S. Mohsen Fatemi, PhD Student in Public Administration, at the University of Kansas. Also, an urban planner and architect experienced in energy-efficiency, sustainability, and climate action planning, wrote this article as part of the environment and sustainability series. Connect with Mohsen on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Email.
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I am writing to portray the path that led me to become a PhD student in Public Administration to investigate energy justice. With a background in Architecture and Design, my first master’s degree in Architecture and Energy turned me into a technical expert in energy-efficiency and sustainability in the built environment. However, challenges were yet to come. First, negotiations with governmental organizations, through the company that I had established, to introduce a national sustainability rating system went fruitless. The system that I had developed in my master’s thesis had no use in Iran because everyone enjoyed cheap, subsidized energy. Second, as a professional architect, I witnessed how clients were hesitant to apply sustainability measures to their projects. Hence, I realized that more than technical skills were required to go sustainable and energy-efficient. So, I decided to do another master’s degree in Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to get a sense of development’s social-political side.
A couple of other experiences when doing my master’s degree in the US made me think about local governments and energy justice. First, the climate action plan that I developed for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in my master’s capstone project taught me that electrification was a must in the energy transition. Meanwhile, assisting utilities in meeting their commitments to improve energy-efficiency at SEDAC (Smart Energy Design Assistance Center), I witnessed how they identified large and wealthy consumers to offer them free energy audits while all the customers had paid fees for such services. Second, After graduation from UIUC, I applied to hundreds of jobs in local governments around the country. Although it was a tough time for graduation and for entering the job market during such an overwhelming pandemic era, I got to review numerous documents such as comprehensive plans, zoning ordinances, climate action plans, etc to get prepared for job interviews.
Having that experience, I believe local governments need to be more prepared for the energy transition. Although many places have been adopting climate action plans, such as in California, in recent years, many of those CAPs lack the cohesiveness to make them fully successful. “Climate action in the United States has focused on technological solutions with limited attention to social change and social justice.” In addition, local governments must do more to include and integrate such actions into their documents. At this point, I am thrilled to start my education in the PhD program in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas to investigate the role of local governments in the energy transition and energy justice.
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