restoration specifically, there are basically these earmark funds within the IRA that they're really exciting to see. And they're these Environmental Justice block grant opportunities. This is impactful, because not only are we going to have funding coming in through our state government and through localities, but we're really having these opportunities here, where community groups and small businesses and residents can take advantage of these pools of funding to advocate for projects that need to be done in our communities, and really bring the effects of this act, you know, beyond just the legislature, beyond the text of the the legislation itself, into, you know, what are the downstream effects.
That's been a huge conversation after the Inflation Reduction Act. There are provisions out there for investment in clean energy, investment in electric vehicles. And really, what the administration claims, and what seems just, you know, really probable at this point is that we're really going to focus on reducing emissions even further from the downstream economic effects from this. So it's going to be about individual businesses, individual residents, really taking these opportunities from the Inflation Reduction Act, working together to apply for block grants to really get involved themselves. And so that really stood out to me.
Are there any block grants that you can think of in particular?
There's a huge provision for Environmental Justice block grants. There's, I think, 20 billion set aside in the Inflation Reduction Act for Environmental Justice block grants, and this can be for projects that, you know, individuals and community organizations can apply for, to receive federal funding. And so I think it's just really important for people to know that beyond the funding that's going to be administered through through the state and through localities, there are opportunities here for, you know, coastal restoration projects, Environmental Justice block grants, that that we can really take advantage of as a state, as you know, the Gulf Coast community, and really that individuals should be working on and engaging with.
Is blue carbon a part of IRA at all?
That would be considered kind of a downstream effect. I'm a research assistant with the Harvard Environmental Economics program, and one of our major focuses right now is, given the IRA and given the provisions that this historic legislation provides and how it's going to catalyze a clean energy transition, there are going to be downstream economic effects, there are going to be a lot of things that that we are going to be seeing, beyond the IRA investments. We're going to be talking a lot about carbon pricing -- that's a main focus of the research I'm doing right now is, you know, the political economy of carbon.
A major kind of downstream effect that I see right now that I'm really excited about is this idea of blue carbon. So carbon credits are going to become a major part of this discussion. Carbon credits, essentially, you know, this isn't a new idea, but the idea that we can offset carbon emissions by essentially absorbing carbon in the environment. So carbon credits are going to be a major part of this discussion. This idea that, you know, carbon offsets are going to be a major part of this clean energy transition that we're going to need to find creative ways to be really offsetting emissions through natural carbon sinks and that's where blue carbon comes in.
You know, marsh and in wetlands are really a very effective carbon sink. There's research out there that shows that they're more effective than forests more effective than prairies in terms of storing large amounts of carbon. This isn't a new idea. This is being implemented right now in Florida, where basically there are programs where, you know, mangroves are being planted in areas where the coast has been experiencing a lot of the worst erosion issues and essentially, you know, with with Cap and Trade systems that are already in place in places like California, and that will become more prominent, companies are looking to buy carbon credits. And so if we can use this wave to produce natural carbon credits by planting marsh grasses, by planting mangroves in places like Florida, we can plant cypress trees, we can plant grass, then we can essentially generate carbon credits, and we can find a way to align.
Something that a lot of people in our state have been waiting for is: How can we make coastal restoration profitable? How can we leverage this ecological treasure that we have? How can we make it a good idea to invest in restoring the coast? And that's where blue carbon comes in. That's where we can really change the messaging and we can say, you know, individuals can take part in this transition, small businesses can take part in this transition. If we can, you know, en masse just generate a ton of carbon credits from literally investing in restoring our coastline, if we can find a way to market ourselves and our own restoration in this way, we can take advantage of this transition. And that's just exciting to me. Because, you know, every individual can take part in this, you can plant marsh grass on property you own, or you can join with the community and do it. And so there's just a lot of opportunity, I think, for for individuals to get excited about it.
You talk a lot about the new energy economy. I assume it is an attempt to shift away from fossil fuels or dependence on fossil fuels. So I just wanted you to just speak more about that and what Louisiana might look like as we might try to shift from fossil fuels to a new energy economy.
This has been the the question of the century for Louisiana, you know. We've been reliant on the fossil fuel industry for so long, I think it really takes a reframing of this idea. Louisiana is extremely resource rich. We've been, you know, home to oil refineries, petrochemical production for a very long time, and a lot of people are reliant on the industry. But it's been very extractive. We don't see this oil revenue really coming into our state, and we don't see it ear marked for public education or see a lot of high paying jobs in this field. And I think that this is really exciting, because Louisiana can use this opportunity to really have this clean energy transition, you know, really give back to our state, to people who've been reliant on the energy sector for a very long time. I think it's really important to meet people halfway, to meet us where we are.
I think that's why it's important to focus, in concert with this kind of transition to solar energy, to wind energy, one day, maybe hydrogen. I think it's really important to think about the carbon economy as a separate, but important investment, too, because I think while we still have oil companies, while we still have people who are reliant on this sector for their own living, oil companies are going to be the ones purchasing carbon credits, trying to work on their own offsets while this transition is happening. And so I think that, you know, really making Louisiana a leader in this kind of carbon credit production is a really great way to furnish additional jobs.
While we're working on this transition, I think there will definitely be additional jobs where we could be the solar capital of this country. Everyone knows, we have so much sun. So I think we're gonna see solar jobs. We're going to see ways for individuals to really take advantage of innovative clean energy solutions, like implementing micro grids, really looking at transitioning away from being part of this power grid that we're all part of, that we all kno, fails every so often. And we can do this in pilot studies first, but how can we implement a micro grid, where 800 to 4000 households can connect and use solar energy to power their own lives?
So, tell me, who are you in community with at the Harvard Kennedy School who's working on these issues? And you've told me they have a big interest in Louisiana? So I'm curious to know what that is?
I am working with the Harvard Climate Leaders Program. I feel very lucky to be part of this cohort. It's a cohort of about 35 graduate students and this is Harvard wide. I think that this is what makes me excited about this cohort of students and faculty advisors I'm working with because our focus is on taking the things I'm learning as a public policy student and working with students in the School of Design and the School of Education and the law school and business school, and really working together to pool ideas and really, you know, move forward with a lot of the the work that's that's going on around us and the work that we can be doing. We all come from different communities, across the country and across the world.
I think what's been really exciting is to see how, you know, given the provisions in the IRA, given the focus of the Global Clean Energy Action Forum on climate vulnerable communities, and really, you know, for one of the first times we've seen in a while the parallels between climate vulnerable communities in the United States and internationally, I've been able to work with students on ideas and innovative projects that would benefit Louisiana and coastal erosion and coastal restoration and Environmental Justice. Students are working on similar projects in India and island nations and Hawaii. So I think that this group has been really inspiring to work with so far.
I've been through the Climate Leaders program, we work with Harvard Forest, and so I've been talking with a lot of students in the program and with Harvard Forest, which is one of the largest and most effective carbon sequestration research centers. And so they have all of these projects that we recently got to tour through the Climate Leaders program on you know, exactly how much carbon is stored by a tree over its lifetime, by a forest. You know, how do forest ecosystems change over time? And what kind of an ecosystem is most effective for storing carbon in different places around the United States? And so, this has been a focus of mine, and with some researchers I work with at the Harvard Forest and within the the Harvard Climate Leaders program is, you know, we've got the Research Center, we can do real work on this and really kind of study, you know, this idea of blue carbon and carbon credits and how we can be most effective in storing carbon.
This isn't a new idea, you know. I just want to throw out, there was a study in 2021 with LSU researchers, working with the Climate Trust on this idea of using wetlands to generate carbon credits. But I think that, you know, it's fun to see how pieces can come together and how, you know, intersectional interdisciplinary programs, like the Climate Leaders program can bring together not only activists and advocates and, you know, leaders in this space here at Harvard, but really how we can bridge sectors, how we can look at how science is at the root of all of this, and really, you know, kind of span expertise areas.
And you've said that they're very interested in Louisiana. What's their specific interest here?
So I think that thing specific to Louisiana, Lynda, is that people were interested in elevating our stories, like us being kind of like the canary in the coal mine. And I want to make sure we're framing this like Louisiana as like elevating voices of climate impacted communities.
So you're saying that the their interest in Louisiana is because Louisiana is part of a number of climate impacted communities, and they're elevating those voices of Louisianans, as they are with all of the impacted communities.
Right, and I think that's kind of where this clean energy transition or climate advocacy is headed, is really working, you know, across geographic areas, but bringing in, you know, young voices, bringing in voices of these climate impacted communities, and really, you know, pooling solutions and really, you know, bouncing ideas off of one another and having that more global lens. A big factor of the Harvard Climate Leaders program is that we bring in speakers from from areas all over the world, but we really have these, like working sessions, where we're working with our local communities, and with one another, to really troubleshoot and really kind of use, you know, this kind of interdisciplinary environment, breaking down those silos that we often face. I think the climate sector is one of these areas where we think that we can work in our own silo, and we can't! We're addressing an issue that is a global issue. It spans, you know, decades and hundreds of years, and we really need to be working together on a lot of these issues that are very diverse.
You make a connection between the politics of climate and your background in science. Can you explain what you mean when you start talking about chaos theory and entropy?
This is where being a scientist first has has really just helped me clarify, you know, where I stand on this and how I see all of these issues really interacting. For me, this comes to the second law of thermodynamics, you know, talking about entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder of the universe. And the second law of thermodynamics is that systems left to their own chaotic devices will always seek higher entropy, we're always moving toward disorder. And that's really the function of all of us is to push back on it. The work will never be over.
Individuals need to get invested in this process, governments need to be invested in this process, but we need to be energized by it. Because again, this is the whole arc of science and really getting to the natural laws behind all of this. We're trending toward disorder, we're trending toward chaos, this is going to be an issue that we're facing, for the next decades, next hundreds of years. But that is our function. This is what we always do, we fight back, and we find creative ways to do so and continue to rejuvenate ourselves with bringing in additional voices and finding creative ways to do it.
If we think we found an easy solution to the climate crisis, we're not doing it right. But we shouldn't be, you know, I know that that, you know, may not be the thing people want to hear. But I think it should energize people. I think it should, you know, bring additional voices into this problem. Because if we're not actively working together, finding new ways to attack this, finding ways to make this part of our narrative, then we're not winning the fight.
Gotcha. Well, I always take the opportunity when I'm speaking to young Democrats and young activists to ask about what engages young voters. Climate tends to be one of those main issues I hear again and again. Obviously, you're ensconced in Harvard Kennedy School right now, and you're dealing with climate a lot. But when you speak to your friends, even outside of that space, what are the defining issues that concern them and motivate them?
Climate is a major one, as you said, you know. Reproductive rights right now is a major concern for young voters. I'm co-chair of the IWO or the Independent Women's Organization of New Orleans' Advocacy Committee, and with Roe being overturned, and with a lot of, you know, young Democrats really speaking out, we're using this opportunity to get young women involved in this organization that advocates for women's rights and all women's issues. I think, you know, student loan forgiveness, financing education, that's a big issue right now.Wealth creation, in general, is huge with young voters right now.
And that's why, you know, I think that uniting all of these issues, and finding ways to engage young voters, you know, playing to the potential for individual financial gain from the IRA, and its ability to increase equity through investment in vulnerable communities through investment in young people, that's why this is all so important. I mean, you know, anti racism and equity, more generally, are huge throughlines right now, that are, you know, really galvanizing young voters. And, you know, those are just a few. I think, with young voters, it just all comes down to you know, there's an urgency. And there's a need for a stake in the game. You know, we're a complicated group. But I think this all too often really ends up manifesting in like giving up and, you know, we need to give young voters a reason to participate in this system.
So let me ask you, then, environmental voters and young voters have some of the lowest turnout numbers, which is sort of exactly what we're talking about today. I would just like to know what your thoughts - obviously, I'm not asking you to solve that problem for everyone - but I wanted to get your thoughts on how you think we could solve for that?
Absolutely. Again, I think that, you know, young voters need a reason to participate in this system. We need a reason to hope that it will change, a reason to believe that it will change. I think, with environmental voters, that needs to be the right balance of hope and fear. You know, we've got this huge issue facing us. But there really are opportunities for us to attack it. We need to make sure that we give young voters something to fight for. We need to make sure we're elevating opportunities for, you know, individuals to take a hold of the clean energy transition and find ways to impact their own lives and find ways to start, you know, moving the needle little by little to show young voters that their vote matters, that we can meet people halfway, that we can just continue to build on the momentum that we're facing. And, you know, we need to start supporting young candidates, we need to give young voters voices that they feel represent their own communities. And so I think that, you know, environmental voters, it's, you know, a balance of hope and fear, giving hope to everyone but really, coming back to that question of how do we make participation in our system and civic engagement top of everyone's list?
You mentioned that the Global Clean Energy Forum had a call to action. I'm curious to know what that call to action was.
The call to action is: The time is now. We think of a lot of the issues that we face as kind of incremental progress. And, you know, we need to be working on a lot of different things at once. But I think that the real call to action here is that this needs to be the year of implementation for clean energy and for climate action. We need to get everybody behind this issue right now. Democrats need to find ways to message this, as you know, climate action impacts every single one of our issues. It impacts women's rights, it impacts, you know, education access and poverty and just, you know, investing in our communities in an equitable way. Climate Action is now. 2022 has to be the year of implementation. And I think that's exciting, because as a young person, I see finally these issues that are going to face later generations being issues that are top of mind right now.
Thank you so much for sharing all that information with us. Let me get to the last three questions I ask a version of every episode. Madison, what do you see as the biggest obstacle for progressives in Louisiana?
The biggest obstacle for progressives in Louisiana is that we've got all of this funding coming in, as you've been saying, from the IIJA and the IRA, we really need to, you know, advocate for our candidates. We really need to work on our own political leadership in the state and locally to be able to take advantage of these opportunities. You know, we have a lot of great community organizations doing this, but we really need to work on civic engagement, we need to work on, you know, talking to individuals in climate impacted communities, really getting on the same page. I think that that's a huge obstacle. And it's obviously something we can work on. But that's really where we have to head.
And what's our biggest opportunity?
So our biggest opportunity, and I'm gonna come back to clean energy and climate action, I mean, I just really think that we're going to see this take off. And this is going to be a big opportunity for us to really get resources invested in our state, and not just our state, but you know, individual communities, individual groups. I think this is a huge way to get individuals involved with civic engagement. So I just really think that, you know, this is an inflection point for us, or at least it should be, and it's going to require a lot of hard work, just constantly working against a system that trends toward chaos and disorganization. We've got to find ways to work together to make this happen for us.
And Madison, who's your favorite superhero?
Oh, my gosh, Lynda, I love your podcast. And I always love hearing who everyone's favorite superheroes are at the end. Anyone who read books in like the early 2000s, kind of young adult literature, will hear me all this -- she's not a superhero, but Molly Moon. There was a book series called Molly Moon Stops the World. And I just thought she was awesome. She was this young girl who was able to stop time and fix huge real world issues. And I think if we were able to stop time, I think that would just mean the world to us with addressing climate change.
I love that. You've given me homework to do because now I've gotta go look up Molly Moon.
Oh, the best books.
Madison, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking some time to talk about these issues and sharing the exciting event you went to in Pittsburgh a little while ago.
Thanks for having me, Lynda. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much.
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